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

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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. 

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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