We did it. We made it through 2020.

My first day as Executive Director of Friends of the Riverfront was on January 13, 2020, and I could never have guessed what this first

Thanksgiving morning trash pick-up on Washington’s Landing

year would be like. That among other things, we would need to cancel all our spring and most of our summer volunteer and member events and sideline a new fundraising initiative. While at the same time, we saw trail usage skyrocket (yay!), litter pile up (arg!), and invasive plants grow too darn fast. But we made it, and we did it in true Friends of the Riverfront fashion – being scrappy, using our resources wisely, and relying on the generosity and dedication of volunteers and a small but mighty staff.

And we didn’t just “make it through” 2020. Thanks to funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, we launched a new COVID response program – the Conservation Clean-up Crew – which hosted 30 socially-distant volunteer events in just 3 months. The Crew also provided part-time work to three local environmental advocates who were underemployed due to the pandemic. We were even able to provide hundreds of litter cleanup kits to individuals so that they could continue to care for the Trails safely on their own. (More kits are available, let us know if you want one!) And somewhere in the middle of all this, we raised over $900,000 dollars that will go directly to trail extensions, and in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh began the process to railbank nearly one mile of Strip District riverfront property that will become an extension of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. We have a lot to be proud of this year and we have a lot to look forward to in 2021.

2021 will still bring uncertainties, but Friends of the Riverfront is charging ahead. In good times or bad, people turn to the Trails. That means we need to continue to make sure that they are clean, safe, and accessible. To accomplish this, we will strengthen existing and develop new community partnerships to ensure that everyone feels welcome on the Trail, organize volunteers safely to clean and care for our riverfronts, release an updated Three Rivers Water Trail Map & Guide, and move trail development plans forward in the Allegheny, Ohio, and Turtle Creek Valleys.

Last year, Friends of the Riverfront chose a new tagline – “Connect to Something Greater.”  It sounded nice, but I don’t think I truly understood what it meant until I got through this year.   It felt especially fitting when I took a break from grant applications, writing emails about trash cans and port-a-potties, and a continuous cycle of contingency planning, to get on my bike and hit the Trail.  It was seeing all the people that were outside enjoying those precious moments along our rivers. People were enjoying themselves and appreciating the wonder of our riverfronts, and if only briefly, forgetting about the challenges that lay ahead.  We were recognizing that we are part of something greater – whether that be this resilient city, the natural world, or whatever it is that reminds us that we are not in this alone and that we will get through.   

For me, that “something greater” also includes you. Thank you for being a part of the Friends of the Riverfront family and for supporting riverfront trails that welcome, inspire, and connect.

Happy Holidays and Warm Wishes for 2021,


Kelsey Ripper, Executive Director Friends of the Riverfront


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