Allegheny Cleanways Summer Newsletter

How Much?

We at Allegheny CleanWays often throw around numbers when talking about the work we do. We frequently state pounds (or tons) removed, miles of riverfront cleaned, and numbers of tires recycled. But what do those numbers really mean? How much is “a ton”? What does a thousand tires actually look like? And what, ultimately, is the result?

To help you visualize the numbers:

Since we started in 2000, we have removed 1,274.49 tons of debris from the empty lots, roadsides, riverbanks, streams, and wooded hillsides of Allegheny County. That’s roughly the weight of 182 male African elephants.

That tonnage includes 16,518 tires. Laid flat on the ground and touching each other (with an average diameter of 25 inches) that many tires would stretch 6.5 miles (roughly the distance from the 16th Street Bridge to the Highland Park Bridge exit on Rt. 28)! If stacked (with an average of 6 inch width), they would stretch just over 1.5 miles into the sky or the equivalent of 15 Cathedral of Learning buildings stacked on top of each other!!So far this year, we have removed 127 tons (about 18 elephants) and 2,536 tires (just over 2 Cathedral of Learning buildings high).

The numbers are impressive by themselves, but when you think of the work involved in the actual removal (e.g. digging tires out of mud, carrying heavy loads up steep hillsides, wrestling with water-logged carpets, cutting paths through knotweed and vines, bending over and over and over again to pick up litter including some pretty disgusting items like dirty diapers and bags full of dog waste), they become even more impressive. In all, our volunteers have donated 10,582 hours (almost 441 days) to help make Allegheny County more beautiful. 

And the result? 226 acres of green space have been cleaned since 2010 alone (when we started keeping track of acres cleaned) and many thousands of people are enjoying cleaner neighborhoods, recreational areas, wooded green spaces, and water.


Welcome, Celia!

You may have seen a new face at some of our recent Tireless Project events. That’s Celia Kosinski, our summer intern. She began working with us in May and will continue with us through the beginning of August. Celia grew up outside Hartford, Connecticut, and currently lives and attends school in Vermont. Her internship work will go towards academic credit at The University Of Vermont from which she’ll be graduating in the spring of 2014 with a degree in Environmental Studies and a focus in Health Sciences. Celia became interested in Pittsburgh's environmental issues and river systems after learning the history of the river usage and visiting the city for the first time in December 2012. She has a passion for water quality issues, concerning both the health of humans and the health of wildlife. Celia will be coordinating and participating in the summer cleanups, along with bringing new ideas and education material to the organization.


Q & A with New DumpBuster Laura Zurowski

Laura Zurowski first encountered Allegheny CleanWays a year ago after she moved to the Upper Hill and attended a group dumpsite cleanup in Polish Hill. Since that first event in November 2012, Laura has been hooked and now volunteers regularly as a DumpBuster. The DumpBusters are a small crew of trained volunteers who clean up dumpsites of all sizes and operate 12 months a year

What was your first experience like as a DumpBuster?

I'll admit that I was a little nervous at first if I could be effective as a Dump Buster. I thought it might be too physically demanding but Joe was very encouraging and really prepared me for what to expect. My first time out was so much fun. It was definitely a workout. But it was an excellent feeling to know that the team I was a part of was making a significant improvement to the landscape for all who inhabit it.

What is most frustrating?
I can almost understand why people dump in areas that are already full of trash, neglected, and uncared for. But to dump in a perfectly clean area? It is frustrating when you can clean an area and then some person comes along and dumps there again. This bothers me big time!

What gives you hope?
I keep telling myself that awareness and education takes time. The more people who are out there cleaning up their neighborhoods and communicating that trash and dumping is unacceptable, the more likely it is that the behavior of throwing empty bottles out a car window or dumping tires and debris down a hillside will start to change.

What is the most unusual item you have found?                                                   

In Fairywood, we found two old pieces of glass-ware, one amber and the other green. The amber piece looks like it could be from the 1930s or 40s and both cleaned up perfectly. They look nice sitting on my kitchen windowsill.

How has your work with Dump Busters connected with other efforts in the Hill District? 

In addition to Allegheny CleanWays, I also volunteer with Clean Green Hill which focuses on organizing cleanups throughout the Hill District. During their routine trash and litter clean-ups, some illegal dumping sites were identified with items such as televisions, tires, and construction debris - items that were too large for neighborhood volunteers to handle. I suggested DumpBusters as a solution for removing those items and the people living near these sites were so happy when the team arrived and everything was removed. Both Clean Green Hill and the Hill District Consensus Group have been working to identify stewards to keep an eye on these spaces and identify any future problem spots. Pittsburgh has such a unique and beautiful landscape and it deserves to be preserved and cared for.


New Tireless Volunteer Highlight: Ron VaHosky

Ron was born and raised on the river bank and continues fishing to this day. Over the years, he has seen significant improvements in the health of the rivers. “I’m not saying it’s [ideal]. But the water quality is much better now. When I was a kid the only fish that could live in the local rivers were carp and catfish. Now you can catch anything. I recently caught a gar at Turtle Creek. How cool is that?”  

He isn’t surprised by the amount of trash and debris in the river, because he recognizes that many people are unaware of the consequences of their action. “Public disregard, laziness, and disrespect towards [the rivers] are frustrating.” Despite the magnitude of the problem, he finds inspiration within himself to continue working to clean the rivers. “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

The most rewarding aspect of volunteering with the Tireless Project is seeing the transformation of a trashed riverbank into a clean space. Ron likes a challenge and enjoys digging out heavy tires filled with mud and water. “It’s nice when the river finally releases its grip from a stubborn tire and I win!”

Ron brought his young son to several Tireless events this spring. His son clearly loves to ride the pontoon boat and canoe on the rivers. He doesn’t hesitate to jump right in and loves rolling tires up to the dumpster. Besides experiencing the rivers up close, he is also learning important lessons first hand. “He has a better understanding of the problem and knows that littering is just wrong!”

Ron has spent more than 20 hours volunteering for the Tireless Project during this season. In addition, he has lent his innate creativity and skills as a maintenance technician to help Allegheny CleanWays repair broken supplies. Ron is often the first to get started during a cleanup, and the last to finish. Thank you Ron for your hard work and dedication to our mission! 

Volunteer Competition

This summer, we’ve been running a two-part competition that started on June 1st and will continue until July 31st. Two lucky winners will receive Infurn Big Boy XXL bean bags in their choice of red, green, or black.

How can you be a lucky winner? 

1) Put in the most volunteer hours at Allegheny CleanWays cleanup events in June and July. Your hours for DumpBusters, Tireless, and Illegal Dump Cleanups will be combined. To volunteer on weekdays, request to become a new Dump Buster.  The top volunteer so far has 17 hours.

2) Recruit the most stewards/site monitors for cleaned dumpsites in June and July. We need to find people who live or work near dumpsites we have cleaned, who will keep an eye on the area at least once a month to ensure that it stays clean long-term. For a list of sites that need stewards see article below or email

A big thank you to Infurn for generously donating the bean bags to us!


Long Term Success Requires Committed Stewardship

We clean up dozens of dumpsites each year. As the list of cleaned sites grows, it is logistically impossible and financially inefficient to keep a close watch on every site with our small staff. We rely on a network of local community members to ensure that former dumpsites remain clean long after the last tire and trash bag have been removed by volunteers.                                  

The most difficult aspect of the dumpsite transformation process is identifying an individual to monitor the site. We often struggle to find stewards in communities that are less intact- where depopulation, aging citizens, and crumbling infrastructure have taken their toll. Sometimes there simply aren’t people living nearby who can monitor the site. We need people who work in or commute through these areas to step up and join our grassroots effort to keep Pittsburgh beautiful. It does require an ongoing commitment, but just about everyone can monitor a former dumpsite every few months. We don’t require you to clean up litter or new dumping, but some stewards choose to do so. The level of involvement is set by the steward’s interests and abilities.

As mentioned above, Allegheny CleanWays will award a giant Infurn Big Boy XXL bean bag to the individual who recruits the most stewards. The competition will run through June to July 31st 2013. 

Stewards are needed in these neighborhoods: West End Village, Fairywood, Chartiers City, Crafton Heights, East Carnegie, Perry South, Spring Hill, Homewood, Larimer, Hill District, and Polish Hill. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a steward, contact us for more details.

Tireless Project Pioneers First Cleanup on Youghiogheny River

On the third weekend in May, the Tireless Project held a three day cleanup of the Youghiogheny river in southeastern Allegheny County. For the first two stages, Tireless partnered with Three Rivers Waterkeeper to launch a season long program of patrolling, monitoring, and clean-up work in the Braddock Pool of the Monongahela River, the 2013 Pennsylvania River of the Year. On Friday, 18 volunteers paddled along the lower Yough cleaning up trash from Boston, Pennsylvania to Long Run, passing the Allegheny Land Trust owned Dead Man's Hollow. On Saturday, 6 volunteers continued downstream to the mouth of the Yough near McKee's Point Marina. Volunteers were able to maximize the amount of debris collected by transferring debris to the Rachel Carson, our 28’ pontoon boat.

On Sunday, Tireless partnered with Westmoreland CleanWays to clean the section of the Yough that forms the border between Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties. Eleven volunteers used canoes only to paddle a fairly shallow section of the Yough, between Sutersville and Buena Vista. The canoes were provided courtesy of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Though the three day event was logistically challenging, it was fun and rewarding for volunteers to experience a new river by canoe. By the end of the weekend, more than 25 individuals had contributed 110 hours in service to the river. Twenty tires and 3,000 pounds of metal, plastic, and other debris were removed from the banks of the Youghiogheny. Thanks to each of the organizations that partnered with us to make this event a success.


Two New Urban EcoStewards Commit to Restoring the Former Dumpsites

Allegheny CleanWays is proud to have added two new Urban EcoSteward volunteers this Spring. Just like a regular steward, EcoStewards “adopt” a green space that has been cleaned and agree to monitor it for new dumping incidents. Additionally, EcoStewards commit to targeting specific ecological problems. In exchange, they receive trainings on how to remove invasive vegetation, slow erosion, plant native flora, etc. Illegal dumping contributes to erosion and disturbs land, creating an environment ripe for invasive vegetation to move in. Allegheny CleanWays partnered with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Urban EcoStewards program in order to address these issues that are present in many of the green spaces we work in.                

Cynthia Savitt decided it was unacceptable for the feral cat colony she cares for to live amongst a dumpsite on a hillside in Bloomfield and she reached out to us for help. In April, twelve PULSE participants cleaned up 2,000 pounds of roofing shingles, buckets, remodeling, furniture, and 40 tires. Cynthia has committed to cleaning up additional litter, removing invasive Japanese Knotweed, and cutting vines that threaten to taken down more of the tree canopy on the hillside.

Jeff Pokrajac became an Urban EcoSteward after he participated in a group of just 5 volunteers that cleaned up 3,000 pounds of debris from a hillside beneath a closed elementary school in Sheraden. An intermittent stream running through the hillside motivated us to put this site high on our priority list. Thanks to Jeff and Douglas Laboratories, water will no longer seep through a jumbled pile of electronics, “empty” household chemical bottles, and trash. Jeff will return to the site to clean up litter, remove vines, pull garlic mustard, and dig up invasive burdock


Upcoming Events:

July 26-28th - Three Rivers Triathlon

July 27th - Urban EcoStewards Abandoned Mine Drainage Workshop, 9 am - noon

July 27th - Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event, 9 am – 1 pm

August 8th - Tireless Project Event at 4th Street/Mon Wharf, 9 am - noon

August 16th - Tireless Friday Duck Hollow Cleanup, 5-8 pm.

August 23rd - Tireless Project Event with Chatham University

August 25th - Larimer Street Fair

August 31st - Venture Outdoors Family Outdoor Festival; 12-4 pm

September 7th – Cleanup of McKinley Park dump site with PAGA Geocache – 10 am – 1 pm

September 12th – Urban EcoStewards Fall Invasives Workshop, 9 am - noon

September 13th - Carrie Furnace Cleanup Part 2, 9 am –noon

September 19th - Ohio River Watershed Cruise, noon- 3 pm

September 21st  - International Coastal Cleanup on Allegheny River, 9 am– noon

September 28th - Allegheny County Green Innovation Fair, 9 am – 4:30 pm

September 30th - Brule Street Cleanup Part 2 with ALCOA, 9 am – 2 pm

Financial Support

Allegheny County Conservation District

Colcom Foundation

Community Development Block Grant


Douglas Labs

EQT Foundation

Individual Donations

Laurel Foundation

Port of Pittsburgh Commission


Remmel Foundation through the PNC Charitable Trust Grant Review Committee

Richard King Mellon Foundation


Board of Directors

Patrick Lanigan 

Marcia Brissett

Sierra Laventure-Volz 

Jack Rearick

Michael G. Soriano

Mike Sturges


Staff and Consultants

Myrna Newman ~ Executive Director

Leah Thill ~ Project Coordinator

Joe Divack ~ DumpBusters Coordinator

Amy Valenty ~ Bookkeeper

R.Evan Clark ~ Tireless Project Pilot

Celia Kosinski – Tireless Project Intern

Get Involved

  • Volunteer with us – see our website for all the ways to volunteer
  • Organize a cleanup of your community (we can help with supplies and logistics)
  • Adopt and steward a site we’ve cleaned. Leah be happy to talk with you about how this works.
  • Use the interactive map on our website to report dumpsites in your community.
  • Donate to Allegheny CleanWays. We accept both monetary and in-kind donations. See our website or call us for more information.

Spread the word! Tell others about us.