You would think, at thirty-something, telling your parents you’re moving over 800 miles away to Pittsburgh would be easier. Being a close-knit, Midwestern family combined with the fact that I’m the baby, this was not the case. I’ve spent my entire life listening to my dad’s stories of growing up in Pittsburgh. How he painstakingly walked up steep hills ten miles one-way, typically in two feet of snow whether it was winter or not, wiping soot from his face just to get his mother some bread for dinner. By this point in my life, the snow in his stories had gotten deeper, the hills steeper and he was barefoot carrying his little sister on his back. Though I knew my dad had a flair for the dramatic in his childhood tales, this was how I pictured Pittsburgh, black and cold. My dad is a Marine and a retired Special Agent. He’s tough. So inevitably I predicted his hometown to be just as tough and wasn’t sure how I’d be able to find my place, but now it was my turn to create my own Pittsburgh story.
My husband and I packed up our three-bedroom home, loaded the cats in the car and set out on our new adventure from Kansas City to Pittsburgh almost two years ago. If I said the transition was smooth, I would be a big ol’ liar. Though this would be the seventh state I’ve lived in, I’ve spent the past twenty-two years in a suburb of Kansas City. It wasn’t incredibly exciting, but it was familiar and it was home. We moved into a one-bedroom townhome that I swear, still to this day, is on top of one of the steepest hills in Pittsburgh. Nothing looked familiar, I didn’t know how to get to work and I felt as though I was suffocating.
The entire first week in our new city, I was stricken with anxiety that we had just made the biggest mistake of our lives. Not willing to let me just wither away, my husband coerced me into getting into the car and taking a drive to warm-up to the city. We drove through Shadyside and made our way towards Squirrel Hill. As the car climbed up yet another hill and rounded a wide corner, we found ourselves in an open park overlooking the city skyline. I felt my lungs open and the tension melt as I stepped foot for the first time onto Schenley Overlook. With the skyline smiling at me and nothing but emerald surrounding me, I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore. This began my love affair with the Pittsburgh parks.
Elated to see what the other regional parks had to offer, it wasn’t long before I went on my first run through Frick Park. I rounded my way down Braddock Trail passing over small wooden bridges and stone staircases feeling like I just stepped into my own personal enchanted forest. The canopy of trees drizzled sunlight to illuminate my path along the way. As I headed up the Falls Ravine Trail, every jogger I passed nodded with an out-of-breath smile, walkers said hello and playful pups trotted along without a care in the world. No one knew I wasn’t an authentic Pittsburgher, nor did they seem to care. We were all park lovers. Like an underground society delivering our secret handshake as we passed one another, I was embraced like one of their own.
I quickly found my way to Schenley Park and onto Phipps Run Trail wanting to see if Frick Park was just a fluke or if my dad failed to mention the best part about Pittsburgh. I ran longer than normal partly because I had to stop every two minutes to take a picture and post it to Facebook, but mostly because I couldn’t wait to see what was around the next corner. There were less people on this trail, but the scenery wasn’t any less magical. My feet propelled me forward past Panther Hollow Bridge overlooking Panther Hollow Lake towards Steve Faloon Trail. I couldn’t believe this urban oasis was sitting in the middle of Pittsburgh. Why were people not flocking to this city and more importantly, why had I waited so long to move here? It was at that moment it hit me. I was home. These were my parks. Not being able to make a choice between the two, I was able to work out a joint custody agreement between Frick and Schenley Park. I see Schenley in the evenings after work and Frick on the weekend. It’s worked out quite nicely with little to no jealousy between the two.
I’m thrilled that I now have the opportunity to formally share my love of our parks through my role at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. The parks have become my refuge. They’re the backdrop to the stage I set when telling anyone about my new home. I get it now when Carrie Bradshaw referred to The City as her best friend. Frick and Schenley have become my closest confidantes and are always there even on my worst days. Whenever the hustle and bustle of daily life gets to be too much, I know I can just head down to visit my friends in the park and pass along our secret handshake. Pittsburgh…I think you’re stuck with me.
Holly Stayton is the new eCommerce Development Officer at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. She manages the overall online presence of the Parks Conservancy. Her responsibilities include website content management and coordination of our blog, social media and e-newsletters. She doesn’t understand why her office can’t be on a bench in the middle of Frick Park.