Have you ever wondered, where do the storm drains on my street go? If you live in the east end of Pittsburgh, they most likely end up here. Nine Mile Run ran through Wilkinsburg before they culverted it over and built the borough on top of it. The sewer lines that run over this culvert are a hundred years old, seapage from these sewers regularly contaminates this water. This sewage, coupled with industrial wast has wreaked havoc on this ecosystem.
The scent of this area can only be described as peculiar, both organic and chemical. Sharp rocks have snagged countless plastic grocery bags. The bags 15 feet above me in the branches of a tree tell me this is not always a smart place to stand. All around me lay trash that went down the sewer, a harsh reminder that trash does not just disappear.
Frick Parks watershed, Nine Mile Run flows into the Monongahela River via a 2 mile creek bed, at one time this was beautiful forest and meadow land destined to be an extension of Frick Park. Starting in 1922, the Duquesne Slag Company systematically, and questionably purchased the land on either side of the watershed. Over the next 50 years they would dump 200,000,000 tons of slag over an area roughly 200 acres, the slag is piled 120′ high in some places.
When you stand in the creek bed, the slag piles rise hundreds of feet on either side of the creek. The creek is now locked in place by concrete walls that run the entire length of the slag heap, they look like they have been in place for 50 years. A secret of this nasty wall is the sewage that spews from it when it rains, a tenth of an inch apparently creates a fountain from the manhole covers that secretly channel the sewage from several communities down the stream… Coupled with the toxic runoff from the slag heap, I am amazed that anything survives at all.
As I climbed the slag pile, I couldn’t help but notice the pour lines on the side of the hill… They literally formed steps going up the side of the slope. Intermittently between layers, I noticed layers of brick and glass. Names like Pittsburgh Brick Co. and New Kensington adorn the faces of the bricks, I stopped to inspect whether they were manufacturing rejects, or the bones of buildings… I couldn’t find mortar on the bricks so I would assume they were rejects…
The color of the slag in some places is an otherworldly hue of baby blue, this material is sharp like glass and easily cuts skin. The red material is soft like sand, the wind would pick it up and move it like a dust cloud… I found signs of this red material clear down to the Monongahela River… In some places I found massive black glass deposits that reminded me of volcanic glass nodules, no matter what I tried, I could not free a piece to take home.
About 100 feet up from the creek is the newer trail built to the river, this two-mile trail was carved into the side of the slag pile. I followed this trail toward the river when I noticed what appeared to be a large landslide, technically it would be a slag slide… But who’s taking notes anyway… I’ll tell you who… This guy… – I pulled my way through some understory growth only to pop out directly under a crumbling cliff of slag and bricks, I could actually hear it crumbling as I stood underneath of it.
At the top of the landslide stood a single tree, its tap-root had grown 25 feet through the slag face in front of me into, and below the slag I was standing on. The tree had managed to crack through the man-made toxic crust to find the water below. I assume this tree found water, because the root grew to the point of splitting a massive chunk of slag off the heap.
As I stood in awe… I became in tune with the extremely powerful energy that was present all around me… The ground that I was standing on was ground zero of an epic battle between nature and man… I had goosebumps… A small victory for a brave soldier… A victory that will most likely cost this soldier its life… But it won’t be in vain… New life will sprout from the decaying tree and Split another chunk of slag from the heap… Repeating… Until it’s gone… Or burried…
Nature ALWAYS conquers man… That’s why I call perpetual dibs on natures team… Because she always wins…
peace – chriscondello
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Your descriptions bring such vivid images. Even if you posted no pictures I can see it through your eyes. Well written, and moving.