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. 

Pardon the Dust: Park Projects in Progress

The new Frick Environmental Center

Back in 2002, fire consumed the much-loved Frick Environmental Center, the learning space that welcomed families and park-goers at the Beechwood Boulevard entrance of Frick Park. This week, twelve years (almost to the day!) after that fire, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh, brought in the hard hats to begin phase one of construction of the new Center.

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Hats off for the rebuilding of the Frick Environmental Center!

The new Environmental Center, to occupy the very same footprint of the old, burnt Center, will be filled to the brim with the awesome spirit of learning that our education staff inspires in everyone who visits the park. Built on a foundation of community input, the design of the new Center works in tandem with its woody setting, incorporating state-of-the-art sustainability design to soften its impact on the land. The building will:

  • Meet Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards.
  • Use 40% less energy than a typical building of its size in the northeast.
  • Power all electrical systems via solar panels.
  • Filter and treat all wastewater before releasing it naturally on site.
  • Be constructed using materials that are produced locally (whenever possible) and safe for both humans and the environment.
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First grade summer campers planted flowers to make the temporary trailers they currently use for indoor camp time a little homier.

We will be posting regular project updates on our website and marking any trail closures around the site as they happen. For general information on the project, we invite you to read our Frequently Asked Questions page and explore our website.

While we work on this exciting project, we will still be teaching hundreds of Pittsburgh-area kids about stream ecology, tree identification, and enjoying the parks. Join in by attending one of our upcoming Urban EcoSteward trainings!

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High school Young Naturalists pose with Mayor Peduto on a walking tour near the site of the new Frick Environmental Center.

Schenley Park green infrastructure

Since we last wrote about the bike lane installation in Schenley Park, the Beacon Street demonstration project has really started to pick up steam. After the recent installation of the meadow (establishing itself now), the next step, infiltration trenches, has begun.

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The infiltration system that is being installed between Beacon and Bartlett will capture and hold rainwater longer than if that water was allowed to keep rolling downhill. During big rain events, the trenches will help to sop up and slowly percolate this water back into the surrounding meadow, lightening the burden on overworked sewers.

IMG_4312[1]These improvements — the meadow and trenches — are part of the larger effort to restore the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. By using soil and plant roots to naturally filter water, we are preventing pollutants from roadways and sewers from finding their way into our water system and helping to address the issue of combined sewer overflow.

Watch as this project moves along quickly this summer! We’ll be posting regular updates of the Beacon/Bartlett site project on our website, as well as updates on greening the Bob O’Connor Golf Course greens, the next step in the Panther Hollow restoration.

Redevelopment of Cliffside Park continues this month as well. Stay tuned for updates on this project!

Members’ support is crucial in park improvements like these. Consider a donation to the Frick Environmental Center!

Every Trees Tells a Story

Every tree has a story to tell. We humans are still learning how to listen.

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Throughout the month of August, you’re invited to a unique arboreal story time to learn about a handful of very special trees around the world. A travelling exhibition assembled by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and sponsored by Davey Tree, Every Tree Tells a Story is in Pittsburgh for a short time (July 1 until September 1), spotlighting twelve seminal trees and tree stands around the world.

The woody wonders in this exhibit are a history book in and of themselves. From slaves to Buddhist temples, ladies’ societies to tornadoes, there are some outstanding tree tales to discover. Here are some of our favorites:

The Ficuses of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photograph © Juan Pons.

Thanks to the Federal Aid Highway Act that the United States launched after WWII, Puerto Rico carried out a massive construction project to establish a 35-mile road along a shuttered rail line. Edging this road (which has now become a major highway) are three remarkable African cloth-bark trees.

These trees, 70-year-old artifacts of the farmland they once shaded, now reach 50 feet in height. Even in their constrained space, they have grown to stretch over seven lanes of the freeway at their feet.

The Boxed Pines of North Carolina

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Frank Hunter.

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

Previously an area worked by immigrants and their slaves, Weymouth Heights is now a planned subdivision that has not only preserved the historic trees of the land, but actually planned development around them.

These longleaf pine trees show scars from a time when slaves and landowners carved, or “boxed,” the pines to collect sap. The sap was then processed to make turpentine, pitch, and rosin. With the careful consideration of preservation groups, these trees will tell the important history of that region for years to come.

The Elms of East Hampton, New York

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Garie Waltzer.

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

The story of the elms of East Hampton includes strong women and persistence. Bent on taking a seat at the male-dominated table of park planning, women of East Hampton joined forces to form the Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS). Buying in to their community via their street trees, these women have been the saviors of their iconic elms since 1895.

Working against hurricanes and Dutch Elm Disease (which killed approximately 75 percent of elms in the first 60 years it was in the United States), the LVIS has kept their streets shaded under these massive elms.

These stories are just a spattering of the amazing tales gathered in this exhibit. Be sure to visit during open hours at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Main, or around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Schenley Plaza (both sites show all of the photos and information). If you visit the display on Sunday, August 10th, we will be there with the expert arborists of Davey Tree. On that day, between 9 and noon, tell us your tree story and Davey Tree will donate $1 to the Parks Conservancy!

Feel free to share any wonderful tree stories in the comments section below.

Like a Moth to a Flame: Mothing in Frick Park

When prowling for nocturnal winged insects, follow the guy with ‘Mothapalooza 2014′ written on his shirt in glow-in-the-dark print.

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Mothers use a bright LED light to attract moths in Frick Park.

One week each year, naturalists pay homage to an animal that you might often overlook, at least until you turn on your porch light: the moth. During Moth Week this year, a gaggle of us Parks Conservancy folks had a blast getting to know these creatures of the night in Frick Park with Pete Woods, Ecologist at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and expert “moth-er.”

Around dusk, we found our way to the bottom of Falls Ravine where Woods had set up a picnic table base camp: moth and caterpillar identification books; a tripod with a bright LED light; a clothesline strung with a white sheet; and a pinkish concoction in a Nalgene bottle. A mixture of beer, wine, bananas, maple syrup, and yeast, this was going to bait nearby trees with a tasty slurry (at least to moths… the few of us that tried it weren’t about to ask for seconds). It was almost like a landing strip, directing moths our way.

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Painting moth bait to attract them by smell.

We painted a few trees with the moth bait and flipped on the huge LED light beside the white sheet. Within seconds, insects of all shapes started to gather, drawn to the light like, well, moths to a flame. (Side note: Pete explained that moths are drawn to bright light because they it looks like the moon, which they use for navigation.) Woods and a few other mothing pros named each one that dropped by.

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A basswood leaf roller moth.

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A gorgeous Bad Wing moth.

Taking the time to really see these insects, you can see why Pete and other serious moth enthusiasts get all a-flutter over them. They’re incredibly diverse in shape, color, and design. Plus, they have a mysterious nighttime draw that sometimes makes you stand in the park at 11pm huddled up against a spotlit white sheet (another side note: Pete had a permit for this excursion).

Pete’s plans are to hold more events like this to carry out a moth survey. We still have a lot to learn about what creatures call Frick Park home, and surveys like this are important to understanding the big picture. Stay tuned for upcoming moth watches from Pete. And if you’re free tomorrow, July 26th, join the Pitt Ecology Club and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for a moth watch in Schenley Park. Contact pittecologyclub@gmail.com for details!

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Better Bikeways, Better Watersheds: Big Plans for Schenley Park

Standing in a semicircle of maps and renderings of Schenley Park and surrounding streets, Mayor Peduto, Bike Pittsburgh‘s Scott Bricker, and the Department of Public Works’ Patrick Hassett recently announced exciting and progressive plans for protected bike lanes in Pittsburgh.

Peduto, Bricker, and Hasset share the mic at the press conference.

The first of the three segments of this project that we’re particularly thrilled to see will run from Schenley Plaza, snake along Schenley Drive and Panther Hollow Road, and end at Anderson Playground. Partitioned with bollards and marked with paint, the new bike lanes make it so that “families can bike with their kids, older folks can bike all over the city, to get to life, to connect kids to their schools and people to work and grocery stores and places of entertainment,” as Bricker said in the press conference.

BIkers came out in support of the new lanes.

“Schenley Park is our backyard,” one family told us at the event. Living so close to Anderson Playground, they’re enthused to see the new lane help them get from A to B in a way that’s safe for their entire clan. The new, protected bike lane (the first in Pittsburgh!) is slated to begin this month, and all three sections will be completed by Labor Day.

The Levin-Boykowycz family at the Mayor’s press release.

Schenley Park, further down the road

These infrastructure upgrades in the park are only just the beginning. Mayor Peduto in his announcement of these soon-to-be upgrades touched on his administration’s attentiveness to improve not only transportation infrastructure, but also stormwater infrastructure — often at the same time.

The Parks Conservancy’s work in the Panther Hollow Watershed is the quintessential opportunity to merge stormwater and transportation improvements.

Schenley Drive creates a number of challenges in the Panther Hollow Watershed:

  • Winding through the upper sections of the watershed, it makes up a large part of the impervious surface of Phipps Run. This generates a large amount of runoff every time it rains, leading to erosion.
  • The too-wide roadway does not serve pedestrians, bicyclists, or golfers well.
  • Grassy golf turf traditionally require intense mowing regimes, fertilizers, and herbicides, which eventually harm the watershed.

Recommended in the Panther Hollow Restoration Plan is a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of solution:

“Create a “complete street” that welcomes people, mitigates stormwater runoff, increases baseflow and improves water quality. Infiltration Berms capture runoff generated by the compacted golf course lawn, allowing for increased infiltration that can support a natural meadow within “rough” areas. Vegetated Swales slow down remaining runoff. The street will be narrowed and a separate path created for pedestrians and bicyclists. This path could be porous asphalt and will include an infiltration bed to capture and infiltrate the runoff in the upper portions of the watershed. Where infiltration is not feasible in the lower portions of the watershed, the stormwater bed will slow the movement of runoff for slow release of treated water to Phipps Run.”

All in all, this comprehensive approach addresses stormwater issues (at least 70,000 bathtubs of water per year would be taken out of our overloaded combined sewer system!) while making the road more usable for everyone.

Before that happens, though, we’re working hard on other points of the Panther Hollow plan. Currently, the new meadow on Bartlett and Beacon Streets is being seeded and will be full-grown later this summer.

Stay tuned as these restoration projects progress, and be sure to take a spin on the new protected bike lanes when they’re installed.

Working It: Workplace Volunteer Days

Are you looking for some different conversation starters around the water cooler? Need more excuses to give coworkers high fives? Love team building? Then ditch the after-work happy hour and get your office mates out to a volunteer day in the parks!

They say that a family that plays together, stays together. We like to say that coworkers that plant trees, pull invasive plants, and pick up trash in the parks together, stay together. In June, we had an incredible number of corporate and community groups — 18 to be exact — get gloved up and contribute over 750 volunteer hours in the parks. Here’s how much they rocked:

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are tough. Our volunteers are 10 times tougher. Groups in June pulled almost 30 bags of garlic mustard, 23 bags of Mile-a-minute vines, and some burdock and mugwort to boot.

Top: Public Allies saving a young tree from an invasive vine in Frick Park. Bottom left: Mullen volunteer wearing a shirt that says “invasive plants beware” pulling garlic mustard. Bottom right: A young SCA volunteer cutting invasive vines in South Side Park (photo credit: SCA)

Trees and plantings

Just uphill from Bartlett Playground, the Schenley Park oak wilt site is on the road to recovery. Volunteers from SDLC Partners trudged right into the mud to get some new trees in the ground to aid this site’s gradual restoration — and had a ball.

Last month, volunteer groups planted almost 450 annuals and herbaceous plants and 59 new trees and shrubs in the parks. Additionally, over 200 pots of native wildflowers were transplanted to keep them safe during the construction of the new Frick Environmental Center.

Top: SDLC volunteers yukking it up in front of a newly planted tree. Bottom left: SDLC volunteers making a hole for a tree in thick mud. Bottom right: Public Allies fence trees in Frick Park.

Weed whackers

Caring for the multitude of park gardens is no easy task. Thanks to the many volunteer hours spent deadheading, weeding, mulching, and watering, we’re able to keep these public gardens looking stellar. Last month, Schenley Plaza, Mellon Park Walled Garden, Highland Park Entry Garden, and Bartlett Playground were all given lots of love by our volunteer groups.

Top right: Duquesne students and Hill District residents plant more than a hundred annuals. Left and bottom right: American Eagle Better World volunteers care for Mellon Park.

Team building

We have a blast working with so many mighty, enthusiastic volunteer groups. And we think that all of the big smiles that we see during and after the day are a pretty good sign that they’re enjoying their time in the parks, too.

Thanks to IDL Worldwide,  Weslyen Charities, AmeriCorps NCCC, Landslide Farm, Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, Navy, Bidwell, Pittsburgh Botanical Society, SCA, South Side Neighborhood Association, American Eagle, Aon, AIG, SDLC Partners, Duquesne University, Public Allies, Highland Park Garden Club, and Mullen for being such fantastic volunteers!

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Itching to get your corporate, community, or religious group out into the parks for a volunteer day? Reach out to us at volunteer@pittsburghparks.org to set up a date for this fall!

Jake Baechle, Volunteer Coordinator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Like a Phoenix: Rebuilding a New Frick Environmental Center

This spring, we invited Parks Conservancy supporters to write letters expressing their desire to see grant funding to aid in the construction of the new Environmental Center in Frick Park. We had previously engaged more than 600 people in public meetings and planning opportunities to shape the design for the center, but we had no idea how many people we’d hear from.

The results were astounding.

In total, well over 100 people wrote in in support of the Environmental Center. Many were neighbors of the park and parents with children in our education programs, excited to see the old, burnt building replaced with a modern, sustainable center. We had so many great letters to read, and each one touched our heart. We have shared each and every one of those letters in our meetings with elected officials and funders– and they have made a huge impact. Read on for a few that we just had to share:

The old Frick Environmental Center, which burned in 2002, will soon be replaced with an innovative, sustainable new center.


There are an abundance of reasons why this grant should be awarded, but I would rather focus in a rather personal way. The park, and within it the the location of the proposed center, are located inside the city of Pittsburgh, in 600 acres of woods and streams, within walking distance of the poor to working class neighborhood of Homewood where I grew up… In a family with an unemployed father and sickly mother, a family without a car, or even very often a dime for bus fare, I would often walk a few miles to get to the park and the old nature center in it. 

streamCrossing through the gatehouse at the park entrance over 60 years ago was like crossing the threshold into another dimension for me, like entering a new, clean, wild, world, where birds and flowers I had only ever seen in books abounded, where the noises of the city were dulled by a heavy forest. The relief and fun I and my neighborhood friends had there was magnified a thousand fold when we discovered the nature center, and we soaked up whatever the naturalists taught us about the park. I went on to a career in chemistry, moving into positions in higher education. I and all my friends were affected for the better, starting with a love and enjoyment of the outdoors.

All that happened in the late nineteen forties and early fifties. The nature center evolved into an environmental center, with an even more intense and varied program. and now shows promise of being a major focal point for learning about science and nature, and more importantly, a place where children find out such learning is fun, rather than a tedious chore. 

This is a time when ignorance of nature, indeed of all of science, is reaching critical proportions. Please help reverse that tide by funding this project. -J. Solomon

Habitat Explorers after throwing ‘seed bombs’ in front of the old Environmental Center.


The plans for Frick Park are very exciting and will make many improvements to a very beloved area. Improvements have been a long time coming for Frick Park.

An Earth Day hike walking the grounds of the old Environmental Center.

For years, all of the programming and events for the park have been operated out of two small gatehouses. The amazing staff was always able to make the most of these circumstances and provide amazing environmental education opportunities for the public. I can only imagine what they will be capable of if the new construction plans go through. Please support the Frick Environmental Center. 

Frick Park is a special city park that has touched the lives of so many residents of Pittsburgh and beyond. It is time to devote some resources to a park that has gone without proper programming space for a long time. -J. Stewart


Schools like Community Day are taken out into the parks by Parks Conservancy education staff to learn about nature in nature.

I have lived just a block away from the site of the Frick Environmental Center for 17 years. It was a wonderful asset to the community prior to the devastating fire, but it has also amazed me how the staff has managed to carry on the programming as best they can even without the building, using a wholly inadequate trailer as their home base. After ten years of this it is certainly more than time to rebuild a new and better Environmental Center for the citizens of Pittsburgh.

Even before moving to this house, we took advantage of the offerings of the center. When my son we little he attended day camp at the Environmental Center for three summers in a row. The programming was of such high quality that it was well worth driving across town so that he could participate. With the plans that have been put together for the new center, the next generation of children will benefit even more. -B. Smith


A High School Urban EcoSteward journaling in the park.

I urge you to award the largest possible grant to fund the Frick Park Environmental Center in Pittsburgh, which is a project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

I am a daily user of Pittsburgh’s parks, and I see how beneficial the new Environmental Center would be for expanding environmental education. The design of the Center brings the outdoors in, and engages park users in ways that complement the landscape.

Most importantly, the Frick Park Environmental Center will make nature and conservation education accessible to children from all neighborhoods and backgrounds, increasing the likelihood that they will experience the peaceful and revitalizing pleasure of interacting with nature. These young people will enjoy better health, will be inspired to care about and for the world around them, and will feel a sense of community in sharing a love for the outdoors and for the city that provides them with such an amenity. -M. Hershey

Observing an insect caught on an Earth Day hike.


The new Frick Environmental Center will be an exceptional classroom with doors open to all of Pittsburgh and a draw for the entire region — a place for every person, for all ages — but most importantly for our children. We’re excited to be providing this first-class living building — because Pittsburgh’s kids deserve the best!

The Environmental Center will be an important way to keep the vision of Helen Clay Frick alive and well since the gift of Frick Park to the City of Pittsburgh was intended to be a place for children to learn within the woods. Stay updated on the project (beginning this summer) by checking our website.

And of course, comment below to tell us your thoughts about the new Environmental Center!