Jurassic Park in Frick Park: Finding Fossils


This week, we’re zipping up our winter coats and rocking out with fossils in the parks. Below, read our latest bi-monthly “Let’s Talk About Parks” series, featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The “Let’s Talk About Parks” series is designed to encourage our younger park users to explore and discover Pittsburgh’s urban parks.

Fossils 2Because much of Pittsburgh’s geology is made up of sedimentary rocks — shale, sandstone, limestone and coal that formed when sediment and dead and decaying materials were deposited in layers and compacted — it’s a great place to go fossil hunting. And with less foliage, fall is the perfect season for a fossil walk.

Pittsburgh’s sedimentary rocks were formed during what is called the Pennsylvanian Period, which lasted from roughly 323 million to 298 million years ago. During part of that time, what we now know as Pittsburgh was covered by an inland sea. Aquatic plants and animals that died were trapped in the sediment at the sea bottom, eventually became part of the rocks that formed, and were later uncovered when the sea waters receded.

When huge hunks of rock are cut or dug out to build roads or for other construction projects, fossils can often be found embedded in what is unearthed. This is also true of areas where streams or rivers have carved away at the landscape, such as in Frick Park, near the Falls Ravine Trail picnic shelter.

Fossils 1

Lunar landscape or fossil marks?


Frick and Schenley parks are great locations for fossil hunting. Bring a small brush and a squirt bottle to clear dirt from the rock. Look for rock outcroppings that appear to have layers of color. If you are lucky you might see small horn-shaped shells known as horn-corals, or round or cylindrical fossils that may be crinoids, an extinct sea creature.

Take care to leave the fossils in place for others to enjoy. For a printable guide to fossils in Frick Park, be sure to visit our website. Keep an eye out for our next “Let’s Talk About Parks” feature!

Leading and Learning with the Young Naturalists

Leading and Learning with the Young Naturalists

We could tell stories for days about the incredible crew of high school students — our first batch of Young Naturalists — that we worked with this year.

Such as when they surveyed salamanders, mastered tree identification, or worked as a team to raise a trail out of the mud.

Or when the Young Naturalists led a gaggle of under-ten-year-olds on an educational nature hike through Frick Park, becoming instant role models.

Or when one of the naturalists said she has started looking for colleges that excel in environmental studies rather than fashion.

Instead, we’ll let them tell their own stories. Already stand-outs from our High School Urban EcoStewards program, Allana, Michael, Kate, Michael, and Geneva  pioneered and excelled in our five-week Young Naturalist program. Below are their stories:




These young adults, and Parks Conservancy staff who worked with them along the way, will be presenting to hundreds of learners young and old at next week’s Learning Pathways Summit. Come and check them out!

DIY: Autumn Cornucopias

DIY: Autumn Cornucopias

This week, we’re revisiting one of our more popular craft posts to get in the Thanksgiving state of mind. Enjoy! 

I’ve always been jealous of my crafty friends who treat the holiday season like one festive art project. It seems that I lack this genome. The good news is that at the Parks Conservancy, we have horticulturist Angela Yuele. When she showed up in the office one afternoon carrying a cornucopia basket filled with masterfully arranged autumn flowers, we implored her to teach us. You’ll be the one to impress the crowd this Thanksgiving with this absolutely stunning centerpiece that will leave you’re guests asking for the name of your florist. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

What You’ll Need

  1. A cornucopia basket
  2. Scissors
  3. Clear floral tape
  4. Wire
  5. An oasis cube (the green spongy thing that holds the flowers together). Soak it in water for 5 minutes and then place it in the plastic tray that comes with it in the bottom of the basket.
  6. Ribbon in your favorite autumn color.
  7. Greens – we used Baker Fern and leaves we cut off the flowers.
  8. Filler – we used Princess Lily, Goldenrod, and St. Johns Wort seed pods.
  9. Accent flowers – we used two colors of mums.

You can get these items at a craft store. For the flowers, you can go to a florist or even purchase an autumn flower arrangement at your grocery store and use those. Angela suggests standing while you arrange the flowers to give you a better perspective.

Secure the Oasis

Use the clear floral tape to secure the oasis to the basket. Go ahead and wrap the tape all the way around the outside of the basket – once all the flowers are in you won’t see it. When wrapping the tape around, make sure to create space between the strips of tape on the oasis so that you won’t have an area where you can’t insert flowers.

Cut Down Your Greens 

Use your scissors to cut the green leaves into smaller pieces. You want a variety of shapes and sizes. It can help to pull away some of the lower leaves so that you have a nice stem to put into the oasis.

Start on the Sides

Start by working the greens along the side of the oasis, allowing them to spill over the edges of the basket.

Cover the Mechanics 

Place the fern leaves in various sizes in the oasis cube so that you cover the cube and tape completely. Put the majority of them into the oasis at a horizontal angle so that you get good coverage. Angela recommends putting one large fern piece straight out of the front to balance the length of the cornucopia basket. The arrangement will look best if it appears horizontal because of the shape of the basket. Use a couple smaller ferns at the top sticking straight up so that the greens will appear to surround the flowers once they are placed.

Put in the Filler

For the Goldenrod, Angela suggests using two larger pieces – one at the front of the arrangement and one at the top – and then breaking the Goldenrod down into smaller pieces to be put in along the sides. As you add the more colorful elements it is important to maintain balance. “Don’t just work the top of the arrangement,” says Angela, “work the sides as well.”

I started to get intimidated when it came time to put in actual flowers. Angela assured me that while there are approaches that tend to be more appealing to the eye, there’s not a wrong way. “The nice thing about flower arranging is that it is open to interpretation,” she says. She suggests beginning by placing a few flowers near the center of the arrangement and then moving out to the sides. “Allow the flowers to spill over the edge,” she encourages. Cut the leaves off the stems before you put them in. I found that the flower stems were less rigid than the ferns, so it works best to hold the flower stem at the very bottom against the oasis to give it support and use your other hand to push from just under the petals to insert it.

I loved the use of the St. Johns Wort seed pods with their friendly pink hue, but berries would give you a very similar effect. Make sure to cut away all the leaves and break the plants down into smaller pieces before you start placing them.

Accent Flowers

Your accent flowers should be a hearty, bright flower. We used two different colors of Mums. Remove all the leaves and break the flowers down into small groupings before you place them. Angela suggests creating a central cluster of three or so at the front of the arrangement and then using the rest of them to balance the arrangement. Don’t forget the sides! Remember that if you place this on a table, your guests will see it at all angles.

The Final Touch

There are a million ways to tie or shape your ribbon. For this one we looped the ribbon three times (trying to vary the size of the loops a little) and held the loops together at the base.

Use a piece of wire to wrap around the base of the ribbon loops and secure.

For a nice detail, you can make what Angela calls “fancy tails” at the ends of your ribbon by cutting little triangles into the ends. When you’re done, place the wire into the oasis at a place in the arrangement that could use a little something extra.

Congratulations – You’re Done!

Congratulations you flower arranging genius you. Now you have a beautiful arrangement to serve as a Thanksgiving centerpiece or gift. And when your very crafty friends ask where you got it you can say, “I made it, no big deal.”

The arrangement should stay fresh looking for about a week. You can water it every couple of days, though it is best to do it over the sink since it will leak through the basket for a little while.

Kathleen Gaines is Senior Manager of Individual giving at the Parks Conservancy. Now if she could just learn how to cook!

Feeling thankful? Give back to the parks that you love by supporting the Park Tree Fund. Click here to get started. 

To the Bat Box: Bats in the Parks

To the Bat Box: Bats in the Parks

Happy (du nu nu nu nu nu nu nu) BAT WEEK!

This week, we’re looking skyward, marveling at the tiny creatures of the night that steal the show each Halloween. Our latest bi-monthly Let’s Talk About Parks series, featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and reposted below, is all about these tiny real-life caped crusaders.

bat box Frick Park Mike Cornell

Naturalist Educator Mike spying on a bat box in Frick Park.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have large, wooded parklands (Frick Park and Schenley Park together comprise more than 1,100 acres) that back right up to our neighborhoods, and as a result we sometimes find ourselves sharing space with wild creatures. And while most of us can handle a close encounter with a deer or even a hawk, bats almost universally give people the shivers.

Though they are critical to our ecosystem – a single bat can eat 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night – their fearsome appearance, together with their association with mythic tales of blood-thirsty vampires, gives them a bad rap.

There are many species of bats in Pennsylvania, but the most common is the little brown bat. Its length from tail to ghoulish chin is around three and a half inches, and its black leathery wings when spread typically measure anywhere from eight to just over 10 inches.

Little brown bats come out at dusk, and you may see them zig-zagging through the darkening sky, catching insects on the wing.

In October and November, bats begin looking for a spot to hibernate. Tunnels, caves and mine shafts are ideal, as they allow the bats to cluster together and hang from the ceiling, upside down, all winter long.

Little brown bats may live up to 25 years, but all bat species are facing serious declines because of white-nose syndrome. Millions of insect-eating bats have already died from this disease, and researchers have not yet found a way to stop it. You can do your part to help bats by avoiding any disturbance to bats if you go caving, and by constructing a bat habitat box.

Find information on our local bats and bat boxes in our city parks by clicking here

The parks after dark are full of interesting nocturnal creatures. Discover them with your young ones at our annual Night Explorers! Designed for children ages 10 to 14 and their adults, this fall fun event encourages exploration in Frick Park.

One year ago: Parks as Classrooms, Parks as Offices: A Public Ally Perspective

Two years ago: Every Little Bit Helps — A Volunteer Extravaganza

Happening in the Parks: Fall 2014

Happening in the Parks: Fall 2014

Fall foliage flares
Everyone flocks
To their parks
A Pittsburgh parks haiku


Mission Ground Truth students in Frick Park

What pulls you to the parks in autumn? This season, the parks are bustling with kids’ events, volunteer days, learning opportunities, and much more. Here’s a rundown of what’s been happening and what’s to come:

What’s been happening


Die-hard Buccos fans celebrating the 54th anniversary of the 1960 World Series.

Mazeroski Day
Every October 13th, the Game 7 Gang flocks to Forbes Field to relive Bill Mazeroski’s tremendous home run in the 1960 World Series. Fans young and old dust off their Pirates memorabilia and pull up a lawn chair and  head to Schenley Plaza to listen to the original broadcast of the game. We’re happy to report that the game always ends with a “W” for the Bucs!

DCNR Open House
Every five years, states nationwide craft outdoor recreation plans, outlining how they will use important federal funds to maintain and grow programs, policies, and programs. In early October, dozens of Pittsburghers used their outdoor voices at a public open house to give their feedback to help shape Pennsylvania’s new plan. The open house at Schenley Park, hosted by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), was an important step in making sure that Pittsburgh interests are represented. If you missed the open house, you can still give your feedback on the 2014-18 PA Outdoor Recreation Plan by heading this way before October 31st.


Native Plant Propagation Training
The Parks Conservancy, with special guest Kathy McGregor from Sylvania Natives, led a group of parks pals on a gorgeous morning to identify native plants in Frick Park through the Urban EcoSteward program in mid-October. The training took the group through trails to collect small seed samples of the local flora to propagate on their EcoSteward sites or in their backyard habitats. Along the way, the group found sassafras, spice bush, elder berry, hackberry, aster, and much more.

Bump in the Night
Almost 400 kids and adults ventured out to Frick Park after dark this month to meet nocturnal animals, carve jack-o’-lanterns, roast marshmallows, sing with Dr. Boo, and enjoy fall outdoors at the annual Bump in the Night. The event, geared towards kids ages three to 10 and their adults, encourages outdoor exploration while learning about the creatures that go bump in the night.


Panther Hollow Extravaganza
Now in its fifth year, the Panther Hollow Extravaganza started our fall volunteer season off with a bang. More than 115 energetic volunteers battled invasives, planted native trees, and beautified the park. All told, these fantastic folks removed 20 bags of trash, collected 240 pounds of red oak acorns for DCNR, planted 21 trees, and improved 80 feet of trails. All that, not to mention they cleared four sites of invasive plants, did some erosion control, build a retaining wall, AND established a rock crossing on a stream. Thanks to everyone that came out to help!

What’s to come


Dan Kiley
Dan Kiley (1912-2004) was one of the most important and influential Modernist landscape architects of the 20th century. After his passing, The Cultural Landscape Foundation assembled a special traveling photographic exhibit on his life and career. On November 7th, this exhibit will be on display at the Wood Street Galleries. Join our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher and Carol Brown, president of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, for the opening reception. (And be sure to order a copy of Susan’s new book, Mellon Square: Experiencing a Modern Masterpiece (Modern Landscapes, Then and Now) today!) Find more information here.

Night Explorers
For kids ages 10 to 14 who have a sense of adventure, a love of learning, and can roast a serious marshmallow, Night Explorers is a not-to-be-missed event. There will be nocturnal animal presentations, owl calls, a community campfire, and plenty of fun to go around. Registration and more information can be found here.

Volunteer Days
Missed the Panther Hollow Extravaganza? There are plenty more opportunities to join the ranks of our volunteer crews this fall. Visit the observatory, Chapel Shelter, and bear pit in Riverview Park or meet the passionate residents greening up their neighborhood on the Hill at our upcoming volunteer days. Register and more information here.


Urban EcoSteward Planting Techniques Training
The Urban EcoStewards invite everyone to become a pro at properly planting native species. The training, set in gorgeous Emerald View Park, is free and open to the public. Register here!

Out enjoying the parks this fall? Send us your lusciously leafy shots via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

 One year ago: A Play-full Event

Two years ago: Every Little Bit Helps — A Volunteer Extravaganza

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

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


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.

buzzword logo

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.


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