"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Favorite Pittsburgh Runs #8

When I first started working at the Valley News Dispatch in 2006, I tended to run in Schenley Park and then drive out to the office. I didn't think there was any way the Alle-Kiski Valley could be more interesting.
For a while, I was right, but just because I wasn't creative. When I would work evenings, I would have to head out there before rush hour, but I'd wind up with at least 45 minutes extra to kill, so I started running from the office, along First Avenue into Brackenridge and then Harrison, where I discovered the wonder that is Natrona.

Natrona once housed most of the workforce for the Allegheny Ludlum steel mill in adjacent Brackenridge. It had so many Catholics that at least three churches thrived. Now....not so much. Population has plummeted, houses have fallen into disrepair, crime, for a time, ran rampant, though it had since cooled. I knew, despite the slightly lower-quality air around the remaining steel mill, that I wanted to make Natrona the centerpiece of any run I did around the area. For some reason, decay fascinates me, because you never know what is left over. I'd almost rather scavenge the irregular and slightly-singed merchandise at Gabriel Brothers than shop somewhere that I know I can find what I want. In addition to the historical treasures, the spectacle is just as fun. For instance, the photo at left. I befriended three young gents one day in 2007 while writing a story about Natrona. Mike, in the middle, has a Blackberry, despite his employ as a cook at the three friends' barbecue stand. Also, why isn't that guy in the background wearing a shirt?
I start in Natrona Heights at Pennsylvania Avenue and run along Broadview Boulevard to Penn St, down to Vermont and back up to Argonne Drive. The approach to Natrona down Arragone Drive is marvelous. You can see the tightly clustered houses surrounding the ornate church, St Ladislaus.

The route travels several mostly-empty streets that get barely any traffic. Federal Street features several Civil War-era houses, though recent fires have claimed several.
Moving onto Karns Road transitions the run from slum to a more rural, rolling setting. Slum might be harsh, but it's close. Karns Road might be my favorite segment of the run. Each step brings you closer to the northeastern edge of Allegheny County and its nexus with Armstrong County.

The turn up Oak Manor Drive, however, is a quick blow to anyone who wasn't expecting to have to climb back up the hill they descended via Argonne Drive. At the top of Oak Manor, you turn onto Freeport Road, which isn't great for pedestrians, but soon enough you can turn off into neighborhoods in Natrona Heights as you approach Heights Plaza and the end of the run.

The timing of this post happened to coincide with Oscar and Beth Shutt running up Oak Manor Drive today. Wacky!


  1. LOVE it! You so perfectly described Natrona. When we first moved here I would NEVER run down there but then I realized how nice it is to run along the river and see all that Tartentum/Natrona/etc... beholds. And who wouldn't want to run up the behemoth Oak Manor Drive??? Fun times!! :)

  2. That Oak Manor hill sure is a rough one! Very appropriate description of Natrona as well. You definitely captured the essence of the area!