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.


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.


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.





A basswood leaf roller moth.



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 for details!



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!

group 1

group 6

group 4

group 2

Itching to get your corporate, community, or religious group out into the parks for a volunteer day? Reach out to us at 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!

Let’s Get Digital: City of Learning and Digital Badges

Do you consider yourself a nature nerd? Do you geek out outdoors?

imageFor up-and-coming environmentalists with diverse interests, a new opportunity to build and share skill sets is about to go viral. The Sprout Fund, in collaboration with 20 organizations (including the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy) has unleashed the City of Learning initiative. Through this program, students are challenged to climb their own personal achievement ladders to gain new skills, then digitize their success.

In our hyper-connected world, young people not only have to be well-rounded, but well connected. The Sprout Fund aims to engage over 3,000 students this summer through a myriad of studies, then plug them in to digital badges as a way to quantify and share their accomplishments with teachers, college admissions, and future employers. By working through specialized curricula designed by each organization to earn badges, students can strive for cyber certifications of their achievements.

What exactly is a digital badge? Think scouting badges meets LinkedIn, explains Taiji Nelson, a Naturalist Educator here at the Parks Conservancy. Under his guidance, a team of five exceptional high school students — graduates of our High School Urban EcoSteward program — will be the pioneers not only in working towards these digital badges, but also of our Young Naturalists program. Starting in June, these Young Naturalists will spend five weeks developing expertise on park stewardship, ecology, tree identification, and much more — all while working towards badges that will show the world what they know.

Week by week, Young Naturalists will earn the following badges, embedded with data and particular to the skills that they’ve mastered:

Beginner Tree IDBeginner tree ID badge

Our budding botanists and future foresters will learn to identify the common trees of Pennsylvania by their leaves, seeds, buds, bark and branches. They do this by recording observations of 10 different native trees, learning to use field guides, attending an identification hike with a tree ID expert, and writing a field guide entry in the form of a blog.


Birding BasicsBirding basics badge

Naturalists will learn the basics to identify all of the birds that flit, tweet and roost in the parks. They do this by using field guides and journals to learn how to identify 10 species of birds,  hiking with a birding expert, and writing a detailed field guide entry for one species of native bird.


Healthy Parks, Healthy CitiesHealthy parks, healthy cities badge

Earners of this badge explore and study parks to learn about the important role of trees in forest ecosystems. They will participate in a transect-survey (studying trees along a specific path) of several forest plots and gain experience with collecting and interpreting data, use scientific tools and methods, and practice systems-thinking.



Urban EcoStewardUrban EcoSteward badge

The skills needed for this badge are generally developed long-term in our Urban EcoSteward program. To earn this badge, EcoStewards must learn how to properly use the tools needed to work in the parks. They will also master invasive plant species identification. To earn this badge, they’re required to plan and complete at least one restoration project to manage erosion, canopy loss or fragmentation, litter, and invasive species.


Young NaturalistYoung Naturalist badge

Earners of this badge gain experience making and recording observations in nature journals using a variety of scopes, methods and mediums. Analyzing the features of plants, animals and landscapes strengthens their ability to compare, contrast and synthesize many observations to form a conclusion. Analyzing natural change strengthens their systems thinking and ability to form assumptions and predictions.


Young people that participate in the City of Learning not only benefit from working with The Sprout Fund and the many civic, educational, creative, and outdoor organizations associated with this initiative, but they’ll also be connected to a larger network across the country kicking off similar digital badge programs. Through City of Learning, we hope to see that young people gaining new skills in the parks can translate that into success throughout their lives.

Who’ll Stop the Rain: Green Infrastructure in Schenley Park

Big, green things are in the works in Schenley Park and the Panther Hollow Watershed.

If you’ve been near Bartlett Playground in Schenley Park lately, you might have seen some of our progress on a nearby hillside, which right now looks a little like


Soon, though, the area will look something like

Is that the Cathedral of Learning off in the distance?

Instead of a field of poppies, though, a lush, textured, and completely native meadow will be springing up this summer. The meadow will be replacing a swatch of non-native, monochrome grass as part of a larger effort to revitalize the Panther Hollow Watershed.

You may be asking yourself: Why remove a field of grass? Doesn’t grass absorb rainwater, keeping it out of our sewer system?

Answer: Yes and no. Grass does absorb a bit of rainwater. But with its shallow roots and often compacted soil underneath, it can almost as hard as a slab of concrete for water to penetrate. On this hillside between Bartlett and Beacon Streets, towards the upper sections of the Panther Hollow Watershed, we see a stellar opportunity to reduce environmentally-taxing maintenance (read: mowing), establish a walking path, and capture rainwater in the ground rather than having it run right into our sewer systems.

bartlett before

The grass to by phased out between Beacon and Bartlett Streets

bartlett after

A concept drawing of what this area will look like after, complete with wildflower meadow and walking path

Like many older cities, Pittsburgh has a combined sewer system in which both stormwater and sewage flow in the same pipe. The system is prone to overflows, with rainfalls greater than ¼ inch triggering large quantities of untreated sewage to discharge into our rivers. By increasing the amount of water retained in the soil throughout the watershed, we’re keeping rainwater out of the park streams and City sewers. This project is the first stage of a plan to reduce the volume of water flowing through the watershed.  This summer and fall, infiltration trenches and berms will be created along the street. Combined, these projects will remove an estimated 1.7 million gallons of water from the combined sewer system.

As the grass on the hillside along Beacon Street dries out, we ask that everyone stays on the marked path so that the meadow seedlings have a chance to really take hold. The seed mix that we’re using can handle the foot traffic anticipated for the Vintage Grand Prix. Until then, excuse the look of this meadow-in-progress and look forward to a ‘low-mow’ biodiversity magnet and an overall green improvement in Schenley Park!

This project is done in collaboration with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), and the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Thank you to the generous funders who are making this project come to life. We’d like to thank Allegheny County Conservation District, Dominion Foundation, Western PA Conservancy, Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and The Pittsburgh Foundation for their support!

11 Things You Didn’t Know About Mellon Square: Part 2

May 29th, 2014: The grand rededication of Mellon Square.

Fifty-nine years after the ribbon was cut for the newly constructed Mellon Square, Pittsburghers once again celebrated their Downtown emerald oasis. After a $10 million makeover, the Square is back, looking handsome and vibrant once more.

ribbon cutting

The ribbon cutting during the Mellon Square rededication.

As we revel in the reopening of the green heart of the Golden Triangle, join us in celebrating this unique space with part 2 of our series of lesser-known features and facts of the Square. (And again, thanks to Parks Curator Susan Rademacher for providing the information below!)

6. Walking on the wild side

A number of Pittsburgh’s city parks were home to animals wilder than deer and pigeons. The Pittsburgh Zoo sits in Highland Park; Riverview Park had enclosures for bear and elk. While Mellon Square was being dreamed up, there was a serious discussion about having live animal displays in this city greenspace.

Among the most talked about potential animal exhibits was one for sea lions. Looking at the sketch below, you can see the circular swimming area and platforms drawn up for flippered park denizens:

sea lion platforms

7. Hand-picked flowers

No detail was overlooked when it came to Mellon Square’s restoration — including what would be putting down roots there. After taking out a majority of the dead or dying trees and seeing that some greenery was struggling to survive, our park management team decided on more appropriate flora that is rugged and hardy, but also fragrant and textured. Here’s what you’ll see growing there:

Magnolia stellata


Girard White azalea


8. Iconic inspiration

The design and landscaping of Mellon Square sells itself. And over the years, it’s been used to sell products, such as Fort Pitt Beer. It’s also been used in photo shoots, movies, and even a medium for a love letter.

fort pitt beer

An old ad for Fort Pitt Beer, found during a local Pittsburgh resident’s home renovation, features Mellon Square’s signature cascading fountain. Image courtesy Laura Aguera.

The cover for the Three Rivers Cookbook featuring a painting by Susan Gaca.


Winter in the summer! Batman was shot right beside Mellon Square. Other movies, like The Mothman Prophecies, were shot in the Square.

hello bonnie

The text under this Post Gazette clipping reads, “Novel! A swain, as they once were called, apparently performed this feat – or shall we say feet? He walked in the snow at Mellon Square, Downtown, forming the words, “Hi Bonnie.” Who is Bonnie? Perhaps she’s employed at the Penn Sheraton Hotel, from which this photo was taken, and she can look out upon her boy friend’s message.”

9. Investment impact

What’s that old real estate adage? We know it had something to do with location…

When the idea for Mellon Square was put on the table, many property owners in that part of town complained about diminishing property values from lost parking and demolition of the then-deteriorating buildings on that block.

Quite the contrary.

Just as a gorgeous public park is a magnet for new investment, a park that’s rough around the edges pushed investment away. Vacant properties around the Square have started to come back to life in the short time that the Parks Conservancy has been renovating Mellon Square. Said Jeremy Waldrup, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the recent renovation has created an investment uptick to the tune of $200 million around the Square. With the reopening of the Square and a plan to refresh the storefronts on Smithfield Street, new investment and tourism are soon to follow.


Crowds flock to the Square in 1955, much like they do today.

10. Bonsai approach

We’ve already talked about the careful planning that went into each of the plant types in the Square. Learning from flora failures there in the past, our stellar gardeners will be using what we like to call the Bonsai approach to keep the trees, shrubs and flowers in the Square growing for a long time to come. This means not letting them get too tall, helping them stay healthy, and making sure they withstand the temperature extremes in the open Square.


A tree being planted in the Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

11. Planning for the future

The chronic issue with Mellon Square has been it’s lack of sustained maintenance. When the Parks Conservancy first assessed the Square, the fountains had not run for years. (They were only put on when a worker was on site to manually check on the fountain every hour because none of the automated controls worked.) The unique terrazzo (the triangle pavement) was grimy and chipped. The stairs were in deplorable condition. Water was leaking into the parking garage below.

Without a long-term maintenance plan, the restoration of the Square would have been done in vain. But with a new, thoughtful plan — and a $4 million maintenance budget — in place, Mellon Square will continue to shine on for generations to come.


Mellon Square is now open for all to enjoy. Check our Facebook and Twitter to see pictures of the opening ceremonies and festivities, mark your calendars for upcoming Mellon Square events, and of course, visit the Square the first chance you get!

Content for this blog was adapted from a presentation by Parks Curator Susan Rademacher.

Some of the Parks Conservancy gang on opening day.