In August 2023, Allegheny County officials announced a transformative trail project along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, made possible with crucial support from the late Cordelia Scaife May’s Colcom Foundation.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County (RAAC), and the Allegheny RiverTrail Park unveiled a partnership with the Allegheny Valley Railroad Company to acquire the nearly four-mile Brilliant Line rail corridor.

Officials plan to create a world-class recreational asset and alternative transportation corridor along the Allegheny River. The corridor will protect open green spaces, promote healthy outdoor living, and enhance local economies and quality of life.

In providing such a sustainable amenity connecting people and nature, the trail will elevate the very public welfare and environmental stewardship values that Colcom Foundation’s founder Cordelia Scaife May advocated for most of her life.

Running between Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and Aspinwall, the Brilliant Line intersects with the existing Allegheny RiverTrail Park.

Under the $22 million plan, funded through Fitzgerald’s Trail Development Fund using American Rescue Plan aid and support from Colcom Foundation, the rail line will be converted into a dedicated bike and pedestrian trail, extending the Erie to Pittsburgh trail network.

The acquisition includes five bridges along the nearly four-mile route, continuing the expansion of Pittsburgh’s already vast trail system spanning over 200 miles.

Bill Strome, board chair of the Allegheny RiverTrail Park, acknowledged the pivotal roles played by Colcom Foundation and park founder Susan Crookston, whose early efforts over a decade ago convinced the railroad to consider transferring the line for public trail use.

“With the combination of the invaluable support of the Colcom Foundation and the determination of Susan Crookston, a founder of the Park, to convince the Railroad to transfer the rail line to public use, we are so grateful to be able to be part of such a magnificent asset that will provide residents of the Greater Pittsburgh area with significant recreational opportunities for generations to come,” Strom said.

 “We have been working on this project since 2015 and are proud to have been the primary force that drove the transaction to the point where we could transfer it to RAAC,” he added.

Colcom Foundation’s involvement stems directly from its focus on environmental conservation efforts – a mission uniquely inspired by the vision and passion of its founder, Cordelia Scaife May.

From a young age, Cordelia Scaife May recognized the strains that ecological overshoot placed on the natural world and its delicate balance. Preserving this balance between people and the planet became her lifelong, humanitarian commitment.

It was Cordelia Scaife May’s foresight around the need for environmental sustainability that laid the groundwork for Colcom Foundation’s core principles when she established it in 1996. Substantially funded after her death in 2005, the Foundation continues to bring much-needed philanthropic resources to efforts aimed at reducing the toll of human impact on the environment.

Today, Colcom Foundation honors the vision of its founder by focusing its national grantmaking on tackling the chief drivers of the “Sixth Mass Extinction” – habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem collapse.

The Foundation’s mission aligns perfectly with the environmental and recreational potential of the Brilliant Line trail project.

With pedestrian and cycling access, these corridors allow ecological areas to be preserved and even restored to their natural state. Wildlife can move freely, and sensitive habitats are shielded from the damaging effects of motorized vehicles and development.

At the same time, the bike trails will create unprecedented opportunities for environmental education and foster appreciation for the outdoors.

The low-impact design of bike trails prevents the ecosystem disruption that roads and commercial sprawl can cause. By giving the public a stake in preserving natural spaces, trails empower communities to push back against habitat destruction and biodiversity loss in their own backyards. They offer a sustainable way to make the most of humans’ inherent need to explore while minimizing our footprint.

When finished, the reimagined Brilliant Line trail could ultimately link all the way from its start in Bakery Square to Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Heritage Trail system via new connections through river communities like Sharpsburg, Etna, and Millvale. The trail will cross over the bridges acquired, including the iconic Silver Lake Viaduct parallel to Washington Boulevard.

For the communities it will unite across Allegheny County, the Brilliant Line trail represents a future where Cordelia Scaife May’s philanthropic vision lives on – preserving the region’s natural vibrancy and beauty for generations to come.

For Colcom Foundation, its completion will help ensure that its founder’s life-long vision for protecting the natural beauty of western Pennsylvania endures as a gift to all who experience the trail’s beauty.

Learn more about Cordelia Scaife May’s life here: