The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy relies heavily on volunteers to accomplish our work in the parks, particularly our ecological restoration initiatives. The Urban EcoSteward program gives a variety of people a chance to work and improve their own section of parkland.
Frick Park – Kim, Dan, Jodi (18), Sage (16), Bobby (13), and Maggie Lincoln (8)
About five minutes from the Frick Environmental Center is the Lincoln family’s “land” that they have stewarded since 2006. The family of six has put an impressive amount of hours into their EcoSteward site, removing multiflora rose, honeysuckle, garlic mustard and vines and allowing native species to grow and flourish. Two mulberry trees that were previously choked by vines have begun to thrive.
The Jefferson Award-winning Lincoln family has worked hard to clear the perimeter of their site, exposing the foundation of a fountain that was filled in years ago. The Lincolns average 100 hours per month in the springtime.
While Kim often works on the site by herself, the Lincolns have found stewarding to be a great family activity. “This has been a great activity for quality family time. We can come together or separately, and each person can focus on what they like best. It’s hard to find something that three teenagers want to do with their parents, but they really like doing the vine work,” said Kim. “Plus the experience has taught our kids how to work hard, value nature, and take pride in helping others.”
During our site visit, eight year-old Maggie ran through the site jumping over fallen logs picking wild blackberries. Her favorite part is the vine work, although she is an expert at pulling garlic mustard. With four years under her belt, she has more experience than I do!
Highland Park – Annie Weidman
Annie Weidman has been an Urban EcoSteward since the very beginning of the program. When she started on her site near Highland Park’s Babbling Brook, 99% of the landscape was covered in garlic mustard.
Annie has been removing invasives like Norway maple, buckthorn, and honeysuckle, allowing natives like the Solomon’s seal plant to grow. Clearing trash and broken glass from the site is still necessary years later. “I keep finding old versions of Iron City cans,” commented Annie.
Annie works on the site with her friend Elizabeth Brown, and the two have found it’s a great way to catch up. Annie said that there is a personal reward for volunteering: “We are doing our part to keep the parks relatively free of invasives and garbage, but we feel like it’s our own personal space. We love seeing all the improvements in our site.”
Riverview Park – Moses Carper
Moses Carper has been volunteering in Riverview Park since 2001, originally as a docent and now as an Urban EcoSteward. Moses works in the park year-round educating visiting groups and maintaining Riverview’s beautiful garden beds.
Moses works with Bob Lacki of the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works to improve visitor experience in the parks by experimenting and planting new flowers.
Moses also brings young people to the park to volunteer in the flowerbeds and experience the trails. He said, “Young kids often think of the park as a playground, so we move them out to the trails so that they can see that the park is all around. It can be difficult to get them to understand stewardship. It is all of our responsibility, and not just the City’s.”
One of his favorite things about the EcoSteward program is that he is able to see the overall impact of the park and how there is now greater awareness in how to remove them. “Before the docent and EcoSteward program, I knew that invasives were a problem, but I didn’t know how to deal with them. You can’t promote diversity if you let them take over.”
Schenley Park – Mary Alice Drusbasky
Located just below the Bartlett Playground, the Bartlett Meadow in Schenley Park is a warm season grass and wildflower meadow. Serving as a buffer to the nearby woods, the meadow creates a welcoming, healthy habitat for native wildlife, birds, and insects. Mary Alice Drusbasky has stewarded this site since 2003, watching natives thrive as invasive plants are painstakingly removed. According to Mary Alice, working on the site is great exercise.
Mary Alice loves this natural site and has chronicled its development as a meadow. As one of the original Urban EcoStewards, Mary Alice continues to remove the invasive goutweed, burdock, and garlic mustard from her site, allowing the ecology of the meadow to improve. According to Mary Alice, “Grapevine is the easiest to remove – plus it makes a great wreath!”
Mary Alice added, “I like knowing that I’m giving something back to a park where I’ve appreciated such beauty.”
The Parks Conservancy works in partnership with Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, the Frick Environmental Center, and the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation to supervise the stewards. If you’re interested in becoming an Urban EcoSteward, visit www.pittsburghparks.org/ues.