The trail along the Allegheny River, behind Heinz Lofts, will have a fresh new look this spring.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is tearing out invasive greenery and planting something new. It’s part of the Pittsburgh Redbud Project which NEXTpittsburgh first wrote about in 2016.

“We feature the redbud tree,” explains Jeff Bergman, director of community forestry for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “It’s a native tree. It flowers early in the spring, and has really a beautiful pink/purplish flower.”

“Part of the inspiration for the project was the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C., so it’s kind of like a celebration of spring — the long winter’s over.”

The wall of greenery along the trail was honeysuckle, which sounds sort of sweet, but isn’t.

“All the stuff that was green along that trail was a non-native, invasive plant,” says Bergman. “The plant is bad because it grows so vigorously that it crowds out every other kind of plant. A native plant provides food and habitat for animals — birds, bees, all kinds of critters. The honeysuckle is not a good food source, and crowds out all of the stuff that would naturally be occurring there.”

A blooming redbud tree. Photo courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

“We saved any trees along that stretch that were good — we didn’t take out any healthy, native trees. Our foresters and landscape architect developed a planting plan that included dozens of native trees, shrubs and we’ll be planting perennials in there too.”

It might come as a surprise to some but Pittsburgh’s riversides are teeming with wildlife.

“There’s so many different birds, turtles, salamanders, fish, all kinds of pollinators,” says Bergman. “When you go in and do a restoration like this, you’re increasing biodiversity. You’re increasing the whole range of plants, providing food and shelter for animals, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing if you are seeing things that flower throughout the year.”

The Redbud Project began in 2016. “We’ve planted over 3,000 trees, about 6,000 perennials and native grasses, and a couple of thousand native shrubs,” says Bergman. “We focused on areas along the trails, North Shore Riverfront Park, Point State Park, Mt. Washington, Downtown and the South Side.”

Along River Avenue and the Allegheny River trail, as many as 200 volunteers, many of them high school students, worked on the planting.

“We like to get people up there, get their hands dirty,” says Bergman. “When people come out and help you do these plantings, it’s an opportunity to learn about why trees are important in urban areas, and things they can do to help make the city a healthier place to live.”