About Us

Since its inception in 1991, Friends of the Riverfront has been a pioneering organization working to protect and restore the Pittsburgh region’s rivers and riverfronts after decades of legacy pollution. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail now encompasses over 25 miles of urban riverfront trails along both banks of the mighty Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers. Through broad and diverse collaborations, we continue the work of providing environmental restoration, economic vitality, and public health benefits to the Pittsburgh region through the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

Friends of the Riverfront Board

Stacey Vernallis – President

Michele Kanche Fetting – Vice President

Cathy Rogers – Secretary

Steve Ayer –  Treasurer

Marla Meyer Papernick

John Schaefer

Bruce Woods

Jim Martin

Durwood Hill

Kelsey Ripper


Valerie Beichner, Executive Director. With ten years of nonprofit management experience, Valerie brings a wealth of knowledge to Friends of the Riverfront having a background in organizational efficiency and capacity building, fundraising, HR, IT and more. She holds expertise in green building and green building products, sustainable corporate culture, community and economic development, advocacy and organizational leadership. Prior to joining Friends of the Riverfront, Valerie worked at Conservation Consultants Inc. as Director of Operations and Analytics as well as Green Building Alliance as Vice President of Development. She also formerly worked at the Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission facilitating a statewide energy efficiency program targeting municipalities. Valerie earned a BA in Political Science at Clarion University and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Robert Morris. An avid runner, Valerie is an assistant coach for a local Girls on the Run team and enjoys volunteering in multiple other capacities within her community. She and her husband, Chris, live in Leetsdale with their four young children.
Courtney Mahronich Vita, Director of Trail Development. Courtney earned her B.A. in Political Science and M.S. in Environmental Studies from Point Park University. Prior to working with Friends of the Riverfront, Courtney spent over two and a half years working with 21 communities along long-distance trails in western Pennsylvania, working as a Student Conservation Association Fellow and Project Coordinator with the Trail Town Program® where she provided technical assistance on the community and economic impact of trails on the region and their communities.  She ran the Trail Town Certified Network, promoting trail friendly and sustainable business practices, doubling its membership to over 120.  As Director of Trail Development at Friends of the Riverfront, Courtney works to extend the Three Rivers Heritage Trail; one of her primary focuses is the extension of the Trail along the Allegheny River corridor from Millvale to Freeport, where it will connect to and become a part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, as well as several other regional trails.
Rosie Wise, Community Initiative Coordinator.  Originally from rural central Pennsylvania, Rosie is a Pittsburgh transplant. She earned her B.S. from Lycoming College, has over 20 years of experience in the plant sciences field, and was born with a green thumb. Her previous job role included restoration management of Frick Woods Nature Reserve, 100+ acres of Frick Park. She played a major role in helping the Frick Environmental Center and it’s 4 acre native landscaped campus receive the Living Building Challenge certification. She also works with private landowners on habitat restoration projects to reestablish native plant species. Her duties with Friends of the Riverfront involve executing goals related to the volunteer stewardship events and activities and transitioning the stewardship program into a more neighborhood-based, self-sustaining program. She enjoys hiking the trails less traveled and discovering new trails with her furry companions.
Kaitlyn Roth, Communications Specialist. Kaitlyn is doing a year of service with Friends of the Riverfront through the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE). A native of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, she completed her undergraduate degree at Juniata College studying Communication Advocacy and Biology. Prior to joining PULSE, Kaitlyn served as a Newman Civic Fellow, a NextGen Climate Pennsylvania Fellow, and an intern with Central PA SURJ. While in school, she was the SURJ chair for the Intersections Coalition, an outreach coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Union, and a member of the African American Student Alliance, UMOJA. She was also active in Student Government; she served as a co-chair and advocated for students with dietary restrictions. Kaitlyn was nominated by her fellow PULSE Fellows and currently holds the position of Diversity and Inclusion Chair of the PULSE Outreach Board of the Leadership Committee. In her free time, Kaitlyn enjoys singing, hiking, riding her bike through nature preserves, and trying out new recipes.