Pittsburgh's need for a municipal water system brought about the creation of Highland Park in the late 1800s. In 1879, a reservoir for providing drinking water for the city was opened in an area surrounded by public land and greenery. People were naturally drawn to the site for its open space and scenic beauty, and the increasing popularity of the reservoir for picnics and passive recreation caught the attention of the Parks Commission. In 1889 the city made it official, establishing as Highland Park by ordinance. Today Reservoir No. 1 remains an iconic feature of Highland Park, and the Reservoir Loop is a favorite trail for walkers and joggers.
The reservoir is accessed through the beautiful entry garden, a Victorian-style gathering place with gardens, a fountain and reflecting pool, and benches for relaxing. Highland Park also features a popular bike track, swimming pool, sand volleyball courts, and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. A water filtration plant cleans the water from the main reservoir, and waste water is de-chlorinated in part by a brook which trickles down a hill toward Lake Carnegie.
Beginning with the creation of the Babbling Brook in 2003, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has completed several capital projects in Highland Park. The Entry Garden was restored in 2005, and in 2006 the Conservancy worked with the City of Pittsburgh to create a series of seasonal pools along Washington Boulevard. These pools provide a unique urban wetland habitat while dramatically reducing the impact of storm water runoff. Future plans for the park include work on the Heth’s Run project, which includes creating a new trail, adding athletic fields, and connecting the park to the Allegheny River.