The Beltzhoover community had a dual celebration on Thursday at McKinley Park.

First, an unveiling at the park’s Shelter House gave residents the first look at the mural “From Hood to Village,” developed and funded by Voices Against Violence — a longtime nonprofit organization founded by Richard Carrington Sr. — and created by Pittsburgh artist Camerin Nesbit. Second, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy presented two concepts for the park’s Community Grove project and gathered feedback as it moves forward with it this year.

“The mural reveal and celebration underscores the importance of unity and transformation within the Beltzhoover community,” a conservancy news release stated. “This event serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience that emerge when the community comes together to honor those we’ve lost and envision a brighter future.”

The conservancy has embarked on the design process for the Community Grove project, an initiative that aims to “revitalize the area by creating a vibrant inclusive space that fosters health, wellness and community connection,” the release continued. Conservancy staff said combining efforts with the mural unveiling provided residents with an opportunity to “provide input and help shape the park to meet their needs and desires.”

“This vibrant mural commemorates the lives of Richard Carrington Jr., Shane Edwards Jr., Aaron Wade Jr. and Izeyah J. ‘Wavy’ Clancy, and it serves as a beacon of hope and resilience for the entire community,” according to the release.

Jill Evans, assistant to the VAV community director, said the mural references “the importance of how it takes a village to raise our children. That is what it is referencing, making sure we go back to the way times were before, when kids were raised in a whole different philosophy. Even the parents. They were there for their kids and around for their children.”

Earlene “Missy” Clancy, said VAV, led by Beltzhoover native Carrington, came up with the mural idea around September. Nesbit took their ideas and photographs of Clancy’s son and Carrington’s to begin. “Wavy” Clancy was 17 when he was killed three years ago in front of an Allentown convenience store on Warrington Avenue.  

Nesbit said they decided to add in the two other young men later. Both died as a result of gun violence — Wade in 2019 at age 18 and Edwards in 2021 at age 22.

Clancy called the artist’s work that covers a large wall “amazing.” But she doesn’t want anyone to feel sad or depressed when they see it. “The four people there on that mural had worked with VAV activities and camps,” the VAV director of operations explained. “Richard’s son was there for decades. I want people to understand that things get done at this building. The building [Park Shelter House] just doesn’t sit there. We try to put things there for the community. It’s not only for us, but Richard is trying to transform this from a hood to a village.”

Both Evans and Clancy want the Community Grove project to move forward and continue the city’s and conservancy’s efforts to rehabilitate the park, which they and other Beltzhoover residents believe is long overdue, as evidenced by a 2017 Public Source article.

Brandon Riley, director of community projects and engagement for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, explains the two Community Grove project concepts with the new mural unveiled at McKinley Park’s Shelter House as a backdrop. (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy)

A master plan for the transformation of the park on the conservancy website dates back to 2016.

Clancy said, “This is a safety piece for me because right now, [as] the building is not safe as it should be. And we actually don’t have the youth there that we used to have there. No surveillance there all the time.” She believes the project will make it safer and add important park updates, such as making more of the park handicapped accessible.

Evans, who was born and raised in Beltzhoover, said her house — she left for a while and then returned — is across the street from McKinley Park. She recalled sled riding down its hills, enjoying the swing set that ended up being moved to the top of the park, and riding her bike on the trails and other areas.

She would like to see more things for people to be able to have fun, “to come out, look around, have places where they can have a picnic and be able to walk the trails.”

Evans said the trails have not been kept up for so long, and the pandemic hampered the cleanup there, too. The coming improvements she is looking forward to include a possible new Chicken Hill shelter and pavilions at the bottom of the park. What is in that park area currently, too,  “all needs some love and help.”

Erin Tobin, the conservancy assistant director of community engagement, understands. McKinley Park — nestled among Pittsburgh’s Beltzhoover, Bon Air and Knoxville neighborhoods — encompasses 79 acres and boasts historical trees, basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park and woodland trails, according to the conservancy and city of Pittsburgh websites.

McKinley Park was purchased from Thomas Maple on May 10, 1898, at a cost of $63,000 and consisted of 63 acres of wooded hillsides and ravines. Knoxville and Beltzhoover residents knew the park by such names as Butcher’s Grove, Maple Park and Ritter’s Hollow. It was renamed McKinley Park in 1902 after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.

It is one the city’s oldest parks, along with Allegheny Commons, part of Allegheny City and dedicated in 1867 well before its annexation into Pittsburgh in 1907. That means it has needed attention and major work, especially because of water runoff and other problems.

The conservancy led a revitalization of the park entrance in 2013, according to its website, improving accessibility and saving an important historical feature: a stone wall and steps at the park entrance dating back to the 1930s. The completed project included an entrance area parking lot surfaced with porous asphalt that allows stormwater to be absorbed into the ground, rain gardens to receive water from the parking lot, and accessible walkways from the street to the playground and the basketball court.

Further, the conservancy shared a $1.75 million grant with three other national organizations to allow for further green infrastructure projects in McKinley Park.

In 2016 the National Recreation and Park Association and American Planning Association awarded the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy a $435,000 Great Urban Parks Campaign grant, according to the conservancy website. While centered around green infrastructure, the project incorporated key community priorities for upper McKinley Park, also known as Chicken Hill, including restored historical sandstone stairs, a new pavilion and gathering space with a built-in slide, a universally accessible trail throughout the area, overlooks made from reclaimed stone, and benches made from the trees that needed to be cut down on-site. 

Some of the fencing left from a McKinley Park ball field that residents erected has been painted a bright blue. (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy)

The conservancy has worked with VAV and other community groups — the Beltzhoover Consensus Group, Hilltop Alliance and Urban Kind — as the Community Grove project unfolds and other park upgrades occurred. Tobin said last spring and summer the city replaced play equipment adjacent to the Shelter House and cleaned up part of the Chicken Hill trail. The Student Conservation Association and Landforce helped with that work, and some planting took place in the fall.

The long time that has elapsed among all the upgrades has caused frustration, and Tobin understands. She noted the conservancy has been trying to close out the Chicken Hill project, which started in 2018. Some of the other cleanup work on the park trails, too, have since failed, she said.

But a movement forward started last year because the conservancy requested and has been allocated $330,000 from the Pittsburgh Parks Tax Trust Fund. Fundraising continues to add more money to the project, Tobin said, with the final cost to be determined once the community, the partner organizations and the conservancy choose a final Community Grove project concept.

On its website, the conservancy states that the Community Grove project will “work closely with neighborhood residents and stakeholders to create a vision for the Community Grove and explore opportunities for the space, including programming support for youth-serving organizations, providing opportunities for nature-based education, potentially showcase local art and community history, and generally serve as an informal gathering space for residents in a natural setting. The project will tie together recent park and trail improvements in the area and strengthen connections between the neighborhood and McKinley Park.”

That community engagement process started in January, through meetings with the Knoxville Community Council and the Beltzhoover Consensus Group as well as city of Pittsburgh departments involved in parks and construction work. A site walk with key community members occurred in March. The conservancy surveyed residents in the spring, with results presented at the park’s Earth Day celebration in April. The conservancy continues to attend monthly meetings of the community groups as it moves closer to starting the design process.  

“One thing the survey and all the meetings made clear,” Tobin said, “is the community wants to keep that area as natural as possible. It’s the site of an old baseball field the community actually built itself. The fencing and backstop are still there.”

 Last year those parts were painted bright blue to bring some attention to them, she said, and a question for residents centers on possible signage to explain the history of the space.

The lower part of the park still has recreational sections, Tobin said. The proposed Community Grove portion has nothing else there except a trail and some plantings.  “Essentially, it’s just an area that gets mowed right now. What’s special about it is that it is flat,” Tobin said. And that presents possibilities, including erecting a pavilion and a place for picnics.

The conservancy website lists a project timeline that has the community engagement process ending next month. Design and permitting will take place from then until May 2025, with construction starting next summer.

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at