In December 2022, a $200,000 grant by Colcom Foundation helped enable Hollow Oak Land Trust to purchase four parcels of undeveloped greenspace known as Vinegar Hollow in Kilbuck Township (Allegheny County), a pristine expanse of woodland spanning a grand 46 acres on the edge of Ben Avon, just 15 minutes from Downtown Pittsburgh.
Vinegar Hollow gets its name from John “Vinegar Jake” Signor — a Civil War veteran who allegedly brewed hard cider, or “vinegar,” on the land in the early 20th century. Before his time, the land was inhabited by the Lenape people, a Native American tribe.
Residents of Kilbuck, Ben Avon and Emsworth had unofficially been using the two miles of trails in the hollow for many years, but when the landowner, Louis Gilberti, decided to sell, it raised fears that the new owners would not allow the public to use the beautiful woodlands.
Residets of nearby localities, concerned about losing access to this hidden gem of the community, came together to strategize the optimal course of action for procuring the land. Once the land was officially listed for sale, they approached Sean Brady, executive director of the Hollow Oak Land Trust, to raise funds for its purchase, furthering Hollow Oak’s mission to “protect and connect” green spaces in Allegheny and Beaver counties.
Eventually, with the help of a generous grant from the Allegheny County Trail and $200,000 from Colcom Foundation, Hollow Oak Trust was finally able to acquire the property to preserve it for public use.
Under the terms of the agreement, the land is accorded enhanced protection while also opening avenues for publicly funded trail construction to enhance its accessibility.
New switchbacks are part of the planned improvements, accompanied by the installation of informative trail markers and educational signage.
For avid bird enthusiasts, Vinegar Hollow is a haven of avian biodiversity, boasting a thriving population of owls, while a seasonal rotation of cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and hawks can also be spotted. During the summer months, when migratory species flock to the area, visitors can relish the prospect of encountering a diverse and wondrous array of bird life.
Every Monday from April to October, a weekly event dubbed “Trail Luv Mondays” is held, where volunteers interested in helping build trails are put to work and rewarded with free beer afterward.
The newly established conservation area will also benefit the neighboring communities of Emsworth, Ben Avon, Ohio Township, Ben Avon Heights, Avalon, and Bellevue.
Brady expressed his gratitude for the generous donations by the Allegheny County Trail and Colcom Foundation that made this purchase possible, saying, “We’re grateful that, with community leadership and support, we’ve been able to protect this unique community asset. The funding from the Allegheny County Trail Development Fund and the Colcom Foundation were crucial to the success of this project, and we’re excited to begin refining this greenspace.”
Colcom Foundation supports environmental and conservation projects in Southwestern Pennsylvania, including the following counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.
Nationally, Colcom Foundation is best known for its efforts to address what is known as the Sixth Mass Extinction. The sixth mass extinction, also known as the Anthropocene extinction, refers to the ongoing global phenomenon of rapidly declining biodiversity and the widespread loss of various plant and animal species, primarily due to human activities such as habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, overexploitation, and invasive species introduction.
The organization offers year-round conservation opportunities to young people in Pittsburgh, raising awareness about the impact of the sixth mass extinction and emphasizing the need to take concerted steps to mitigate the effects of harmful human actions on the environment through sustainable practices, reduced pollution, family planning, and immigration reform.
Colcom also supports programs and collaborations aimed at acknowledging the impact of human population growth on the environment. These include Family Planning, Immigration, Environmental and Conservation projects, Activism, Education and Media, Legal Services, Research, Stewardship, Health and Human Services, Leisure and Recreation and Public Safety.
Zahava Bennett, president of the Hollow Oak Board of Directors, explains why the Colcom-enabled purchase of Vinegar Hollow is so important to the Pittsburgh-area community. “Healthy greenspaces are vital to a thriving community, and we are looking forward to this opportunity to nurture the natural ecosystem while providing a usable outdoor space for residents,” she says.