Allegheny Island State Park

The rising sun exploded the clouds over Pittsburgh with pink and orange highlights and deep blue shadows, but quickly faded to typical gray. The rising sun did reveal itself as a bright interlude between the layers of clouds as I pushed off from the Harmarville launch which is surrounded by busy business district. The launch is bordered by cottages and private launches. Across the narrow channel of the Allegheny River is roadless twelve mile island, one of three Islands making up Allegheny Island State Park. Twelve Mile Island is the only one of the three islands to have structures. Cottages line both sides of the Allegheny River, one right after the other providing a camp feel in an urban and industrialized area. In view to the right is the historic Hulton Bridge between Blawnox and Oakdale. To the left is the bridge carrying the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the railroad across the Allegheny River.

Working upriver between the tips of Twelve Mile and Fourteen Mile Islands lie several shoals which were popping to life with grassy vegetation. The shoals provided a prime habitat for ducks and birds. The shoals are too small and shallow for most trees and remain a clear fly away for birds living on or near the river.

Arriving at Fourteen Mile Island was a trial. The banks of the island were lined with quick sand and mud. My feet sunk nearly to the knees while I attempted to secure the kayak on the bank. The body of the island rises only a few feet, high enough to keep the island dry under non flood conditions. I trekked up the rise into the woods only to find that the entire floor of the island was covered with the invasive Japanese Knotweed. The knotweed, which resembles bamboo but is unrelated, frequently colonizes wasted places. The knotweed overshadowed all native plants on the island floor leaving the island naturally disturbed. As I reached the center of the island it became very clear that there would be no clearing, no open meadows or no picturesque scenes at the island interior. I hacked my way out of the entangled jungle and decided I’d try my luck walking along the shoreline.

The shoreline revealed a plethora of animal activity. Deer, raccoon, fox, heron and coyote tracks abounded. There were several type of mussel shells lining the shore, presumably already having been made part of the food chain.

I got back into the kayak to head to the northern terminus of Fourteen Mile Island where a dam crosses the river. The island was divided into two parts by the Corps of Engineers to make way for the dam, leaving the end as a man made creation. The northern end of the island is a busy place. A new bridge that will carry the Pennsylvania Turnpike is in it’s early stages of construction. Tractors, trucks and cranes dominate the landscape over the towering sycamores that occupy the shoreline.

Semi-permanent camps exist in this area, human activity is a daily occurrence on the island for now. Though the island is remote and not continuously inhabited, it is a very tough place to visit yet is far from wild.