Sandcastle And Beyond!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4600869666
RATS #00353 in Glenwood, and Glen Hazel

Water slides in winter are silent reminders of summer. Sandcastle, on the edge of the Mon, is a bubbling madhouse on hot August days, where lines of sparkling wet bodies, lathered with sunscreen, wait to speedily spill down the slides. Now, running past in early January, not a soul was to be found. Like Kennywood, an amusement park a few miles upriver, Sandcastle reminds me how work and play are so closely intertwined here, with an active railroad, a biking path and a water park within fifty yards of each other.

At the far end of Sandcastle is the Glenwood Bridge. I’ve never run across that bridge and wasn’t sure how to make it to the sidewalk across. It’s a large bridge, with ample room for floods. (Sandcastle, on the other hand, periodically gets flooded.) Fortunately, I came across several staircases which got me to the bridge. I’m thankful that the designers of these roads took pedestrians into account.

Once past Sandcastle, metal recycling facilities dominate the scene, a far cry from the steel factories which once were here. The Glenwood Bridge crosses the Mon and is a major roadway for South Hills commuters. On the far side of the bridge is Glenwood. Prior to poring over maps of Pittsburgh, I would have called that area “Hazelwood”. It is actually Glenwood, Glen Hazel and Hazelwood. Some do consider it “Greater Hazelwood” and it is encouraging to see community involvement as a part of recent urban planning. For a PDF of their recent neighborhood plan, click HERE.

I’ve recently done many runs in Glenwood and its companion, Hazelwood. With this run, I pretty much have completed the area. It has stunning views of the Mon Valley and a mix of houses, from hard-knock alleys to large houses wrapped with porches. Recently a fire gutted this house on Cust Street. The adjoining house was also damaged by the heat. It is likely that this house will just sit here for years, slowly falling apart.

Of course, there are stairs. Cust Street steps take you from Second Avenue all the way up the hill on two flights. Off the second flight are orphan houses – houses which front the steps and do not have direct road access. The Sunnyside steps take you from Glenwood Avenue up to Sunnyside Avenue. Further on, tiny Steelview Avenue steps took me down to Brownsville Road right above the Homestead Highland Bridge.

Finishing up in Glenwood, I made my way through Glen Hazel to the Homestead Highland Bridge. Glen Hazel’s Kane Living Center is a senior care home and had scary Covid numbers this past year. Generally, Glen Hazel has newer houses than Glenwood and Hazelwood, probably built in the 1960’s or 70’s and is largely subsidized, I believe. However, there’s lots of unused land and a few blocked-off streets. It seems typical for publicly owned land in Pittsburgh for housing – it’s mainly vacant (see also Arlington Heights and Saint Clair). Nonetheless, changes are in the works here as developers start work on the area. What will they build? I don’t think anybody knows.

At any rate, in times past there was a set of steps from Johnston Avenue to Broadview Street. Right now, they are hidden behind a bus stop and blocked off by debris. However, I found them. As they are built into the hillside, rather than soaring above it, I was willing to go up them.

Looking down from the top, I noticed the tops of the handrail posts were shimmering with light. At first I thought someone had put crushed beer cans on top of the posts, or someone had put LED lights there. The real reason was much cooler. These were ice caps. The recent snows and fluctuations of temperature left little hockey-pucks of ice in the slightly recessed pipe-ends. These icy pucks caught the fading sunlight and shone like beacons.

Ice cap shimmering
Ice cap shimmering

After this off-road and otherworldly experience, I made my way to the Homestead High Level Bridge. Formerly the site of Homestead Steel Works, it is now a shopping center.

There are still a few reminders of the days when 10,000 workers crossed the bridges and worked in mills, like these smokestacks.

Smokestacks

December 2020 Catch-Up

Summary

December 2020 wasn’t too bad in the running sense. Early on, I had missed some days due to quarantining for Covid, but I finished strong and had some long, street eating runs late in the month. The mileage, 79, wasn’t great, but with 8,878 feet of elevation, I once again, gained over 100 feet of elevation per mile. More importantly, for this project, 13 of 15 runs covered new streets and I’ve 99% covered East Hills, completely finished Arlington and continue to make significant progress in Hazelwood, Glenwood, Woods Run, and Brighton Heights neighborhoods.

Without further ado, here are the four remaining runs of December.

RATS #00344

https://www.strava.com/activities/4505906772
RATS #00344 Saint Clair and the Pittsburgh Neighborhood of Mt. Oliver

Down Mountain Avenue from Arlington lie two mostly forgotten neighborhoods. On the right is the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Mt. Oliver, not to be confused with the Borough of Mt. Oliver, which is adjacent. On the left is the neighborhood of Saint Clair.

Before getting to either of those, I ran down Parkwood Road. From the maps, I understood it to be one of these Pittsburgh roads which fade into the wilderness, probably for landslide reasons. It did become smaller and smaller, and finally was blocked by jersey barriers. However, there was much more traffic than I expected with large dump trucks, a UHaul driver and at least one Lyft ride roaring by.

Moving up to Mt. Oliver, on the other side of Mountain Avenue, I straddled the border between Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver (the Borough) along Otilla Street. The houses were mainly on the larger size, typical Pittsburgh four-squares. I was surprised at the number of staircases. My favorite was the Como Street steps, between St. Joseph Street and Ormsby Street. It wasn’t on my map at all. The little set from Otilla to Gorgas were also a nice short-cut.

On the other side of Mountain Avenue, Ormsby Street dies off, but not before serious “No Trespassing” and “Private” signs were displayed. Reminds me a lot of the streets on the other side of the ravine, where I had seen similar signs.

St. Clair still has a few streets and houses. However, the large housing development known as St. Clair Village, has been torn down and mostly fenced off. St. Clair Village, was perched on a plateau is isolated from the rest of Pittsburgh by steep ravines on three sides. Unsurprisingly, this site was chosen for housing projects. Regardless of the reason, lots of people lived here, until the housing authority decided to close it down, in 2009. Here’s an article which gives some insight into Saint Clair as well as a blog by Ninetyhoods.

These days part of it is dedicated to urban farming. I have mixed feelings on this. I love gardening, plants and nature and understand that lack of accessibility to healthy food is a large issue. However, sustenance farming is not a ladder to wealth. Education, home ownership and skills applicable to today’s economy are. With its focus on building farming skills and partnering with local schools, perhaps Urban Hilltop Farm will have a outsized impact. I still wonder where the residents moved and whether this large tract of level land in the city could be put to a better use. Finally, this neighborhood has still more stairs, at least one Little Library and lingering decorations.

RATS #00345

https://www.strava.com/activities/4513239274
RATS #00345

On a rainy Christmas Eve, I decided to finish out the East Hills. I nearly did it, too, just missing the end of Angora Way. On Strava, there’s a ghost street, Roth Way. After my run, I looked at my route and was deflated to see I had completely missed that alley. Taking a closer look with streetview and satellite pictures shows that the alley doesn’t really exist after all. Grr!

Anyway, there were the normal yard decorations, as well as a REAL snowman who has been melting away. Perhaps the highlight of the run was seeing a group of wild turkeys. They were very clever. As soon as they saw me, they angled away, keeping bushes between me and them. They are large birds. Each one was about twice the size of a house cat.

Toward the end of this half-marathon distance, I came upon another border between Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. Ridiculously enough, the roads changed names as they crossed the border. At least each municipality thought it was important enough to put up their own street signs.

border between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh
Wilkinsburg, Pittsburgh border

RATS #00346

https://www.strava.com/activities/4526875256
RATS #00346 in Glenwood

Turning my attention to Hazelwood’s southern neighbor, Glenwood, I ran from Hazelwood Green to the Glenwood Bridge. It was a cold Sunday afternoon, a couple days after Christmas. Most of the run was on flat streets between Second Avenue and the Monongahela River. Glenwood Railyard spreads out down there. Dyke Avenue is shockingly close to the live tracks, with houses being no more than 50 yards from railcars.

Continuing the theme, I made it to the entrance to the yards. It remineded me a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine, a show my kids loved. For those unfamiliar with Pittsburgh, it is worth noting that surrounding hills are across a river from here.

From here, I climbed the hills a little, making my way back to the car.

RATS #00347 – Downtown

After all these far-flung adventures, I realized I still had streets and alleys Downtown to do. Garmin doesn’t do too well among the downtown buildings, so it looks like I had had too much holiday cheer. It was another run in rain, this time in darkness as well. Not one to take post-card shots, here you’ll see some of the darker areas of town.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4541744978
RATS #00347 – Downtown

I parked near Firstside Park. A couple years ago (just kidding, it was over 20 years ago), I remember seeing the B&O Railway Terminal being dismantled. The hot white flash of cutting torches blazing through the steel beams flashed like sparkling stars even at midday. That demolition was soon replaced by Firstside, which, I understand, houses much of PNC’s computer systems.

Literally overshadowing the end of First Avenue is the Liberty Bridge. The maze of steel beams throws a spidery shadow on the barron slopes below. Not far away, Fourth Avenue ends under the approach ramps to the bridge, providing parking, restricted as it is.

Continuing deeper into Downtown, I was dismayed to find that Strawberry Way was blocked by construction equipment. That threw me off my planned route a bit. Nonetheless, I made my way over towards the Convention Center.

There’s is still some holiday cheer down there, from stars shining on tall buildings to bubbles of “Covid safe” outdoor dining. I’m not sure how safe enclosed outdoor dining is, but I got to hand it to the restaurants being creative and trying to stay afloat. Youth cannot be denied and under the Garrison Place lights a couple was frolicking, even in the rain.

Missed Chance and Second Chance

Two Runs in Hazelwood

First Chance

https://www.strava.com/activities/4460056146
RATS #00338 in the dark, missing Chance Way

It was a chilly and wet Friday night. I hadn’t run since Tuesday. I had to get out and cover some streets if I was ever going to finish this project. So, I decided on a short jaunt in Hazelwood. There’s convenient parking, it isn’t too far away and super runner Alyssa’s recent posts about Chance Way motivated me to find it. Actually, I “knew” where it was, a little alley off of Tulleymet Street, but somehow kept missing it. I swear there are micro “Bermuda Triangles” all over Pittsburgh. Small areas which keep obfuscating themselves whenever I try to find them. Chance Way is in one of them.

I started at Hazelwood Green, formerly a coke plant and now undergoing a transformation into a research manufacturing facility. The plan was to go up to Sylvan Street, skip down the Tullymet steps and run Chance Way. Alas, there is another set of steps, Berwick Street, which I mistook for Tulleymet. I was confused not to see Chance Way, but figured it was just too dark. Along Irvine Street, I caught a glimpse of interesting flowers made of glass and rebar. Osprey Way and Finn Way were rather creepy, but music playing from one building gave some semblance of normalcy. It wasn’t until further on, looking down Chaplain Way was that I got the heebie-jeebies and called it a night.

Second Chance

https://www.strava.com/activities/4463550140
RATS #00339 – Second Chance

After Friday’s missed attempt at running Chance Way, I enlisted Naomi’s help and took another shot at finding Chance Way. It’s amazing what running in the daylight, with a friend, will do. We passed a veritable garden of flowers made from glass and rebar. I also espied a real garden, all buttoned up for the winter.

Further on, we went up Berwick Street and found the bottom end of Chance Way. It is actually blocked off by jersey barriers, but was passable. That brought us to Tulleymet and the lower section of its three tiers of steps.

From there, we went down Sylvan Avenue, passing the Berwick steps and this old church structure. It looks to be in use as a church or community center, now accepting mask donations.

Continuing on to Tecumseh Street, Champlain Street didn’t look as bad in the noon daylight. It’s still not an area you might go to for a picnic, but it is filled with small houses now broadcasting Christmas music through the streets.

So, while running, I had noticed the mural for Tonee Turner, and took the picture, but didn’t think too much more about it. Only now, as I’m writing, did I realize that she has been missing only since December 30, 2019. Just a week earlier, her sister and friends had had a walk to remind Pittsburgh she has never been found. This news story on KDKA tells more about it. It is worth noting that, while the mural was here in ragged Hazelwood, she was last seen in splendid Squirrel Hill. It is rather disconcerting that this happened at all, much less in places I’m very familiar with.

Moving on from the flats, we charged up the West Elizabeth Street railroad overpass. Need any tires? This wooden warehouse is full of them. At least they haven’t been dumped on a hillside yet. On the horizon were hillier parts of Hazelwood, past St. Stephen’s.

Up the hills we went. Found the sun on Rose Way and chatted with the owner of this overwhelmingly decorated house. Shortly afterwards, we made it to the top of Ashton Avenue, where it meets Mansion Street. Mansion Street has a nice set of steps down to Johnston Avenue.

Now we made our way down Johnston Avenue to Second Avenue. There are a couple of interesting places along Second Avenue, such as the French bakery, La Gourmandine and the Hungarian restaurant, Jozsa Corner.

Finally, we made it back to Hazelwood Green. I stopped to read about its future while Naomi rounded out her mileage. In spite of the 550′ of elevation she was still smiling.