Three things I learned about Etna through building EcoPark
1. Our community is stronger than the pandemic.
The last public event we had before the COVID-19 pandemic was a community workshop to collaboratively design Etna EcoPark (February 5, 2020). We announced the park's creation through a printed banner that sat on the site and boldly stated, “Etna EcoPark - Coming This Spring.” When the pandemic struck, it created a public health and economic crisis - but it also tore apart our social fabric and the connections we have with one another. Our community did so much together before that time and we were forced into isolation to protect one another.
Like many organizations, ECO had to “pivot,” a term that became ubiquitous during the time of COVID-19. We pulled our resources to provide a free weekly food program to serve residents and support local businesses - among other relief efforts. All the while, that printed banner sat on the corner of Wilson and Grant mocking us; did we really need this reminder on top of everything we were going through? Around October 2020, we began to get curious if the community at large was ready to take up the Etna EcoPark project again.
As soon as the request for volunteers went out, residents started signing up to build the park. They donated their time and their skills to build fences, dig holes (in incredibly hard soil), plant a rain garden, and push boulders. They came out on their own time to water plants and pull weeds all while navigating statewide restrictions, layoffs, and an uncertain future. This park was built with sweat equity as much as it was from our generous donations and grants. The fact that this park was completed in just one year speaks to the resilience of our community. I'd like to think that building this park was therapeutic for people; it was for me. By doing something positive together, we weren't just creating a physical place; we were re-stitching the social fabric of our community.
2. Our strength is in our willingness to work together.
No one person, organization, or company built Etna EcoPark. It isn't one person's vision and not one part of the park is the result of any single entity. This place was created because Etna's strength is working with the voices and the hands of many to create something more beautiful together.
Before the park project even started, Etna Borough was successful in two types of assistance to demolish the condemned building (HUD CDGB grant, 2017) and then acquire the lot (Allegheny County Vacant Lot Recovery Program, 2019). Early on, the Borough made a commitment to use the site for stormwater management (Green Infrastructure Master Plan, Buchart Horn, 2014) as its location is in the floodplain. Later, as Etna began work on its EcoDistrict Plan (evolveEA, 2019), the site was envisioned as a place where our shared values and vision could be tangible.
At the February 5, 2020 community workshop to design the park, +60 residents worked in teams to create plans for the park's function and features. Those groups assembled different park layouts and were addressing practical questions - what types of activities would happen here, where should there be plants, how many seating areas do we need? The various group-created designs were later analyzed by founding/former ECO Director Alexis Boytim, and then synthesized into what became known as the "Consensus Plan". It wasn't any individual's idea, any group's exact layout, or Alexis' dream - but rather a collective road map for how the site could be redeveloped.
As we resumed work in October 2020, we stood with Tree Pittsburgh's Executive Director, Matt Erb, and questioned if anything could even grow on the site due to the unfriendly nature of the "soil." But after twelve months and the help of many (At the bottom of this article, I list each of the volunteers, donors, and project contributors), Etna EcoPark is blooming and is abundant with life. Perhaps the thing I love most about the park is that when I walk around, I see the faces of who installed the fences, who planted the herbs, who made the little library, and who illustrated the signs; the park is alive and it is filled with the fruits of our labor and our collaboration.
3. Our vision for an equitable, sustainable future can be made real.
Over 400 people contributed +2 hours at 36 free, public events, meetings, and workshops to create the Etna EcoDistrict Plan. For us, the three year process - starting with the early grassroots effort in 2016 through the comprehensive certification in 2019 - was a commitment to listening and adapting to the needs, wants, and dreams of our residents. When the plan was published in December 2019, we had a document that outlined a bold vision for Etna's future; for us at ECO, it also represented a promise. What would people think if we spent all of that time - their time - talking about ideas, talking about improving the quality of life in Etna, and then nothing happened?
Throughout the plan, there are many ideas for turning vacant lots and blighted structures into public spaces, especially green spaces that contribute to stormwater management. At the community meetings with evolveEA, we looked at community development through the lenses of six quality of life issues: energy, water, air quality, mobility, food, and social equity. As you look around the park, you will see how each of these issues is incorporated into the design, none more noticeable than water, as the beautiful rain garden will help alleviate flooding in this part of the floodplain. In fact, this was tested on September 1 as the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit Etna and the region at large. The rain garden filled up with stormwater and the park served its purpose. I walked down after the creek stopped rising, just one hour after it was flooded, and the park was stunning; it was like nothing had happened at all. The last time that site was hit with flooding, it left Etna with an eyesore and a hazardous condition for 17 years. Etna EcoPark is the dream: when our infrastructure protects us in a time of need and that it can be a public space and an attractive habitat the vast majority of time.
Now with the park building phase complete, our hope is that this success will beget more success and that more of our community’s vision will be brought to life. While the process to create the plan was powerful and meaningful, our community desires and deserves physical change - and Etna EcoPark is a place where our vision for an equitable, sustainable future has been made real. We credit that to good planning and a great community.
The Etna EcoPark Celebration is Saturday, October 9th, 4-7 PM. You'll hear from local leaders, listen to live music, and get familiar with Etna's newest green public space. Please join us and celebrate this vacant lot revitalization effort! Visit our event page to learn more! We need volunteers to put this event on so please sign up.
Please join us for the official opening of the Etna EcoPark! We look forward to a fun evening of celebration complete with live music, food vendors, and the opportunity to thank those who helped bring our new park to life! More information below:
FREE EVENT This is a free and open-to-the-public event, but please bring nonperishable items for donation to the Bread of Life Food Pantry.
VOLUNTEERS Volunteers for set-up, tabling, and clean-up are needed. Sign up here.
SCHEDULE 4:00, Speakers 4:30-7:00, Live Music
SPEAKERS + Megan Tunon, Executive Director, ECO + Mary Ellen Ramage, Etna Borough Manager + Senator Lindsey Williams + Representative Sara Innamorato + Councilwoman Anita Prizio + Brad Iannuzzi, Etna Borough Public Works Director + Brian Wolovich, Director, Triboro Ecodistrict
LIVE MUSIC + 4:30-5:15, Tai Chirovsky + 5:15-6:00, Louie Castle + 6:00-7:00, The Jim & Bailey Band + Sound, stage, and lighting by Zero Fossil
TOURS + 4:35 & 5:35 - Lindsay Huff - Sculpture Tour on Kinetic Sculptures, their Design Intent and Fabrication Process + 4:50 & 5:50 - Judith Koch - Environmental Tour on Sustainability Features and Native Plants
FOOD & DRINK + Food Truck by D&L Handcrafted Deli + Adult Beverages by Porky's Bar & Grill. Beer and seltzers will be available and are permitted within the closed street area. + Free dessert pierogies will be handed out at 6:30 PM from Cop Out Pierogies
POP-UPS + Community gardening information from Garden of Etna + Screen printing with Etna Print Circus + Button-making and more from Millvale Community Library + Activities and information with Etna Pedestrian Alliance + Community engagement project on mental health and wellness with Jason McKoy
TRANSIT & PARKING + Etna EcoPark is located at 37 Grant Ave, Etna, PA 15223 + Church Alley will be closed to traffic. Part of Wilson St will be utilized for event standing area. + Use alternative transportation like walking, biking, carpooling, busing, and/or ride share if that is possible for you. + Parking is available at the All Saints Activities Building. This lot is best accessed from Dewey St. Street parking is also available.
STORY OF ETNA ECOPARK:
Before: The building at 37 Grant Avenue was damaged by flooding in the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and remained condemned for 13 years. After five years of applying for HUD’s Community Block Development Grants, Etna Borough was finally successful in obtaining funding for demolition and completed the work in 2017. Through the Allegheny County Vacant Lot Recovery Program, Etna Borough became the owner of 37 Grant Avenue in November 2019. The Borough of Etna committed early on to this being an open green space, due to its location in the floodplain with stormwater management as its focus.
Vision: The idea to use the site for stormwater management first appeared in the Etna Borough’s Green Infrastructure Master Plan completed by Buchart Horn in 2014. Starting in late 2016, Etna began work on a grassroots initiative called the Etna EcoDistrict and participating in a multi-municipal collaboration known as the Triboro Ecodistrict. In 2019, Etna EcoDistrict partners and planning consultant evolveEA were hosting a series of public engagements when the idea of using the site not only for stormwater management, but to also highlight the other Quality of Life issues addressed in the Etna EcoDistrict became a focus for the space’s future. The name, Etna EcoPark, emerged to reference a place where the Etna EcoDistrict would be physically tangible.
Process: In February 2020, ECO, Etna Borough, and the Triboro Ecodistrict held an open-to-the-public workshop to obtain input on how Etna EcoPark should be configured. Residents came together and produced six drawings about how they would like to use the site. The drawings were then analyzed by former/founding ECO Director Alexis Boytim and combined them to create the “consensus plan”. Work on Etna EcoPark paused for seven months during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed efforts in October 2020. Work was completed October 2021.
ETNA ECOPARK DONORS & VOLUNTEERS:
+$10,000: The Henry L. Hillman Foundation via the Triboro EcoDistrict Grants of 2018 and 2021
+$1,000: Carl Funtal / Cop Out Pierogies, Gateway Engineers, Don Newman & Barb Deriso
+$500: Kathy Alexander, Earth Volunteer Fund, Etna Properties LP, Garden of Etna
+$100: Valerie Beichner, Alexis Boytim & Will Kerr, Ruth Brannigan, Environmental Planning & Design, evolveEA, Etna Neighborhood Association, William & Davita Kubrin Gazica, Jacqueline Gerthoffer, Thomas Hill Jr, Prerana Paliwal, Midge Pfeifer, Josh Purvis, & Lydia Morin, Mary Ellen & Pete Ramage, Diane Sheridan, Michael Spampinato, Megan & Robert Tuñón, Lynda Tuñón, Josh Verbanets & Kate Summers, Voegele Co. Inc.
Under $100: Matt Aelmore, Rita Ann, Cathy Bodnar Bills, Greg Boytim, Andrew Bradley, Nickie Cheung, Jann Chirdon, Sloane Davidson, Bonnie DeMotte, Chelsea Doran, Austin Dorn, Courtney Drahovsky, John Louis Dzikiy, David Esch, Emilia Farmerie-Rishel, Lew Fortwangler, Meg Dukovic Hill, Lindsay Huff, Sophie Kachur, Jessica & Tyler Kirin, Michael Madden, Donna McDonough, Janet Miller, Rudy & Nancy Milcic, Rose Miller, Veni Mittal, Judy Neelan, Kara Nichole, Kelly Prokop, Kelsey Ripper, Tim Rogers, Bonnie Sam, Jessica Semler, Holly Simek, Danielle Spinola, Chris Soult, Karen & Joe Tomaszewski, Lisa Warren, Megan Winters, Julie Hudic Yost
Donated Professional Services: Nick Farine, Judith Koch, Sara Madden, Tim Miller, Don Newman, Joyce Swope, Robert Tuñón
Food & Drink, Mums, Delivery: Kim & Ed Burke, Cop Out Pierogies, Bryan Fisher, Jessica & Tyler Kirin, Jaylin Kremer, Redhawk Coffee, Vicki Trader
Water: All Saints Church of Saint Matthew’s Parish
Construction Volunteers: Josh Bowman, Alexis Boytim, Kim & Ed Burke, Allison Butka, Kendra Clarke, Ricky Craven, Elizabeth Dunn, Nick Farine, Alice & Steve Gabriel, Will Gazica, Essi Glah, Liz Hanulak, Neelesh Jain, Will Kerr, Jess & Tyler Kirin, Judith & Mike Koch, Tim Miller, Veni Mittal, Maureen & Alex Mueller, Mayor Tom Rengers, Jessica Semler, Michael Spampinato, Jordan Swartz, Joyce Swope, Megan & Robert Tuñón, Nam Walika, Josh Verbanets, Kate Zidar
ETNA ECOPARK CONTRIBUTIONS:
Project Partners: Borough of Etna, Etna Community Organization, Triboro Ecodistrict
Demolition & Acquisition: Etna Borough received HUD Community Development Block Grant funding to demolish the property at 37 Wilson St. Etna Borough acquired the property through the Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program. Etna Borough committed early on to this being an open green space, due to its location in the floodplain with stormwater management as its focus.
Planning: In 2020, ECO, Etna Borough, and the Triboro Ecodistrict hosted a community meeting and sixty residents drew versions of what they wanted the park to be. Founding/former ECO Director Alexis Boytim merged the plans to form a consensus plan. Architect and ECO Board Chair Robert Tuñón (donated services) completed drawings of the park. Soil testing was completed by Allegheny County Conservation District (donated services).
Rain Garden: The rain garden stormwater strategy was designed by engineer Don Newman (donated services). The rain garden planting plan was developed by landscape architect Sara Madden (donated services). Etna Borough Public Works excavated the rain garden. Eisler Landscapes completed rain garden construction (partial discount). ECO and Phyto Bello led plant purchases and the planting of the rain garden.
Tree Planting: Matt Erb of Tree Pittsburgh selected, procured, and planned the tree planting. As part of Etna Borough’s Air Quality grant from Allegheny County Health Department, Tree Pittsburgh, Etna Borough Public Works, ECO, and eight volunteers planted the four trees inside the park. Later, a street tree was planted as part of the same program.
Permeable Pavers: The permeable paver walkway was installed by Etna Borough Public Works. The PaveDrain product by Kevcon Inc. was purchased (discounted cost).
Site Furniture: Funding for the accessible picnic table was donated by Cop Out Pierogies which hosted a Fish Fry Fundraiser on the park’s behalf. Gateway Engineers, the current municipal engineer for Etna Borough, donated funds to purchase a bench. Don Newman and Barb Deriso donated funds to Etna Borough Council, who used the donation to purchase a bench in memory of Councilman Rudy Milcic. Site furniture was purchased from Dumor Inc. and assembled/installed by ECO and Etna Borough Public Works.
Site Plantings: Phyto Bello’s Judith Koch designed and led volunteer planting days for the native species gardens around the parklet. Mulch, soil, labor, delivery, and wood were donated by Nick Farine of Farine Lawn Care. West Virginia boulders line the north edge from Building Products in Sharpsburg.
Fences: Etna Borough Public Works dug holes for the rain garden barrier fence and installed posts for the property line fence. ECO coordinated many volunteer days to build and stain the fences. Tim Miller of T.R. Miller Contracting Inc. donated his time on multiple weekends to build the rain garden barrier.
Herb Garden: Garden of Etna donated funds, transport, and soil. ECO bought larch lumber from Mars Lumber, transported, and built the planters with the help of volunteers. Nick Farine donated the soil. Garden of Etna will manage the beds.
Signage: Educational Signage illustrations were created by Trenita Finney, designed by Robert Tuñón (donated services) in collaboration with Judith Koch, fabricated by Tristate Signs and Reprographics. The Etna EcoPark sign was designed by Robert Tuñón (donated services) and made by Tristate.
Kinetic Sculptures: As part of a Triboro Ecodistrict Youth-Energy-Art project, Artist Lindsay Huff worked with a committee including Alexis Boytim, Mary Ellen Ramage, Jessica Semler, Dave Becki, Joyce Swope, Lydia Morin, and Jess Pfeifer. Lindsay designed and then fabricated the sculptures. The aluminum frames were made by K&I Sheet Metal. Residents submitted images and text for the enameled panels.
Little Library: William Whitmer built and donated three little libraries for Etna Borough as part of his Eagle Scout project. The second was installed at Etna EcoPark by Etna Borough Public Works. The outside of the library was painted by Cesia Davis and Violet Gabriel, the youngest contributors to the park. Books have been donated by many including William’s family.
Bike Rack: Bike Pittsburgh and Dero fabricated the custom Bike Racks that were designed by Robert Tuñón (donated services).
Fundraiser Shirts: Etna Print Circus designed, screen printed, and delivered custom shirts to help with the Pitch In for Etna EcoPark fundraiser (donated design services and discounted pricing).
Project Management: Etna Borough: Mary Ellen Ramage, Brad Iannuzzi;
ECO: Alexis Boytim, Megan Tuñón, Robert Tuñón