Thursday, July 15, 2010

Historic Channels Part III: The 'Pit' in CMU

Has anyone wandered around on the Carnegie Mellon University campus and noticed that the tennis courts are located in a 'pit' (one T!) in the middle of campus?  There is another such formation just to the east as well.  These 'pits' are in fact remnants of a historic gulch that once cut through the area where CMU is now present.

If you've read older posts in this blog, you have seen this map of historic channels that I drew on a USGS topo map.  CMU is currently located in the area at the northern part of the map that says 'old quarries'.  (I haven't yet figured out what was being quarried but it does not appear to have affected the flow direction of the historic channel, nor is it the reason for the 'hole in the ground' on campus).

Long ago, a stream drained down the current path of Beeler Street, joined a tributary flowing northwest down the current path of Forbes, and entered the current site of the CMU campus (as mentioned in this post.)


The channel flowed through a gorge known as 'The Cut' until it was gradually filled by the University in the early 20th century.  It is even mentioned in the wikipedia article about CMU.  There was previously a bridge over The Cut and according to Wikipedia it was removed in 1916, but I have also heard rumor that portions of the bridge are still buried and may even be visible from a basement somewhere on campus.  I am still investigating this.

On the west end of the 'cut' area the gorge becomes visible again - and this time it is accentuated by buildings.


Beyond these buildings the gorge cuts left (south) and becomes the main Four Mile Run cut.


The above view is looking north-northeast from the Schenley Drive bridge.  'The Cut' emerges from near the building behind those parked cars.

None of 'the cut' still has natural surface flow, but I did find some interesting things along its path.

On the upstream side of the fill area, I found a memorial to CMU alumni who tragically died during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  I appreciated the opportunity to reflect and read the memorial poem under the shade of a tulip tree planted here.  I did find it interesting that in this poem, the river symbolized stagnation and routine, while a carefully tended lawn symbolized survival.  To me, rivers represent change, hope, progression to better times and expansive lawns represent futility, stagnation, and wasted effort.  I found myself wondering if the person who wrote this poem lived in Pittsburgh when the rivers were indeed stagnant, filthy, and disgusting.  It is very interesting how perceptions of the rivers change over time, and I hope to future residents the rivers do not represent stagnation or routine.


Speaking of lawns, this visit occurred during the heat wave last week, and I noticed the lawn was drying out.


In fact I was glad that water wasn't dumped on this lawn, because about two days later a torrential deluge (which i experienced in a nearby bus shelter) completely soaked the city and this week the lawn looks greener again.  I like to look at brown grass the same way I look at red maple leaves in Vermont - a natural manifestation of changing seasons.  Then again, the maple trees are much, much prettier than any lawn, dead or alive.

In the downstream part of The Cut, I found some interesting landscaping - while it was not exactly a rain garden, it included some interesting swales and streambeds that channeled rainwater and allowed some of it to infiltrate into the soil.


There was also a green roof


Then I found this:


It appears to be the Canyon Prince cultivar of Giant Wild Rye - a plant native to the Channel Islands of California!  Needless to say, the climate is quite different here than on those islands (the particular area this plant comes from probably experiences frost only every 100 years, if ever).  I wonder if it will survive the winter.

There was also a very tiny 'nature preserve' featuring invasive plants and some signs displaying somewhat dubious information.


I wonder who created this garden?


oooooooooooooooooh, now it makes sense!

(to be fair to engineers, someone told me it was actually created by art students - I am not sure which is accurate.  If anyone knows anything about any of these gardens, let me know, I'd love to learn more!)

No comments:

Post a Comment