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Disrespecting a park & Pittsburgh’s history

By Richard M. Voelker
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Burying the remnants of old Fort Pitt is pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, we never seem to learn. Well, there you have it. Despite commonwealth promises to “walk the site again,” it’s now too late to save the Fort Pitt wall remnants at Point State Park.

The “stay out” fencing is all in place, the “no trespassing” signs have all been hung, the half-century-old trees have been felled and the threatening piles of concrete rubble are poised at graveside, awaiting the final death knell to begin filling.

So just in a few months shy of the fort’s 250th anniversary, its remains will be buried under a newly leveled carnival site.

But did this site have to sit so flagrantly astride what little is left of our city’s rapidly shrinking, international heritage — our unique historic location that “transformed the world”? Talk about irreverence.

Shame on those who aided and abetted this process. And most particularly, shame on the following:

Gov. Ed Rendell (“Ed,” our friend in Harrisburg): He could have stopped this senseless process with just one phone call. But he didn’t.

Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources: It’s always easier to say “yes” than “no” to a longtime political buddy like the governor, particularly when he’s your boss. Therefore, for his sake in future situations, I suggest he try to remember that the hard choice is frequently the right one. So try to commit this phrase to memory: “Speak truth to power.”

Barbara Franco, director of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission: When Point State Park was turned over to the commission for safekeeping, its adopted master plan stipulated that it be managed for passive use and historic interpretation. But at the behest of the Riverlife Task Force, Ms. Franco knowingly ignored these policy guidelines, a decision that was not only arrogant, but potentially illegal, given recent court findings involving similar disrespectful impacts of the Gettysburg Tower on the adjacent Gettysburg National Military Park.

Christine Davis, archaeological consultant to the Riverlife Task Force: It was a career-enhancing “no-brainer” to write a report that condoned the Department of National Resources’ plan to “cover over” the exposed fort wall sections to create a more level day-use recreation site. However, since the region’s sole claim to fame is currently linked to these same, now-visible artifacts, isn’t it counterproductive to bury them just to provide a safer noshing environment for chubby festival-goers?

Marion Pressley, the Boston-area landscape design consultant: It takes more than a modicum of chutzpah for an out-of-town design consultant to come to Pittsburgh and ignore an existing historical park’s 50-year-old management policies. Particularly since they were developed by Ralph Griswold, a Pittsburgh landscape architect, who’s also world-renowned for his site restoration work at Williamsburg, Va. After this audacious beginning, Ms. Pressley then wrote a report sanctioning DNR’s plan to rebury the previously excavated fort remains.

And that’s about it. Despite numerous stories in local papers and on television, local preservation organizations (like the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the History & Landmarks Foundation and The Heinz History Center) were conspicuously absent from public discussion. Their combined silence was indeed deafening, almost as loud as that coming from the young mayor’s office. So, it’s pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, we never seem to learn. But if we’re real, real lucky, maybe after another 30 years or so of Point State Park’s jarring fireworks, screaming jet skis and disruptive rock “concerts,” some fed-up Pittsburgher might finally exclaim, “Hey, enough with the noise! I can’t think! Let’s go back to something quieter.

“How about digging up some history?”

Richard M. Voelker, a semi-retired open space planner and advocate, lives on the North Side.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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