Hidden Treasures: Fungi in the Parks

What if each time you visit a Pittsburgh park, you were really on a treasure hunt? What if the clues, and even the treasures themselves, constantly changed?

Would you participate?

What is this hunt all about?

Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus species

Golden Chanterelle – Cantharellus species

The words treasure hunt bring to mind exciting quests to find buried gold and silver by following ancient clues on faded parchment. In today’s world, a treasure hunt has morphed into a game played at birthday parties and social events where everyone enjoys the challenge of outsmarting their peers with the hope of being the first to solve all of the clues. Geocaching has drawn countless adventurers around the world to hide or seek treasures using GPS. Treasures range from the worthless to the valuable and the hunt for the unknown drives these explorers to pursue the prize.

A dynamic adventure for all ages is already underway. But do not fear! You are not too late to join the search. The treasure is called fungi and the treasure map is sketched by the changes in the weather, the presence of specific trees, the soil conditions, the time of the year and many other factors.

What treasures am I hunting this season?

A recent visit to Schenley Park uncovered the following fungi, and, if the weather conditions are favorable, it is likely that the observant seeker will find these treasures, too:

Others10Jack O’Lantern Mushroom
Scientific Name: Omphalotus illudens

Fun Facts: This mushroom glows green in complete darkness. It is also poisonous but a derivative of the poison is currently being studied for its effectiveness in attacking some cancers.

others12Bear’s Head tooth fungus or Lion’s Mane
Scientific Name: Hericium americanum

Fun Facts: This mushroom is known to have nerve-regenerative properties which are being studied by researchers. For an interesting project, this mushroom can be grown at home with a simple kit that can be found online.

Ringless Honey Mushrooms

The Ringless Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria tabescens

Fun Facts: This mushroom is often found in tight clusters in the grass under oak or silver maple tree or where hardwood trees formerly stood. Harvesting is discouraged so as to minimize the spread of spores; this species is known to attack hardwood trees, especially oaks and silver maples.

Others7The Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria mellea

Fun Facts: The vegetative part of the fungal organism is called the mycelium and is made up of branching fibers. This species has a bio-luminescent mycelium; it glows in the dark. A west coast relative (in eastern Oregon), called an Armillaria ostoyae, holds the title for the largest known organism in the world (almost 2400 acres in size).

Others6Shrimp of the Woods
Scientific Name: Entoloma abortivum

Fun Facts: This fungus forms when the Entoloma mushroom attacks the Honey Mushroom and becomes a parasite, forming the lumpy mass known to some as Shrimp of the Woods. You can see all three specimens in this photo.

Others11Chicken of the Woods
Scientific Name: Laetiporus sulphureus

Fun Facts: Trained experts who have harvested this mushroom (outside of the parks!) have found it to have the same texture as chicken, and easily absorbs the flavors of the sauce or spices in which it is cooked.*

Others4Hen of the Woods, Maitake, or Sheepshead
Scientific Name: Grifola frondosa

Fun Facts: The colder evenings this fall will help to kick start the growth of these mushrooms. With the right conditions, they grow up to 40-50 lbs and they are rumored to grow as large as even 100 lb.

Witch's ButterWitch’s Butter
Scientific Name: Tremella mesenterica

Fun Facts: This fungus is not picky about the temperature. It likes warm and cold weather and usually appears in rainy weather.

What to do with the treasures once they are discovered?

  • Forage for “fotos.” Fungi make an excellent subject for “foto-foraging” regardless of your photography experience.
  • Become a citizen scientist. Support the research community.
  • Encourage discovery in younger generations. Already, many of today’s medicines are derived from fungi, and others are in the developmental stages. Budding scientists may discover an answer to the many industrial challenges that face the world. The recycling industry has already found fungi to be effective for many applications.
  • Art. Some species are used as blank canvases for sketching, to create 3D objects, for creative spore printing, and even to make dyes.
The Split Gill Fungus - Schizophyllum commune

The Split Gill Fungus – Schizophyllum commune

What about harvesting?

Fungi found in Pittsburgh’s city parks must be left to rest so that everyone can enjoy them. Pittsburgh’s city parks do not permit anyone to remove mushrooms from them.

How should mushrooms be documented?

There are a few basic things to note:

  • Was the mushroom found in the woods and if so, what types of trees were nearby?
  • Was it attached to wood or was it attached to the ground (terrestrial)?
  • In what time of year was it found?
  • Photograph the mushroom from all angles for future reference. It is important to get a clear photo of the underside.

All images and content for today’s post were provided by Josh Doty, author of the blog Foto-Foraging, a collection of his fotos of fungi, fauna, flora, forest, field, farmer and food found while “foto-foraging” on foot. Check it out here! 

Want to learn more about mycology and foraging? Check out the Western PA Mushroom Club!

Local Change, National Opportunity: Be a Force for Change in Your Parks

Like so many “city kids,” Councilman Corey O’Connor remembers having gone to the Frick Environmental Center when it was an airy wooden barn off of Beechwood Boulevard.


Speaking on the construction site of the new Center.

Over the years, the Center, after burning down, became a danger and an eye sore. Although the building sat unused for a dozen years, the educational programs that had once taken place there continued on in makeshift locations throughout the park.

Fast forwarding to his inaugural  year on Council, O’Connor seized on an opportunity to leverage his new position to help secure valuable funding needed to rebuild the Frick Environmental Center. Hand-in-hand with the Parks Conservancy, this concerted effort channeled $5.9 million from the Frick Trust (not city taxpayer money) towards the construction of the new Center, now underway.

“It was a really good fight to have because we knew the importance of that asset [the Center]. More partners helped us get more accomplished. And I’m really proud of that. That was one of my favorite projects to work on.”


Supporters sign the final beam of the Frick Environmental Center before placement.

As Chair of City Council’s Committee on Urban Recreation, Councilman O’Connor, who holds a degree in elementary education, has a perspective on how projects like the Environmental Center impact every corner of Pittsburgh, and beyond.

O’Connor planting a tree in Frick Park.

“I see Pittsburgh’s parks as a huge regional asset that we need to continue to invest in, especially as Pittsburgh continues to grow. Parks can help to generate economic development. That’s why I like being a Committee Chair – you’re taking the park into a different conversation. Instead of, “Yeah, we’re going to go on the swings,” it’s more than that: you’re creating communities.”

Creating communities through national support: Help save the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is like the Swiss Army knife of national funds. From the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to Sheraden Park right here in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden neighborhood, battlefields to ball fields, the LWCF has been an invaluable resource in supporting communities big and small across the United States.

Most of us won’t have a slam-dunk moment fighting to restore a favorite childhood park place, like Councilman O’Connor has had with the Frick Environmental Center. But, we do have a chance NOW to fight to save the LWCF, which is set to expire at the end of this month if not voted through again in Congress. That national funding source is the backbone of park funding nationwide.

Click here to tell Congress to keep the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 
(Note: Click the ‘TAKE ACTION’ button on the right-hand side of the page to get started)


Frick Park’s trails, one of the local projects that have benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This fund, which has supported Grand Tetons National Park and the Everglades, has also made a big impact here at home. Here are just a few of the local projects that have benefited:

  • Schenley Park Oval: $166,000 (1978)
  • Schenley Park Fountain: $25,000 (1985)
  • Frick Park trails: $77,000 (1987)
  • Great Allegheny Passage Trail: $2,000,000 (2002 – 2006)
  • Bloomfield Park: $40,000 (1973)
  • Sheraden Park: $113,000 (1973)
  • Cliffside Park: $52,000 (1975)
  • McKinley Park: $88,000 (1972)

We can’t fight to put these important funds to work in Pittsburgh’s parks if they don’t exist. And it’s been a long time since Pittsburgh communities received their share of support through the LWCF. Help us change this. Speak up for this important funding by telling Congress it’s worth keeping around. Speak up here.

Thanks to Councilman Corey O’Connor for sharing his thoughts and experiences. Currently, the Parks Conservancy is leading two big parks projects in his district in partnership with his office and the City of Pittsburgh: the rebuilding of the Frick Environmental Center and the restoration of Panther Hollow Watershed. As Chair of City Council’s Committee on Urban Recreation, Councilman O’Connor has gotten to visit oodles of our city’s parks. A hidden gem park that he recommends? West End Overlook.

What Dreams May Come: Cliffside Artwork Makes Dreams Reality

One of Pittsburgh’s parks will soon make children’s dreams a reality.

Taking inspiration from Cliffside Park’s unique vantage and the dreams of little ones from the community, local artist Leslie Ansley is creating a new art piece to be installed in the renovated park.

art project 5

art project 2

Ms. Ansley has developed designs that celebrate flight and soaring visions – peregrine falcons, kites, butterflies, dandelion fluff, and the like. On a recent Saturday, children from the Hill District put pencil to paper to share their own soaring thoughts and creativity at an open workshop; their contributions will be incorporated into this new piece of art.

art project 4

The work, to be applied to the park’s entry walkway and an adjacent retaining wall, will also reflect the dreams and aspirations of Amon Cashmere Harris, son of community leader and resident Tyian Battle, who died suddenly at a young age. His dreams of traveling to Paris to see the iconic city were the inspiration for the art deco inspired designs that Ms. Ansley has created, which are also evocative of the design vocabulary of the Hill District in its heyday.

Cliffside Park itself is a reality dreamt up by the community, the entire restoration having been driven and informed by neighbors in the Hill. Like art on a fridge, this art piece will give a sense of home to this community space.

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting project. Cliffside Park and play areas are currently under construction and will open in Summer 2016.

art project 3

Environmental Education in the Parks (Video)

As Director of Education Marijke Hecht recently penned in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Op-Ed, “Outdoor environmental education cultivates curiosity and discovery in children, the fundamental building blocks of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) literacy, and it encourages students to make science a part of everyday life.”

Starting this month, our school programs are once again kicking into gear, with kids ages three through 18 using the parks as classrooms. Through these programs, kids are learning not only in their schools but also in the parks, growing through curiosity and discovery along the way.

These programs not only equip kids from across the region with the skills to succeed in a myriad of disciplines, but they’re also FUN!

Don’t believe us? See what outdoor education means straight from the young minds out in the field:

Your support makes programs like these possible. Consider a donation to environmental education programs here!

Projects Underway: Schenley, Cliffside and Frick Park Updates

The parks as you know them are getting even better.

With four Parks Conservancy Capital Projects currently in the works, areas that you know and love (and maybe some that you don’t!) are undergoing exciting changes. Get the scoop on what’s going on with these projects:

Project: Westinghouse Memorial and Pond

Westinghouse rendering

Rendering of the restored Westinghouse Memorial and Pond.

What’s happening: 
Nearly 85 years after its original dedication in Schenley Park, restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial and the surrounding landscape are underway. The $2.5 million plan includes aesthetic and structural improvements to the monument, Lily Pond restoration and aeration system installation, and stormwater projects to better the overall health of the Panther Hollow Watershed.


Parks Conservancy President/CEO Meg Cheever and Mayor Bill Peduto unveil the Westinghouse Memorial rendering at the groundbreaking ceremony.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Panther Hollow Watershed

What’s happening:
For more than a decade, we’ve been working to restore the health and ecological function of the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. Most recently, we’ve been working with the community and designers to reduce stormwater runoff along Schenley Drive. The Schenley Drive Green Street Project aims to improve the health and function of the park by curbing stormwater and creating a safe transportation corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Cliffside Park


Rendering of the revitalized Cliffside Park.

What’s happening:
We’re proud to be partnering with a coalition of Hill District partners on a comprehensive plan for green space in the neighborhood. Called the Greenprint for the Hill District, this plan includes a renovation of Cliffside Park, a beloved community playground. This month, community kids are helping shape this project by contributing to a children’s art piece to be displayed at the park.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Frick Environmental Center


The new Frick Environmental Center, reaching for the sky.

What’s happening:

Currently in the first phase of construction, the Frick Environmental Center will serve as a welcome facility and a gateway to the woodlands of Frick Park where educators use the parks as classrooms. The new Center is quickly taking shape. Designed to meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards for energy efficiency, each feature of this unique building is more exciting than the last. Most recently, a 15,000-gallon rainwater harvesting cistern was brought to the site!


Our Zone Gardener Rosie stands beside the rainwater cistern for scale.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Get updates on these and other exciting projects and programs in the parks by signing up for email updates here!

9 Ways to Get Your Kids Exploring Nature — Anywhere!

Parks are not only some of the very best playgrounds, but also amazing classrooms. By observing, touching, smelling and hearing the natural world, kids (and adults!) are learning, sometimes without even knowing it.

This year, our Homewood Naturalist Educator and Parks Conservancy educators have been taking the parks to communities, showing kids and their adults that nature is wherever they are. Through Buzzword, Nature in Your Neighborhood, and Raising Reader events, we’re working with partners and getting kids active, learning, and jazzed about the outdoors.

Want your kids to stay curious? Read on for some of our favorite family friendly activities that you can do on a walk through your neighborhood, a hike through the park — anywhere!

Cloud grin by Teri Clark

Cloud grin by Teri Clark

1. Keep Your Head in the Clouds

Is that a bird? A plane? What about a big fluffy marshmallow? Find a nice comfy spot on the grass, look up, and let your imagination do its thing.

2. I Spy with My Little Eye…

Nature! Keep your eyes peeled in your backyard or sitting on a park bench when you play “I Spy,” and you’ll be surprised at all that you see.

3. Match Swatches

With just a few color swatches from a hardware or paint store, you’re ready for a color scavenger hunt. Let the kids match colors from the swatches with those they find in a garden or even in a business district. The greater the variety of colors, the bigger the challenge.

4. Make Words Jump off the Page

Kids and parents had a blast bringing books to life on Raising Readers and Nature in Your Neighborhood hikes. After reading aloud books with outdoor themes, they took a walk to spot (and reinforce) what they read. Some fan favorites are Something Beautiful, Tree Pittsburgh’s If We Were to Plant a Tree, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


Raising Readers hike with Parks Conservancy and PAEYC educators.

5. Pack a Lunch

The ingredients for the perfect picnic are simple: One large blanket or sheet; one basket of sandwiches, drinks, and fruit; and whoever wants to eat! Picking a spot is easy — grab the best patch of grass you can find, then sit on it.


Painting a flower pot in Frick Park.

6. Have a Crafternoon

The limit to the number of projects that can be done with a little glue, paint, construction paper, and objects found on a hike is imagination. Paint a rock like a rockstar, make a daisy chain crown, or draw a picture of something you see in the parks.

7. Be a Good Helper

We all love to live and play in places that are beautiful. Your little ones can have a hand in making their favorite playground even better by being a good helper and cleaning up litter. Who knows, maybe this will even inspire them to clean their rooms!

8. Bug Out with Entymology

Creepy crawlies aren’t so creepy crawly when we give them a closer look. How many insects can kids find on a walk through the woods? Sweep insects into a net or a bug jar to get a closer look before setting them free.

9. Rain, Rain, Go and Play

Whatever the weather, there’s fun to be had outside. In fact, rainy days are sometimes extra special. Galoshes? Umbrellas? Mud puddles to jump into? Count us in!

Have more suggested outdoors adventures for kids? Leave them in the comments section below!


Summer camp kids aren’t afraid of a little mud!

Healthy Watersheds, Greener Streets

Imagine for a moment that you’re a doctor. But instead of treating people, you’re charged with healing a watershed.


The meadow at Bartlett Street in full bloom.

Like the human body, watersheds are complete systems; one part of the system influences another. If you get a fever, it’s usually the result of a chain reaction inside resulting from any number of ailments. Likewise, too much runoff, pollution, and chemicals like pesticides cause a ripple effect throughout a watershed.

Keeping watershed ecosystems healthy requires work and persistence. Over the past decade, the Parks Conservancy, along with partners Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and the City of Pittsburgh, have been nursing back to health an ailing Panther Hollow Watershed. Read more about the history of this project here.

Some symptoms are visible (sediment build-up in Panther Hollow Lake), while others are below the surface (combined sewer overflow, or CSO events after major rains).


Two of the last remaining above-ground streams in Pittsburgh flow in Schenley Park.

So, what’s the prognosis?  With a holistic approach (a comprehensive restoration plan), it’s looking better and better. The recently installed meadow at Bartlett Street and infiltration berms at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course will help absorb rainwater, naturally letting it replenish the water table.

The next treatment to better the health of the watershed involves Schenley Drive.

Making up a large portion of the impervious surface of the park, Schenley Drive acts as a sort of autobahn for rainwater, channeling gushing gallons into the sewer system every year. Estimates for the Schenley Drive Green Street project that 70,000 bathtubs of water would be diverted from the sewer system every year. Plans for this road are just starting to take shape, with the second public meeting having been held on July 29th. Thanks to the feedback of so many park users, bikers, walkers, neighbors, and community members, this project will be shaped not only to better the health of the park, but to better serve as a “complete street,” accommodating all park and road users.

Help us in shaping this next step in the Panther Hollow Watershed restoration — give your feedback on what you’d like to see happen on the Schenley Drive Green Street!

Click here to take the Green Street Survey.

Keep abreast of projects going on in Schenley Park here on our website.