Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh

For a few days after Christmas we visited our son Andy and his wife Jodi and their children, our grandchildren, in Pittsburgh. Andy decided to take advantage of the fine weather and bring us to Three Rivers Heritage Trail. The trail currently comprises thirty-seven miles in nine non-contiguous sections along Pittsburgh’s three rivers. We walked on the section along the Monongahela River between the Hot Metal Bridge and the Glenwood Bridge.

The section of the trail on which we were walking passes through the Hays section and underneath a steep wooded hillside. A pair of bald eagles have built a nest in a tree on this hillside, and we went in search of the eagles and their nest. The local Audubon Society chapter has posted a YouTube video of the bald eagles in their nest. We did not get to see the eagles, but Andy informed us that the current nest is actually the second that they’ve built in this area, indicating that the eagles are determined to make a permanent home in Hays. So future visits to Pittsburgh might offer additional opportunities to see them now that we know where the are likely to be found.

This pair of eagles is the first pair to build a nest in Pittsburgh in over 200 years. What is also remarkable about these birds and their choice of home location is the amount of human activity in the area. I tend to think of bald eagles as inhabiting pristine wilderness, or at least less well developed areas of human habitation. In this locale the eagles have nested above a busy road and two sets of railroad tracks. Several long and noisy freight trains passed while we were on the trail. Between the trail and the river is a scrap metal yard. A short distance away is a bridge over the river carrying vehicular traffic.

The history and image of Pittsburgh as a grimy industrial town are well known. The Monongahela River itself was once lined with steel mills and other heavy industries. One such plant still stands across the river from where we were walking. Pittsburgh has largely left this part of its history in the rear-view mirror; the city and the Monongahela River are certainly much cleaner than they were at the height of the steel-producing era. The fact that these two eagles have nested in Pittsburgh and two other pairs have since joined them are causes for celebration. Eagles, though, don’t know Pittsburgh’s history, and they probably can’t distinguish between pristine wilderness and a less pristine environment that enables them to survive and rear their young. They just need a tree or other high place where they can build their massive nest, a source of nesting materials, and an environment where they can find food and raise their young in relative safety.

The New Year might present us with circumstances that we might otherwise find uncomfortable or inhospitable. The eagles in Pittsburgh are content in conditions that I would not imagine being comfortable for them. Would I be content in conditions that I imagine to be uncomfortable or inhospitable? In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul wrote “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (ESV) May I have the grace to be content with whatever God graciously provides.

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