This summer, I am working as the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Panther Hollow Research Fellow. You can usually find me wandering around with a meter stick down by the streams in Panther Hollow or walking the trails in Schenley Park. My job is a monitor the health of Phipps and Panther Hollow Runs by measuring the amount of water flowing through the streams.
Recently, I got to spend 12 days in Japan when I had the great fortune of being accepted to a summer exchange school hosted by the Global Center of Excellence at Hokkaido University. The program brought students together from around the world to discuss links between the human and natural world, as well as connections between the way we develop the land and global warming. I heard the perspective of students from the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Thailand and countless others. Each student researches a different aspect of the topic, but we were united in our yearning to provoke positive change in our countries and communities.
To examine connections between human and natural systems we visited places where people’s livelihood depended on balancing natural resource use. This included two livestock farms, a fishing village, an experimental forest and the largest city on the island of Hokkaido, Saporro. During field trips and lectures we discussed current topics such as sustainable agriculture, biofuel production, foresty practices, fisheries and urban centers. We brainstormed how the way we manage natural areas, such a Schenley Park, can alter the services nature provides to humans free of charge.
For example, in Schenley Park the forests lining the trails provide services to us. The trees provide climate reguation through capturing carbon from the atmosphere and by shading the trails we walk on. During Pittsburgh’s hot summers, I’m sure most people would prefer to saunter down a tree-lined trail rather than exposed concrete sidewalk. The forest also provides stability to the steep slopes in Panther Hollow. Tree roots hold the soil in place preventing landslides and erosion. Tree also soak up exceess water running off the hillslope providing many benefits to the streams in the valley below.
I presented my current findings about the condition of Panther Hollow during the poster session. I explained how the historic uses of Panther Hollow and Squirrel Hill impact efforts to restore the watershed. We are presented with both opportunities and challenges because of the roadways, buildings and sewers that create new connections and disconnections in throughout the watershed. The stormwater sewers in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood divert water, that would naturally end up in the streams of Panther Hollow, to the sewage system. The disconnection between Squirrel Hill and Panther Hollow leads to low water flows in the streams during summer months.
Restoration efforts in Panther Hollow hope to re-establish these natural connections, so the park can provide additional services for visitors and improve the heath of our waterways.
After 12 days, I left Japan with a new sense of perspective and was revitalized with ideas from across the globe. I was so thankful for the opportunity to share my knowledge and learn so much more from others. Upon departing, I left a bit of Pittsburgh behind with my Japanese hosts. On the last day of the program, I gave the organizers Terrible Towels and demonstrated how Steelers fans wave them in the stadium. The Steeler Nation goes global!
Krissy Hopkins is a Panther Hollow Watershed Research Fellow with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy