Millvale Neighborhood Eco Walking Tour

Last weekend, we ended our walking tour series, where it began, in Millvale. Participants joined us Saturday morning to revisit a few projects as well as learn about new ones Millvale has implemented.

In April, we kicked off our walking tour series in Millvale. At only 0.65 square miles and a population of 3,700, the amount of green infrastructure in Millvale was impressive and they have added to that list since. In recent history, the community has installed several rain gardens, an urban farm and community gardens.

You can read about our first walking tour in Millvale, in the blog post from that tour, here.

Brian shows off the rain garden and rain barrels in the backyard of the library.

Brian shows off the rain garden and rain barrels in the backyard of the library.

Our tour began at the Millvale community library. The April tour visited the expansive rain garden and several rain barrels the library has in its yard. During our September tour, we also learned about how the library has added solar panels to its roof. Now, it receives all of its energy from the panels. Brian Wolovich, from Millvale Council, joined us here. Brian was integral to making the library what it is today as well as spearheading many other green initiatives around town. The library is very much a community amenity for Millvale and it was a community effort to build the building. With the library’s green infrastructure, the community continues to benefit as the rain barrels and rain garden have collected rain water before it can enter the sewer system and cause flooding. Many in Millvale have experienced the devastating effects of flooding but they have also seen that green infrastructure can be a solution to this problem.

Farmer Tom shows off his urban farm.

Farmer Tom shows off his urban farm.

Next, we headed to the urban farm in Millvale and met up with Tom, a resident of Millvale who created and continues to manage the farm. Tom’s farm is active with an array of vegetables and a busy bee hive. The produce of Tom’s farm is sold at the local farmer’s market. Tom also organizes events related to the farm including a workshop on how to make sauerkraut from cabbage grown on the farm. During our tour, Tom shared garlic he had grown with the participants. Some planned on replanting the herb in their own garden. Tom works with the rain to maintain his farm, allowing his plants to absorb any rain that falls. If he experiences a dry season, Tom also has two rain barrels attached to his house which he can use to water the plants when necessary.

The beginnings of a greenhouse in the community gardens of Millvale.

The beginnings of a greenhouse in the community gardens of Millvale.

From the farm, the tour headed to the community gardens in Millvale. Mandy Wolovich, co-chair of the gardens, met us to explain how the community works to maintain the gardens. Several raised beds cover a former empty lot in Millvale. Community members rent a portion of a raised bed to plant and maintain. Across the street from the gardens is an orchard. Since our April tour, the community gardens group added a greenhouse to the grounds. They hope to grow winter vegetables inside.

The group checks out the rain garden in a municipal parking lot in Millvale.

The group checks out the rain garden in a municipal parking lot in Millvale.

Next, we headed to the rain garden in Millvale’s municipal parking lot. After visiting this site in April, it was great to see the garden during a different season as the plants had grown. At each rain garden we visited, residents of Millvale commented they have never seen the gardens overflow and that within a few hours the rain water is absorbed into the ground, an indication of the garden working efficiently and accomplishing its goal.

Finally, the tour headed back to Grant Ave (with a detour at the bakery of course!) for a new stop. Brian Wolovich joined us again to describe an exciting new project for the borough, the Millvale Town Square and Grange. The community recently purchased a building formerly inhabited by a furniture store. They plan to expand on the community amenity that is the farmer’s market while offering new opportunities to residents. Through some rehabilitation of the building, the farmer’s market will expand, residents will have greater access to food and office space will become available on the upper floors. Plans for the building include offering classes on urban agriculture.

Brian Wolovich shows off the future site of the Millvale Town Square and Grange project.

Brian Wolovich shows off the future site of the Millvale Town Square and Grange project.

An optional stop on the tour was Mt Alvernia. A former high school and current residencefor Sisters of St. Francis, Mt. Alvernia sits atop a hill in Millvale. Last year, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and TreeVitalize worked with the Sisters to install two bioswales on the campus. Today, a bioswale runs along Hawthrone Ave. It is one of the largest in the region. A second lies in the parking lot of the campus. Those on the tour, who were interested, joined us at Mt. Alvernia to meet Marah Vecenie. Marah works for TreeVitalize and was integral to creating and installing the bioswales. Now she coordinates their monitoring and maintenance. Like the rain gardens throughout Millvale, the Sisters and TreeVitalize have seen the efficiency of the bioswales during rain storms, witnessing that they never overflow and quickly absorb the water. The location of these bioswales was strategic. Hawthrone Road is quite steep and intersects with a major road in Millvale. Helping to mitigate flooding on this road benefits the whole community. In addition, the bioswale located in the parking lot also sits at the bottom of a hill and has significant water flow in its direction.

Marah Vecenie of TreeVitalize shares the story of installing bioswales at Mt. Alvernia.

Marah Vecenie of TreeVitalize shares the story of installing bioswales at Mt. Alvernia.

It was great for us to end our tour in Millvale. We are very excited for all that they have accomplished and what they have planned. Thank you to everyone who joined us on our walking tour series. We enjoyed meeting all of you in the community and experiencing these projects together. Our goal was to give anyone and everyone the opportunity to see firsthand how green infrastructure works and how it can benefit a community. We hope our participants learned something new about green infrastructure and can take that knowledge back to their own community.