"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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Favorite Pittsburgh Runs #1

This route was born from my foray into politics in 2009.

My neighbor and friend Georgia ran for city council to represent the west end of the city. As I explored the district map, I realized just how little I knew of the area. While living in Mt. Washington in 2007, I had run in the West End, Crafton Heights and Elliott neighborhoods, but outside of that area, I was relatively unfamiliar, save for some trips through the Corliss Tunnel as a child. To help introduce her name to western neighborhoods, I planned to make a t-shirt bearing Georgia's name to wear as I ran through the area. The fun part was taking the district map and finding a way to maximize my travel and find a good longish route. What I came up with is a diverse and fascinating tour of Pittsburgh's forgotten neighborhoods that turned out to be excellent for running.
Note: I had become enthused with Esplen in 2008 when I saw this photo and story, but sadly it doesn't fit in the loop.

The start in the West End is a flat stretch through the valley between Elliott and Duquesne Heights until the climb up Steuben Street and Chartiers Avenue into Elliott about a mile in. Traffic can get a little tight early on Chartiers, but on the post-Lorenz downhill, the road widens and traffic disperses.

A right turn at the Comcast building takes you
through the Corliss Tunnel. As a child, I loved traveling through tunnels in Pittsburgh, and because the Corliss Tunnel was the most out of the way, I was drawn to them the most. I couldn't have passed through them more than five times as a kid, and tunnel is very short so they weren't long experiences. You face the Ohio River on West Carson Street and turn left and head west for a block until Glenmawr, a long climb that runs parallel to the West Busway and takes you into Sheraden.

Sheraden is the largest neighborhood in Pittsburgh's West End, annexed by the city in 1907. The once-stable, sprawling neighborhood has gone to seed lately, but decent housing stock is the norm, just in various states of decay.
While running down Ashlyn Street, Eric Shafer, Jo Rupp, Steve Garand, Brandon Gillingham and Greg Byrnes and I saw a teenage girl throw a brick at a boy across the street, but attempt no further assault. Turning down into Sheraden Park you can see some of the fields that bind many of the youth together in routinely strong baseball and softball leagues. A right on Fransisco brings you into the Sheraden Park co-op, with views through the trees of Brunot Island in the Ohio River and down into McKees Rocks.

Back onto Chartiers Avenue, you pass a few taverns on your right, Smitty's, Kron's Draught House and Molly O's Bar and Grille. The Googlemap represents each of these establishments with a martini glass, but I do believe if you order a martini at either place, your departure will be likely expedited by several burly gents.
A loop takes you around the Tuxedo Street skate park, and then hits Chartiers again. The route then descends past the Poale Zedeck Cemetary, associated with a congregation in Squirrel Hill, which is now full. Down the hill into Chartiers City and Windgap, two middle-class residential neighborhoods featuring the Remember When ice cream shop.

A left onto Windgap Road leads out of the city briefly into Ingram, by the beautiful Allegheny Valley School Patricia Hillman Miller campus in West Prospect before reentering the city in Fairywood, perhaps the most intriguing neighborhood in the city, as I consider it. The neighborhood has about 10 streets, with houses in varying states of decay, and few residents remain. I am still a little scared to venture onto Mazette Place...

The loop runs through almost all of the streets in the neighborhood, and the corner of Abordale and Fairywood Street is so remote that I doubt 99 percent of the city's population has ever been there.

Head straight into the Broadhead Manor housing project, abandoned in 2004 when Chartiers Creek flooded after Hurricane Ivan. It used to be the most dangerous part of Pittsburgh, and I'm sure there are squatters living there that keep it moderately dangerous, but on Sunday mornings they are rarely out and about. They're probably at church. Here's a taste of the dysfunction once abounded at Broadhead Manor. You've hit the lowest point on the loop and
will enjoy a few miles of flat but exposed running, so if it's a hot day, be ready for it. By that point you really start to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. The valley you are in was rural until the end of World War II.

Coming out of Broadhead, you see the vitality and likely the future of Fairywood -- industrial real estate. I'm not even sure what all of the buildings store -- I know one is a food depot, another is UPS and a third is Roomful Express furniture. Head to the end of Beechnut Street and head off the road and turn left to run parallel to the train tracks that are part of the former Scully Yard.

Over a slight bridge and onto Napor Boulevard, you're now in Kennedy Township, I believe. Follow Napor under the Thornburg Bridge into Thornburg then across Steuben Street, in Crafton, back into the city.

The first time I remember crossing the Thornburg Bridge was in June 2001, when I got lost taking my then-girlfriend, Kelly, to dinner on Mt. Washington. I couldn't get over to the Route 51 South exit from 279 and took 51 North, where we hit an awful traffic jam. Trying to turn around in the West End, I made an illegal left turn and would up climbing Steuben Street into Elliott, Crafton Heights, regular Crafton and when I hit the bridge I realized it was time to figure out where in God's name we were. Eventually we got back on track, but for a long time the memory of being so completely lost in an area close to where I lived stuck with me and represented itself visually as the Thornburg Bridge.

In 1777, General Edward Hand built the first federal hospital in the new nation along the banks of the Chartiers Creek, near the fording between the Thornburg Bridge and Brodhead-Fording Road.
You run back to Broadhead Manor on the Industrial Highway, which is dramatically empty. It adds to Fairywood's post-apocalyptic feel of. It's really remarkable. Matt Ciccone discovered the same route as a high schooler, and my friend's boyfriend (who went to Langley) used to know people who would drag race there. It runs along Chartiers Creek, which my high school environmental science class studied. Someday, there will be a complete trail along the river, there there are a few miles of trail on the west bank.

There was a man on Broadhead Fording Road who used to be outside when I would run there in Spring 2009. He was a welcome change from the hecklers I ran into in the suburbs. He would ask me earnestly how far I had gone, if I was running the in marathon, and how far until I was done. I hope that man is still around. I doubt it.

In contrast to the rest of the neighborhood, Emerald Gardens is growing somewhat. A private company bought the former projects, Westgate Village, and is renovating them, and it seems to be the only growth going on there.

You're actually in a city at this point.
Shortly before the 14-mile mark, you start a long climb to Steuben Street. The next few uphills are pretty much a constant, but managable, climb. Clearfield street is hard to catch, so be mindful to look to the right up Windgap Avenue approaching Summerdale. There's a chain across the path, so look out! You disappear into a wooded path that makes you forget you're in a city. It's amazing. It's also very steep.

Throughout this stretch, you'll see middle-class homes and churches, with the occasional crazy man in front of the Middletown Road Baptist Church, who will ask you if you are interested in what he has to say. You are not. Trust me.

The climb up to Barr is kind of steep, but it's the end of any climbing you'll have to do. The last two miles on Noblestown are a long downhill, and it's fun to just let loose, especially when passing through West End Park. Crank it!There's a convenience store around the corner from the finish, and they stock chocolate milk. If you run early enough, you can get warm doughnuts in Elliott. A long hard run on this loop will satisfy you for a while, and if done right will leave your legs tingling.

For the most part, people I know don't spend any time in the area. When I had my going away party at the Obey House in Crafton Heights, most people said they had never been around there. I just love the variety that comes in this run, the long hills, the dramatic views, the 10 different neighborhoods, the fact that nobody knows where half of the places are.

I think one reason I enjoy this loop so much is that the area was pretty close to where I grew up, but I never explored it. I didn't know much about the area between interstates 376 and 79, and I didn't care. There couldn't be much there, right?

Considering how dangerous Broadhead Manor was, that's probably a good thing I didn't explore so much. To see that neighborhood reduced to near abandonment intrigues me, because the bad stuff that happened just picked up and left.

In 1998, Charlie Van Gombos and I decided to follow a pair of girls in their car after they bought some cigarettes (clearly underaged) and we wound up following them onto Noblestown Road all the way to the West End. Neither of us had a clue where we were- it was dark and that lent an air of mystery to the whole fiasco.

The neighborhoods' interconnectedness also adds a sense of adventure- a wrong turn on Berry will lead you to Langley High School if you aren't careful. There are fascinating views and spots all over the place.

It's a land of mystery, of which the nexus of it all may never be determined.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know how many people are in the population of the westside?