For the past 16 years the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA) has been working to protect and restore the watershed ecosystem, located in the East End of Pittsburgh. Born from a small project originally created by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, the NMRWA has grown from just 1 employee at its inception, to now mobilizing 11 full and part time staff, along with scores of volunteers. The staff works primarily with community members within Regent Square, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, and regionally throughout Allegheny County to provide environmental education to watershed residents and promote green infrastructure, urban forestry initiatives, and environmental stewardship.

Frick Park: Pittsburgh’s Green Heart

Frick Park, the largest of Pittsburgh’s city parks, falls within the boundaries of the Nine Mile Run Watershed. It is home to miles of well-maintained hiking and biking trails, fields, playgrounds, and other recreational areas, as well as the stream from which the watershed takes its name. As the largest and most prominent example of an urban forest within the city of Pittsburgh, much of the NMRWA’s activities center around the park.

Every fall, spring, and summer, the Association conducts a sweep of the Nine Mile Run, clearing harmful trash and debris from the stream in order to ensure a healthy ecosystem, an effort in which dozens of volunteers are mobilized. In addition to volunteer cleanup and maintenance events, NMRWA also conducts a variety of walks and interactive events to educate Pittsburghers on some of the most beautiful aspects of the park. These include events such as photography walks, bird watching hikes, restoration tours, and tree identification walks, all led by regional experts in their crafts and staff members well versed on the ecology and wildlife of the watershed.

Green Infrastructure: Laying the Groundwork for a Greener City

NMRWA is a regional leader and advocate of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) as the long-term stormwater management solution for cleaning and restoring Pittsburgh’s waterways. In order to spearhead this initiative, StormWorks, a fee-for-service program, was created in 2010 as a division of the Association devoted solely to this endeavor. StormWorks provides sustainable stormwater solutions, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and stormwater planters for both residences and businesses, which mitigate rain runoff and prevent sewage from overflowing into Pittsburgh’s waterways. All proceeds from StormWorks go back into funding NMRWA’s restoration and advocacy work.

NMRWA and StormWorks also undertake larger neighborhood scale initiatives, such as the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP). This effort and others like it are designed to immediately and significantly reduce stormwater runoff and the sewer overflows it causes. Through a combination of rain barrels, rain gardens, street tree pits, and larger scale GSI facilities, the RRRP is projected to alleviate millions of gallons of stormwater overflow from Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, preventing it from entering and polluting Nine Mile Run.

Youth Programs: Educating the Urban Eco Citizens of Tomorrow

Many of NMRWA’s programs are aimed at teaching children and youth how they are connected to nature, and how to properly care for their surroundings. Just this past year the Association worked with numerous regional partners, including the Hosanna House Summer Camp, Operation Better Block, the Ellis School, local Girl Scouts of America, and local high schools to provide a variety of programs, designed to encourage children to become better stewards of their urban environment.

NMRWA continues to increase initiatives such as these as part of the Association’s goal of developing programs that connect healthy communities and healthy watersheds through effective environmental education.

Urban EcoStewards: Becoming a Steward of Your Urban Environment

NMRWA, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Frick Environmental Center, Allegheny Land Trust, TreePittsburgh, and Allegheny Clean Ways provides training for citizens who commit to becoming long-term stewards of greenspace all around Pittsburgh through a program called Urban EcoStewards.

After their first training session, Urban EcoStewards are ready to go out and care for their own specific plot of land, taking ownership of key preservation duties such as removing invasive plant species and litter, planting native species, and other tasks as needed. The partnership also provides ongoing public training sessions that educate participants in various areas of environmental stewardship and advocacy. NMRWA currently coordinates the efforts of more than 25 EcoStewards devoted specifically to the Nine Mile Run Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration area.

Become a Champion of the NMR Watershed

Much of what NMRWA does is possible thanks to the hard work of community volunteers. Without them, the Association would never to be able to have such a large impact on the health of the watershed. If the prospect of making a difference in your community or attending fun and informative events interests you, visit their events page to see their schedule and find upcoming volunteer opportunities.

As a nonprofit organization, a significant part of NMRWA’s operations are funded through the generous support of its members. Not only does membership allow the Association to continue providing many different events and services, but it also demonstrates to grantors and elected officials the importance of its mission, lending strength to the Association’s voice as it continues to advocate for green approaches to urban challenges.