When You’re 84 and Live in the Park

When you’re 84 and live in the park, you’ve got to be tough. You’re going to get drenched, frozen, and sit through the sunniest and windiest days. You’re going to shift a bit, crack under the pressure, and start to show wrinkles — all a natural part of aging.

When you’re 84 and live in the park, sometimes you don’t get the respect you deserve. Kids come along, and they just don’t get it. These whippersnappers get out their pens and pocket knives and leave their mark, not even taking the time to get to know you or your history.

Photo courtesy Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives

But when you’re 84 and live in the park, there are tons of people that have your back. They keep you shiny and clean, put together and graffiti-free. With their help, you have a chance at staying as handsome as when you first came to live in the park so many years ago.

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On a soggy December day, a handful of staff from the Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh were audience to a crash course in graffiti removal at a landmark that’s been living in Schenley Park since 1930: Westinghouse Memorial. Led by Tom Podner of McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory, a nationally renowned art and artifacts conservation center and the studio that worked magic on Mary Schenley’s fountain and the Highland Park entry gates, this training also included an extensive walk-through of the construction of the memorial. If you’ve never really looked at this beautiful tribute to George Westinghouse, we recommend getting up close and personal next time you’re visiting. The bronze “The Spirit of American Youth,” intricately detailed panels, and all of the amazing details that went in to the entire work — just outstanding.

For those of us that work to maintain and restore the parks and their many historic landmarks, it’s hard to understand vandalism. In the short time between when the men of McKay Lodge had done their first day of assessment and cleaning and the second when they were giving us the lesson, there was already new graffiti on the memorial. Luckily, Tom and his crew are pros at finding the right tool for the job. Lucky for us, one of those tools was a blowtorch.

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Starting with the gentlest solvent first, Tom took a couple swipes across the surface of the memorial at a spot where graffiti had literally popped up overnight. He always starts with the weakest solutions first to judge to depth of the scratch or mark. Like washing a child’s scribble off a wall, he took the first marks off pretty easily.

The center panel on the front-facing portion of the memorial was the real task at hand.

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A botched graffiti cleanup in the past (not done by McKay Lodge) had left a large white streak on one of the most visible parts of the memorial. As Tom soaked a clean cloth in that same base-level solvent, he explained the different layers of the memorial — the actual memorial, a clear protective coat, and a layer of wax on top. This layer of wax, which takes the hardest beating from the elements, optimally should be refreshed every few years. (Until now, the memorial has seen many years of neglect. The Park Conservancy is actively working to raise funds for a long-term maintenance plan.) This layer keeps memorials looking crisp and clean. And holds pen and marker inks.

The first solvent a wash, Tom reached for the tool we all secretly wanted to see him use: the blowtorch! The discoloring, he explained, wasn’t on the surface-level wax; it looked to him to be moisture that was caught between the wax and clear coat. By using the torch, he was melting the wax and wicking away the moisture from the clear coat. It started to disappear like magic; he invited us to touch the metal right after he worked on an area — the metal was completely cool. He finished the job by buffering on a fresh layer of wax where there once was a big white splotch.

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There’s always work to do in upkeeping wonderful park places and features such as the Westinghouse Memorial. The memorial has a long way to go, as we plan to clean and repair it, shore up its foundation, and restore the surrounding Lily Pond. On a larger scale, the memorial will tie into our Panther Hollow restoration work as we plan perimeter landscaping and restoration. If you love this 84-year-old in the park, please consider a donation to keep it looking its best.

A Race with the Red Queen

No disrespect to the ancients, but the best time to plant a tree was not 20 years ago. It might be this spring.

A variety of leaves from trees planted last fall in Highland Park. Photo by Taiji Nelson.

Whether plant, animal, virus, or bacteria, all living organisms are locked in battle with the pathogens, pests and parasites in their surrounding environment, using the tools and tricks nature’s equipped them with to keep them in the game. One of the strongest tools in this arsenal? The ability to adapt, to one-up opponents in a constant arms race.

One huge task that the Parks Conservancy faces is shoring up this arsenal for the trees in our care. The founders of these fine parks left quite the legacy, not only in the consideration that they gave to the design and experience of the parks, but also the impressive diversity of the urban forests.

It’s tough to overstate the importance of biodiversity to healthy parks. Voracious pests and sneaky diseases gain a slight foothold within the bounds of our parklands and spread like wildfire, faster than we can catch and quarantine them — even with sharp eyes out at all times. Our trees need their natural defenses as they stand on the front lines of these attacks, especially since they face added stresses of living in the city: polluted water, poor air quality, micro-climates, and human intervention.

London plane tree in Schenley Plaza.

A general in this battle, the Parks Conservancy’s Director of Park Management and Maintenance Phil Gruszka is a seasoned veteran. Phil has been rocking war paint for years now. Since conducting a study with Dr. Cynthia Morton of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, he’s realized that our legacy park trees are impressive in their biodiversity… but that we have to really work to keep it that way. Their study found that tree stock from major nurseries across the country have actually been whittling down the tree gene pool.

“When London plane trees were first introduced to the United States, one nursery had a tree that did very well. But they couldn’t get it to reproduce from seed, so they started getting cuttings to grow out. Then they released it to the trade and named that cultivar ‘Bloodgood.’”

Selected for it’s superior resistance to the fungus anthracnose, the cultivar (a plant chosen for its particular genetic makeup) Bloodgood has been spread around now for about 30 years, dominating nursery stock of London planes. Plane trees bought from nurseries have identical genetic material to every other plane tree — they have not been grown from seed from two parent trees. They’re clones.

“Today, if I wanted to replace a London plane, I can only buy the cultivar Bloodgood.”

But trees from Schenley Plaza and around the park surprised them. “The Schenley Plaza trees were all genetically different, very diverse.” The park trees, planted before Bloodgood started to gain popularity, were much more diverse than the current nursery stock. The surviving 100, of the 200 that were planted years ago, were of a strong and diverse population, toughened from years of fighting off pests and disease.

Then, they widened their net. Was this true only for London planes? How much more diverse are our park trees than trees sold around the country? After polling nurseries from various parts of the country, they found that ten common trees used all over the U.S. were clones — their genetic diversity was actually getting less and less diverse.

Red oaks with oak wilt in Schenley Park, soon to be cleared.

Why has this study been so important? As the Parks Conservancy has taken on ecological restoration projects in the parks over the years and established the Park Tree Action Plan with the City of Pittsburgh, TreeVitalize, and Tree Pittsburgh, we’ve actively worked to increase biodiversity in the parks. Taking cuttings of our own heterogeneous tree stock, we’ve started growing new trees around the park and city in our own sort of diversity study, learning as we go about resistant new cuttings that withstand biological threats. This knowledge gives us only a peek at the immeasurable value of Pittsburgh’s parks; less mature forests and parks elsewhere are markedly more homogeneous, posing a threat to themselves and surrounding forests against the pests and diseases that have shown an uptick in recent years. Our trees are better equipped to keep our parks healthy and beautiful.

This week, a large stand of red oaks — about 50 trees in total — will be cleared from Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. Oak wilt, discovered earlier this year by an observant park user, got a stranglehold on the interlocking root system of the trees, infecting an entire grouping of trees. Left there, the trees are a risk to the health of other park trees. It’s terrible to have to take down so many trees, but it’s something that needs done for the overall well being of the park. And when these trees are replanted in the spring, a variety of new and diverse tree stock will be added to the expanding biodiversity and health of the park.

Wondering about the title of this post? Read more about the Red Queen Effect here.

That First Ride

The best place for that glorious first bike ride is now open for cruising.

Nothing comes close to the thrill of the first ride. It could be the first time you wobbled along after the training wheels came off, or when the ice and snow finally melt so you could venture out for the first ride of the season. Whether you’re eight or 80, we very happily encourage you to take that first ride on Pocusset Street.

A ‘road shift’ of Pocusset connects Squirrel Hill to Greenfield via non-motorized roadway in Schenley Park

The first of its kind in the nation, Pocusset Street is a successful experiment in ‘road shift’, a term coined by Bike Pittsburgh. The project, spearheaded by Bike Pittsburgh and the City of Pittsburgh, was all about rethinking and resizing this paved surface, taking a structurally unsound and sharply curving through-street and creating a safe — and repaved! — avenue for bikers and walkers through Schenley Park. Linking Squirrel Hill to Greenfield, Pocusset Street has been shifted into a very sleek and safe thoroughfare with ‘lanes’ for bikers, wide shoulders for walkers, new LED street lighting, and reflective bollards that bar motorized traffic. Now, it’s a road for everyone.

Pocusset Street after the ‘road shift’. Photo courtesy Dan Yablonsky.

Officer Rose stops by the entrance to Pocusset in Squirrel Hill.

Signs and candlesticks keep the street clear for bikers and pedestrians.

The new design includes lanes and shoulders designed for bikers and walkers. Photo courtesy Bike Pittsburgh.

The recent installation of the bright yellow candlestick bollards are the final pegs in this redesign. The project is a real testament to committed community members; with the support of neighbors, a road that would have normally been shuttered has contributed tremendous value to the park. On a larger scale, Pocusset Street is another step for connected bikeways through Pittsburgh and is definitely something worth bragging about on a national level (did we mention the perfect timing?)

Jump on Pocusset Street as the weather breaks for a cruise with a sweeping vista to one side and the park to the other. Bring along your friends, your grandparents, your little one with the training wheels — anyone you want along for that first ride.

James, a recipient of an adaptive bike, and his sister Krissy. “I’m not sure that I’ll ever get used to the surge of joy that I feel when he’s on his bike,” says Mary, James’ mother.

 

 

Remember your first foray on two wheels? Roads like Pocusset make the parks bikeable and enjoyable for everyone. This spring, enable an awesome child to get out in the parks to ride a bike of their own through Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program. Through this happy project, children with special needs are outfitted with a bike specially tailored to their disabilities. Currently, they have 150 souped-up bikes for eligible kids that fill out the application before April 1st. Spread the word!

 

 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Finding Love in the Park

It all started with Lucinda Williams.

Actually, let’s rewind a bit. Back to a time when a young Paul Alessio and Lynne Glover were just kids, finding adventure and foul baseballs in the woods and ballparks of New Castle and Penn Hills. In those days, you could find both youngsters exploring and playing in the parks and creeks around their neighborhoods all day long, swimming and climbing until the street lights came on.

“I remember one time, at a park, at a picnic, my best friend and I getting lost. We had no idea where we were. But it was one of the greatest adventures, you know? It was exciting!” That sense of being lost, being scared, was a childhood adventure that for Lynne was one of the many reasons to love the outdoors.

Lynne and Paul never lost that passion for being outside, especially when they found each other.

At one fateful Lucinda Williams concert, Paul made the fortunate mistake of stepping in front of Lynne just as the music was starting.

“I thought you were tall enough to see!” claims Paul.

Lynne and Paul on their wedding day at Schenley Park Cafe.

Years later, Lynne and Paul, along with their family and friends, found themselves in a place most fitting for this new chapter in their lives: their wedding in Schenley Park. Both lovebirds had at one time been Pitt Panthers, finding escape in the park on bike rides and hikes, getting back to nature to keep the stress of college away. They came across the Schenley Park Cafe sometime during their wedding venue search shortly after its renovation, and knew that it was the perfect spot to exchange vows.

“That venue brings nature into the building. Our family and friends were walking down that Belgian-block trail on our wedding day,” remembers Paul.

“Everyone says that that was one of the best weddings they’d ever been to,” says Lynne.

Lynne and Paul smooching as husband and wife.

Paul and Lynne with their family.

Following a honeymoon chock-full of park visits on the West Coast, Paul and Lynne have now celebrated eight years together. Lynne, Communications Director at VisitPittsburgh and Paul, Project Manager at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, are change-makers across Pittsburgh and in their community of Lawrenceville. They share time in their neighborhood park, Arsenal, with their kids and grandchildren and enjoy two of their big loves — music and nature — at the outdoor concerts at Schenley Plaza.

We love stories with happy endings. Two people who loved to get lost in nature find themselves with their better half. And in two years, we’re excited to wish Paul and Lynne a happy ten year anniversary at the exact spot where they were married — Schenley Park.

Paul and Lynne, eight years strong.

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Sometimes, it’s great to lose yourself in nature. But for those times when you want to find your way again, we have just the thing. Check out the new MyPGH Parks app, where you’ll have access to all of the trails, sites and events in Schenley, Highland, Frick, Riverview and Emerald View Park. It’s free and available now on Android and iPhone platforms.

From Hill to Hollow: The Evolution of Panther Hollow Watershed

This guest post comes from Krissy Hopkins, a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Krissy has been getting her feet wet in the Panther Hollow Watershed and contributing her research skills to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy  for years.

Krissy exploring Panther Hollow Run in Schenley Park.

For the past three years I’ve fixated on learning as much as I can about the Panther Hollow Watershed, which includes parts of Schenley Park and Squirrel Hill. How many people live in the watershed? How many buildings are there and when were they built? When rain falls on the watershed where does it go? Where does the water in Panther Hollow Lake go? I want to know how this landscape changed over the last century.

This may seem like an odd fascination. However, to a graduate student studying how urbanization impacts aquatic ecosystems it is spot on. My research uses a bit of detective work to understand how people change the land and how our decisions impact the health of local streams and rivers.

Pittock Street at Phipps Avenue in Squirrel Hill was built in 1910. Today, houses and large trees line the same stretch of street. Krissy’s research found that Panther Hollow’s residential tree canopy expanded from 21% canopy cover in 1938 to 40% canopy cover in 2010.

My latest research project reconstructs the expansion of development in Panther Hollow since 1870 and estimates how this development has impacted Schenley Park’s streams. Using historical maps, aerial photographs, and U.S. Census records, I created a series of maps for each decade since 1900 showing the location of roads, buildings, and sewer lines in the Panther Hollow Watershed. To assess the impact of development on the streams, I developed a simple model to predict changes in the amount of water flowing through the streams in Panther Hollow since 1900. Results from this project were recently published in the journal Landscape Ecology.

The Panther Hollow watershed has changed dramatically over the last century. In 1987, just five families owned land in the watershed. Today, about 3,400 people call the watershed home.

My research shows that roads and rooftops covered only 3% of the watershed area in 1900. These surfaces now cover 27% of the land area – a big change! Prior to 1900, the watershed was an agricultural landscape with seven large lots containing only 29 buildings. Panther Hollow’s streams flowed west through the Squirrel Hill neighborhood into Schenley Park, eventually draining through Junction Hollow to the Monongahela River. Two main dirt roads (Forbes and Shady) ran through the eastern portion of the watershed. Residents disposed of sewage in pit-style outhouses and obtained drinking water from local streams.

A transition from agriculture to urban land use occurred between 1890 and 1920. Development was concentrated in the eastern half of the Panther Hollow Watershed, while the lower watershed remained part of Schenley Park. Between 1890 and 1911, approximately 10 miles of brick and clay sewer pipes and 6.5 miles of roads were installed in the watershed.

Workers building a 36-inch brick sewer in Schenley Park in 1911. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.

To make room for development, the streams through Squirrel Hill were piped into the sewer system and diverted out of the watershed through a sewer main along Greenfield Avenue. As a result, the streams in the eastern half of the watershed no longer feed the Schenley Park streams. The watershed was cut in two! The remaining above-ground streams in Schenley Park have about 50% less water flowing through them every year. Sometimes in the summer months these streams have little to no water flowing through them — bad news for aquatic life that call the stream home.

Panther Hollow Lake drains into the combined sewer systems. In 2012, 82 million gallons of water from Panther Hollow Lake drained into the sewer system.

Schenley Park has also changed. Around 1904, Panther Hollow Lake and a pipe connecting the lake to the sewer system were constructed. Now, even the remaining above-ground streams eventually flow into Pittsburgh’s combined sewer system. The system channeled raw sewage, street runoff, and stream water directly into the Monongahela River until 1959. That year, the city installed sewer mains along the river to collect sewage to be sent to the new treatment plan along the Ohio River. However, when it rains the pipes are too small to hold all the water, causing excess water and sewage to flow into the rivers to this day. In 2010, 11 billion gallons of sewage and stormwater flowed into the Pittsburgh’s rivers!

As the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy continues to work on restoring the Panther Hollow Watershed, research like mine helps them better understand how development impacts the ecosystem. Knowledge of past impacts can help better target restoration efforts in the future and restore this watershed back to health.

Krissy Hopkins

To learn more about Krissy’s research in Panther Hollow, visit her blog. For more information on Panther Hollow Watershed restoration, visit our website