Buzz… Buzz… Buzzword! Meet Our New Homewood Nature Educator

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Parks Conservancy’s new Homewood Nature Educator, Will, and new best buddy with the Nature Play station.

Communication is key.

This doesn’t just go for the seven Pittsburgh educational non-profits working together on the new literacy program in Homewood called The Buzzword Project. It also goes for the children and their caretakers in the Homewood area who will take part in the program. And really, communication is important for caretakers not only in Homewood, but around the world.

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The driving message of The Buzzword Project is “Be Present, Be Playful, Be Proactive!” This slogan stems from the belief that talking, thinking, and putting into practice reading, writing, and vocabulary at a young age sets children up for a life full of success. The Buzzword Project is a capstone initiative of PNC’s well-known Grow Up Great program.

As a collaborator, the Parks Conservancy is setting out to deliver nature-oriented programs that promote specific vocabulary words. Words like “investigate,” “habitat,” and “outside” will be our model as we work to promote early childhood literacy with children and their caretakers. Our events, and the events hosted by each Buzzword Project partner pertaining to their topic area, will take place every first and third Saturday of the month at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Homewood. And starting February 2015, Buzzword Project partners will team up to host six-week sessions that take a more in-depth approach to modeling early childhood literacy.

Kids get up close and personal with the outdoors at last year's Nature in Your Neighborhood hike.

Kids get up close and personal with the outdoors at last year’s Nature in Your Neighborhood hike.

In addition to the Saturday library sessions, the Parks Conservancy, in collaboration with various neighborhood organizations, will be inviting community members to explore their community through Nature in Your Neighborhood hikes and activities in Homewood. Keep an eye out for upcoming hikes here!

As the Parks Conservancy’s newly hired Homewood Nature Educator, my first project was to organize the very first event of the new Buzzword program in the Homewood community. The event was based on the word “Investigation,” with a setup of five different stations: Journal Making, Nature Play, Seed Play, Dirt Exploration, and a Book Station. As the program continues, we hope to bring more and more kids and adults to these free Buzzword events.

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Though these efforts will prove to be difficult at times, I’m more than ready for the task. My goal is to carry out these efforts in the most community-oriented fashion possible. As a recent graduate of Allegheny College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in VESA (Values, Ethics, and Social Action), and a strong education background through the Creek Connections and Frick Environmental Center summer programs, The Buzzword Project is right up my alley. Now employed at the Parks Conservancy, I truly enjoy working to create and implement programming in Homewood and am genuinely invested in forming a strong relationship between the Parks Conservancy and the Homewood community.

As an educator, I hope to inspire and share a love and curiosity for nature with anyone I meet. Hope to see you in Homewood!

Will Tolliver, Homewood Nature Educator and newest member of the Parks Conservancy family


One year ago: Tackling Oak Wilt in Schenley Park

Two years ago: Not Your Average Knot Garden — Riverview Park’s New Knot Garden

 

Dear Mr. Mayor: Campers Write in Support of the Parks

Recently, we came to a wonderful realization: 6- to 8-year-olds would make exceptional civic leaders. During summer camp, we handed our 2nd grade campers some colored pencils and the prompt, “It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because…,” to write a personal letter to Mayor Peduto.

The result? The most adorable letters on behalf of the park that they love.

Below are a handful of our favorites. WARNING: Cute overload coming your way:

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“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… it affects the whole world. For example, if you kill a worm, then it can’t have babies who can’t have babies. And those worm babies would have helped plants grow. And the plants would have fed plant eating animals who would have fed carnivores. That is why I think it is important to respect nature.”

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“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… so the animals can eat and drink clean water and have shelter. P.S. I left you a four leaf clover.” (We can verify — an actual clover was enclosed.)

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“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… you help the environment and the PARK! We learned what stewardship it means to help something. We helped Frick Park by making paper mache pots and planting flowers in them. And put them on Jay’s short cut trail.”

kids letters 2_Page_15“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… it is important for the animals to have nice homes and live nice lives in the woods I love animals so I want to keep them safe. P.S. We made fairy houses and we found fairy dust.” (Fairy houses were indeed constructed. The fairy dust may or may not have been sprinkles.)

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“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… lots of living animals live in the park. So we want to take care of their home. Also, there are lots of cool plants and flowers, Then, people walk here. There is also a dog park. Many people like Frick Park. Next, there are lots of camps here. Last, It is the Environment. Nature takes care of us so we should take care of them.”

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“It is important to be a steward in Frick Park because… if you don’t take care of it, everything will change. Also, Frick Park is my favorite out of Frick, Schenley, Highland, and Riverview. My mom used to work with you but now she works at Parks Conservancy.”

Thanks to all of our pint-sized park pals for reminding us just how awesome parks and stewardship really is. And if you also thinks it’s important to be a steward in the parks, consider joining us at our upcoming volunteer days this fall!

Environmental education lays an important foundation for the next generation of leaders and advocates. Consider supporting the Colker Memorial Fund to support young minds. Click here to get started.

Art in the Village in the Woods

“You plan right, you can unlock any door.”
August Wilson, Gem of the Ocean

Perched atop the Hill (or, “the crossroads of the world,” as it has been called), Cliffside Park is the perfect spot for landscape painters and photographers. Showcasing Downtown Pittsburgh, the rivers, and the Ohio Valley, the vast view from the park is picture-perfect.

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The view inside the park, however, hasn’t always been so picturesque.

Built in 1975, Cliffside Park has always been a neighborhood hub. After a few decades, though, the park started to lose its luster as many of its amenities suffered from neglect and disrepair. But despite its decline, park neighbors continued to enjoy and care for their local greenspace — and became the primary movers and shakers in getting it back on its feet.

Since 2009, the Parks Conservancy has worked alongside passionate Cliffside residents and organizations on Find the Rivers! Greenprint for the Hill District, a plan to revitalize this vibrant, historic neighborhood. This year, the Hill (or, “Village in the Woods,” as it is now being called) has undertaken a huge step forward in the Greenprint: the complete renovation of Cliffside Park.

Woven into the plans for the new Cliffside Park are interpretive art pieces that recall fantastic Hill District artists, past and present. This week, as we’re celebrating art in the parks with PittsburghGives Arts Day of Giving (going on today!), we want to take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the public art to be displayed at Cliffside Park:

Photo fencing

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A new half-court for basketball will surround players with smiling faces of local Hill residents caught by Charles “Teenie” Harris and local photographers. These custom graphics are not only tangible memories of the Hill during its vibrant past, but also an inspiration for current and future generations. These graphics, printed on fabric and lining the court’s fencing, feature photographs from the Oliver M. Kaufmann Photograph Collection and the Teenie Harris Collection.

Overlook inscription

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The Hill District sets the stage for nine of the ten Pittsburgh Cycle plays written by August Wilson. Wilson’s words will be coming to life on a stage of their own in the center of the park, guiding visitors along the park’s path towards the overlook. Inscribed on aluminum, powerful quotes from a variety of his plays will demonstrate the literary genius of August Wilson while representing the Hill’s history, culture, consciousness, and attitudes over the span of 100 years. Below are a few favorites:

“You don’t sing to feel better. You sing ‘cause that’s a way of understanding life.”
Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

“Love don’t know no age and it don’t know no experience.”
Vera, Seven Guitars

“The city flexes its muscles. Men throw countless bridges across the rivers, lay roads, and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses.”
Introduction to Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

 

Today, be sure to support art in the parks by taking part in PittsburghGives Day of Giving. Donations of $15 and over made between 6am and midnight will be partially matched. Just go to www.PittsburghGives.org, designate your gift to Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and watch your support go even further today.  Thank you for supporting art in your parks!

Photo Contest and Art in the Parks

In so many ways, the parks are art. 

Whether you’re looking at them through a wide-angle perspective or zoomed in close, the parks inspire us in countless ways. Take, for example, the fact that the parks are designed spaces. Everything from the winding paths to the gardens, the overlooks and the habitat types have been created for park visitors to experience and enjoy.

Zoom in a little closer. The public art sprinkled throughout the parks make these greenspaces seem like interactive, open-air museums. Many works have been crafted by some of the nation’s best: The Westinghouse Memorial “Spirit of American Youth” statue was created by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the seated Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. and the Frick Park gatehouses were designed by the Jefferson Memorial’s John Russell Pope.

Mixing urban design, public art, nature, and performances, Schenley Plaza is a museum gallery unto itself. Here’s what’s on display:

The Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain

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Greeting Schenley visitors on their way into the park, this iconic landmark features a fantastical scene of the nymph Sweet Harmony serenading Pan the earth god. Dedicated to Mary Schenley in 1918, the memorial was sculpted by Victor David Brenner, designer of the Lincoln penny.

The Porch at Schenley’s glass entrance piece

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Photo credit: Pittsburgh Glass Center

Suspended in the sunny entrance of the Plaza’s full-service restaurant is a one-of-a-kind chandelier from the creative minds at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Diners looking skyward see 24 glass globes reaching down to them from a metal leaf-like base.

Plaza performances

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Artists of the musical variety flock to the Plaza when the weather is warm. Free WYEP concerts are a crowd favorite and draw national and local talents. This week, catch the final Final Fridays concert in Schenley Plaza with talents the Nox Boys (local) and Saintseneca (national).

Award winning gardens

6-e1411585219800The multicolored flora on display at Schenley Plaza gardens blooms in a rainbow of colors all season long. And this isn’t accidental. The varieties of plants growing there are All American Selection breeds, varieties that are especially colorful (as well as drought- and pest-resistant). This year, Schenley Plaza has been selected to take part in the All American Selection Display Garden. Visit this nationally ranked garden before we tuck in the beds for winter!

Art in the parks photo contest

Feeling inspired? From now through next Thursday, October 2nd, we’re putting park art in focus for the PittsburghGives Arts Day of Giving. You’re invited to help us celebrate by taking part in our art in the parks photo contest! Submit a winning picture of statues, nature, performances, anything that sparks your creativity for a chance to win a $50 Porch at Schenley gift card! Click here for submission and contest details.

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Let’s Talk About Parks

When my brothers and I were kids, the first person to reach the morning news would claw their way to the cartoons section, grab a bowl of cereal, and post up on the corner of the couch. Tough luck to the next one of us that tried to pry them away from their comics; might as well grab another bowl of sugary cereal and wait for your turn in line. (Which could take quite a while; there are seven of us.)

Starting last month, there’s another section of the newspaper that kids can squabble over (or share, if they’re a little more civil than my family). Every other Tuesday, we have a special section for our younger park pals: Let’s Talk About Parks. In it are tips to identify park life, explore trails, play and learn in the natural world. (Don’t tell the young ones, but adults can also read this section, too.) Here’s a bit of what we’ve shared so far:

Amphibians

Taiji with bullfrog

Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator/professional frog catcher.

 

The wetlands and ponds in the parks (we recommend the seasonal pools in Highland Park) create excellent habitat for frogs. Here are some commons ones that you can see and hear:

  • Spring peepers. You can hear for their raucous nocturnal singing after spring and summer storms.
  • American bullfrogs. Spot these big hoppers during the day, Chances are, they’ll see you before you see them and dive into any nearby water.
  • American toads. Found in damp, cool areas of the woodland floor where their coloring — brown to gray accented by spots and warts — provides excellent camouflage. Find these amphibians deeper in the parks.

Salmanders are always looking for the best rock or downed tree to hide under. Students in our Young Naturalists program this year studied salamander habitat by laying out wooden boards in the woods, turning them over once a week to see what had started living there.

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Do not touch the salamanders! Sincerely, the Young Naturalists.

When looking for salamanders, carefully turn rocks and logs over, being sure to put them gently back in place when you’re done. If you find a salamander, don’t touch it! Salamander skin is sensitive, even a small amount of handling can harm or kill them. Northern dusky and red back salamanders are especially common species in our area.

With winter approaching, amphibians will soon go into hibernation. Green frogs will stay at the bottom of ponds or streams, while wood frogs, distinguishable by a black mask around their eyes, hide in the leaf-litter before entering a semi-frozen state until spring. If you find one of these “frogsicles” in the winter, they will appear to be dead. But don’t be fooled; their bodies manufacture an anti-freeze to protect their internal organs until warm weather returns.

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Young Naturalists flipping over boards in Frick Park to observe what creatures live there. Boards were purposely set up over five weeks to survey forest floor habitat.

Fall flowers

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Goldenrod in Highland Park. Photo by Melissa McMasters.

While we’ve had to bid a fond farewell to summer wildflowers, fall has its own impressive display of flowery color and texture. Here are some that you can spot on just a short walk through Schenley Park:

  • Goldenrod. Growing extra tall in the meadow at the Bartlett Street Playground, this hardy yellow flower is often confused with ragweed, a common cause of pollen allergies.
  • White wood asters and purple New England asters. Sprinkled among the meadow grasses, these plants produce clouds of delicately fringed flowers atop thin dark stems. Asters provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators, as well as seeds for songbirds after their bloom is completed.
Purple aster plus pollinator. Photo by Melissa McMasters

Purple aster plus pollinator. Photo by Melissa McMasters

  • Obedient plant. This spikey plant is distinguished by clusters of pink tube-shaped flowers and named because its individual flowers can be bent in any direction and will stay in that position “obediently.”
  • Snakeroot. Found in the shade of the woodland on the Panther Hollow Trail, Snakeroot’s dark green leaves are contrasted by puffy white flowers that are fuzzy to the touch.
  • Pokeweed. This plant can reach heights of 10 feet and is adorned with clusters of reddish-purple berries.
  • White Baneberry or Doll’s Eyes. Identify this plant by its white berries with a black center.
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Pokeweed in Schenley Park

Learn more about exploring and discovering your parks through the bi-weekly “Let’s Talk About Parks” segment in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The next feature, set to print September 23rd, features biking in Frick Park!

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy

On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

Friends, Pittsburghers, park enthusiasts, lend us your eyeballs.

There’s a Pennsylvania-wide game of nature “Where’s Waldo?” happening right now, and we invite you to play along. Rather than searching for a man in a red-and-white striped getup, though, we’re all keeping our eyes peeled for the white-and-black striped Asian longhorned beetle.

Have you seen Bug Eyes here? Photo: “5 Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) Chewing Egg Site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0/modified from original.

What is the Asian longhorned beetle?

An invasive, or non-native, species of beetle originally from Korea, China, and Japan, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) migrated to the United States sometime in the 1990’s as a stowaway in shipping pallets. Since then, slowly but steadily, the insect has really sunk its mandibles into U.S. forests.

Part of what makes the Asian longhorned beetle such a large threat is its diet. A pickier eater would be more predictable: If it loved just one particular tree, we would know to monitor that tree type and watch for infestation. However, even though ALB is partial to red maples, it will make do with a wide range of host tree species: horsechestnuts, buckeyes, birches, planes, sycamores, willows, elms, boxelders, and other maples.

Once it finds a tree to inhabit, females burrow under the bark to lay eggs. After hatching, larva burrow throughout the tree to feed on the tree’s sugars and nutrients, eventually killing its leafy host. ALB is also a significant threat because it doesn’t respond to any known biological or chemical controls; once it infests a tree, that tree must be removed.

The stories of ALB infestation can be heart-wrenching. But, even though ALB has been found in surrounding Ohio, New Jersey, and New York, we don’t think it has found its way to Penn’s Woods quite yet. And that gives us a lot of hope.

Early detection

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This week, a grouping of exceptionally knowledgeable arborists and naturalists (plus a few of us amateurs) busted out binoculars for an Urban EcoSteward training on spotting signs of the Asian longhorned beetle in Frick Park. Many a success story (such as the oak wilt trees in Schenley Park) of invasive insect/plant and disease eradication starts with an alert citizen speaking up when they see an issue.

And here’s where we need your help!

The more people on the lookout for ALB, the better the chances of spotting this unwanted visitor before thousands of our street and park trees are threatened. Keep a sharp eye out for these signs:

  • Chomp marks. Mature Asian longhorned beetles have a distinct way of dining. They love eating the veins of leaves, as well as the bark of young twigs. Infestations typically start from the apex of the tree, so check for easy-to-spot dead/dying leaves at the top of the tree.
  • Exit holes. Adult beetles exit the tree by burrowing. Check tree trunks for perfectly round holes, usually smaller than a dime.
  • Frass. Beetle burrowing can leave behind a sawdust, or frass, pile.
  • The actual beetle. About .75 – 1.25 inches long, the adult beetle is black with irregular white spots on the wing covers. They have distinct black and white antennae that are longer than their body. Blue hairs on their legs can give them a bluish tinge.
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Exit holes are about the circumference of a dime. Photo: “Damage exit hole egg site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0.

Now for the most important part: If you see something, say something. Even if you’re not 100 percent sure of what you’ve found, snap a photo. If possible, catch the beetle in a jar or a box. Then, report your sighting by calling the PA Department of Agriculture at 1-866-253-7189 or by emailing them at badbug@state.pa.us. If signs are spotted in the parks, please also let us know at info@pittsburghparks.org.

We’re not all doom and gloom over the Asian longhorned beetle (see photo below as proof). With watchful eyes and this week’s launch of the Park Tree Fund, we’re working hard to keep our park trees safe.

Much of the information from this blog was found through the University of Vermont’s stellar ALB resource pages. Read much more information about ALB here

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting in extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Speaking for the Trees

Last week, a bloom of garden writers cropped up in Schenley Plaza. There was laughter, there was garden conversation, there was… a flash mob to the song “Happy.”

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Did we mention that garden writers are a rowdy bunch?

The 600 or so party animals gardeners from across U.S. and Canada were in town for the Garden Writers Association convention and made a special stop in Schenley Plaza to see the award-winning gardens that are on display there — for free! — all year long. They were also there to scope out the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit, made possible by Davey Trees and the Cultural Landscape Foundation and going on now around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

During their stop, we asked them to do what they do best — tell some stories! Davey Trees recorded 70 or so really amazing tree tales, which are posted to their YouTube channel. Here are some of our favorites:

And our Most Favorite Video Award goes to…

Have you visited the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit yet? Catch it before it ends on September 1st!

If you would like to speak out for the trees, we invite you to join us at our Park Tree Fund launch event on Thursday, August 21st. The Park Tree Fund exists to maintain and strengthen our urban forest. With your support, we can keep Pittsburgh’s trees growing strong for generations to come. Now that would be a great story to tell.

We want to hear your tree story! Post your stories to the comments section below.