25 Ways To Celebrate Your Galentines and Valentines (Part 1)

Whether you’re celebrating your Valentine, Galentine, or really anyone that you enjoy, we’ve compiled a list of date ideas — platonic or romantic! — that will knock your next park adventure, well, out of the park:

1. Catch sunset at the Highland Park Reservoir

The Overlook at Schenley Park is a fan favorite for sunset spotters. Take a stroll around the Highland Park Reservoir, though, to see the sun set betwixt trees and the Giuseppe Moretti entrance statues in the peaceful entrance garden.

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2. Ride a bicycle built for two on Pocusset Street

Don’t have the balance to reenact that timeless Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scene with your sweetie? Riding a tandem bicycle (or any bike, really) down the biker- and walker-only Pocusset Street in Schenley Park is the next best thing.

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Knock, knock!

3. Hunt for fairy doors 

In Frick and Mellon Park, Allegheny Commons, and many other parks are teensy little doors for the resident fairies. Find and knock on them to see if anyone’s home.

4. Gaze at stars in Riverview Park

The iconic Allegheny Observatory opens its doors weekly to star-struck astronomers for free tours, lectures, and open houses at this incredible space. On clear nights during these events, the 100-year-old-and-older telescopes are generally open for use.

5. Gaze at stars in Mellon Park

Whatever the weather, you can always see 150 stars peeking up from the lawn of Mellon Park’s Walled Garden thanks to 7:11AM  11.20.1979  79º55’W 40º27’N, a memorial art installation.

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6. Read Shakespeare in a Shakespearean garden

Whilst we speak of Mellon Park, o’er the hill of the Walled Garden thou must recite verses when alighting in the Shakespearean Garden.

7. Make a snowman or snowbeast

This is an anywhere, anytime activity. Let your creativity run wild. Just try not to sing that one song from Frozen when you’re out there; it’s contagious.

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Telescope in Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park.

8. See the cityscape from Emerald View Park

The Mount Washington overlooks get a lot of love (deservedly), but seeing Downtown peek in and out from the undulating trails of Emerald View Park is always a rewarding experience.

9. Take a trip around the world with a visit to the Plaza

Immerse yourself in international flavors with the fares served in Schenley Plaza. Your hankerings for Chinese, Greek, Belgian, or the ever-changing cuisines at Conflict Kitchen are all conveniently in one square acre.

10. Traverse the tufas

The solid bridges along the lower and upper Panther Hollow trails in Schenley Park, made of a limestone variety (tufa) and built by W.P.A. crews, are straight from a storybook, covered in moss, lichens, and now snow. See these and other old-timey Works Progress projects sprinkled throughout the park.

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Tufa under snow.

11. Latch a love lock and throw away the key

Make a statement with your sweetie by adding your own lock to the Schenley Bridge and throwing away the key — just as you do it in the proper waste receptacle. (Forgetting the combination also acceptable.)

 12. Tour the neighborhood, visit parkside cultural establishments

While you’re in the neighborhood, drop by the Carnegie Museums, the Frick Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory, the National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and many other must-see institutions around the parks.

13. Think spring

Send warm thoughts to family, friends, or someone you’re flirting with this Valentine’s Day with the gift of daffodils in the parks. Make a donation of $25, and we’ll plant 50 daffodils in the park of your choice — and send your someone special a personalized e-card to boot. Get started here.

 

Check back next week for the second half of our park date ideas. Share your inspired date ideas below or through Facebook and Twitter!

XOXO,

The Matchmakers at the Parks Conservancy

Nature Lovers Need Apply: Join Us As A Volunteer Naturalist

Visit any of our country’s national parks, and the first few faces that greet you on your way in are there to help you make the most of your time outdoors. They’re trained to help you find the right trail, stay safe, learn about park history, and maybe, most importantly, locate a bathroom. These wonderful people make your park adventure exponentially better.

Soon, friendly faces like those found in our national parks will also greet you upon arrival in Frick Park. And, we’re excited to announce, one of those faces could be yours!

The new building will serve as a welcome center at the gates of Frick Park.

Starting this year, we’re introducing a new opportunity fit for those who love parks and want to tell the whole world about ’em. The new Volunteer Naturalists program, kicking off next month, will train a small cadre of park lovers to be part docent, tour guide, and welcome wagon at the new Frick Environmental Center.

What is the Volunteer Naturalist program?

Commencing February 8th, the program includes eight small-group trainings that cover topics like Frick Park history, park interpretation, CPR, and the new Frick Environmental Center building. Taught by long-time Naturalist Educator Mike Cornell, these trainings are designed to give Volunteer Naturalists — whatever their background coming into the program — the tools to be park experts.

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Mike says: “Any adult can become a Volunteer Naturalist. All you need is a passion for nature and history, and a desire to share that passion!”

The Frick Environmental Center, once opened, will be home base for the Volunteer Naturalist squad. They’ll be stationed here to provide park visitors with insights on things like the best trails for strollers, the energy-saving aspects of the new Center, how to get involved in volunteering, and much more.

In case you needed any more reason to join, Volunteer Naturalists will also be getting special swag like shirts, hats, and water bottles!

Applications are currently being accepted for this program. Interested? Find more information and sign up here.

Questions? Contact Mike at mcornell@pittsburghparks.org.

We’ve Only Just Begun: Get Ready For A Big Parks Year

Last year was big for Pittsburgh’s parks.

All year long Parks staff tended park gardens, monitored for threats like Asian longhorned beetle, taught learners of all ages, raised important funds needed to restore much-loved spaces and monuments, worked closely with communities across the city, and so much more.

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While we do love reminiscing, we’re much more jazzed for the new year. 2016 is poised to be tremendous. Check out these big numbers below to see why the new year — our 20th! — in the parks is going to be so exciting.

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This year, you’ll be seeing the 15,618 new trees, flowers, bulbs, and shrubs that Parks Conservancy staff and volunteers planted in 2015 making your parks healthier and even more beautiful.

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What could you have done with the 6,663 hours that Parks Conservancy educators spent teaching young learners in 2015? You could watch the new Star Wars movie almost 3,000 times, or listen to Stairway to Heaven 50,000 times! These many hours will be the foundation that students will build on to learn even more about the natural world this coming year.

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This year, four fabulous park places are undergoing major transformations. Look forward to the unveiling of the new Frick Environmental Center, the restored Westinghouse Memorial and Pond in Schenley Park, the renovated Cliffside Park, and continued restoration of the Panther Hollow Watershed. Also, get excited for big things on the horizon for Allegheny Commons, Arsenal and Leslie, McKinley, Sheraden, and other community and neighborhood parks around Pittsburgh!

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Join us in the celebration of our 20th anniversary! We’re ecstatic and honored to be celebrating two decades this year, and looking forward to continue working to make your parks some of the best in the nation.

Why not make a resolution to visit 12 regional parks in 12 months as part of DCNR’s #My12Parks campaign? Find a map of your local parks here to get started!

VIDEO: Great Cities Deserve Great Parks

Pittsburgh’s phenomenal parks truly put our city among the best in the country.

Need a reminder of how great your parks really are? Watch them in action here:

Thank you for being a friend of parks this year! Want to help make 2016 an even better year for parks? Click here to make a tax-deductible year-end gift.

Your support helps to kick off a big year for parks. We look forward to celebrating the opening of the new Frick Environmental Center; unveiling a completely renovated Cliffside Park; refurbishing the Westinghouse Memorial; our 20th anniversary; and so much more in 2016. We’re so honored and happy to be celebrating it all with you in Pittsburgh’s wonderful parks.

Happy New Year from all of us at the Parks Conservancy!

Parks Educator Takes Pride in Planning Hikes

This post was originally written and posted by our friends at Venture Outdoors. Check out their blog here!

On December 24, Parks Conservancy Naturalist Educator Mike Cornell will be leading his third annual, all-ages winter hike through Frick Park.

In 2012, Cornell led his first hike on a whim. He was in the office on December 24, Christmas Eve, and decided that if had to be in office, he would see if anyone wanted to come out for a hike. He put up a posting on Facebook: “Gonna take a hike at noon.” Approximately eight to 10 people showed up and a tradition was born. This year, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy expects between 25-30 people. The hike has become so popular so quickly that they are hoping to do another winter hike in January 2016.

Cornell’s outdoors education has spanned most of his life. Since he was 15, he worked on education and hikes with the Frick Environmental Center. Growing up in Point Breeze meant that Cornell was always out and about.

“I’ve been going outside my whole life and I just want to share it with other people,” Cornell said. “It’s so great to show others what is so great about the outdoors and what they can see out in the woods.”

Cornell went to school in Syracuse at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where he studied environmental science in natural history and interpretation. During summers, he would return to Pittsburgh to work in the parks at the Frick Environmental Center.

Photo provided by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Photo: Mark Simpson

Nowadays, Cornell prepares for his hikes well ahead of time. When he first begins to create a hike, he imagines what it will look like: will he try to get as far possible, cover as much ground as he can? Will he try to educate his audience on trees or birds? It is essential for him to pick a topic for the hike. Once he chooses a topic, he narrows it down to a specific theme or anchor.

“For instance, I really like winter tree ID hikes; I always default to trees!” Cornell said. “What am I going to do to make it interesting this year?”

He looks at ways to make the winter tree ID hike interesting, like educating his audience on which trees can be used to make a winter tea.

“Maybe we’ll walk around the park and sample teas from different types of trees,” Cornell said. “We could talk about additional properties, like, historically speaking, how trees were used for tea and to get people through harsh winters.”

Once he locks down his theme or anchor, he takes to the route. Cornell explores and walks potential paths and figures out the different things he wants to show his audience.

“I make sure I can see the trees I want to see or I check out the best place to see birds or fossils,” Cornell said.

Sometimes he charts out his route on a map to get exact distances and times.

“I like to start and end when I say I will,” Cornell said.

Photo by Melissa McMasters for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Photo: Melissa McMasters

Though he may mimic past hikes’ theme, no one hike is the same. Every outdoors experience offers a unique perspective or a surprising event. This past summer, for instance, Cornell was out in the early morning for a run and ran into a six-point buck in the middle of the trail. He had seen other bucks playing around the area in earlier weeks. The buck approached Cornell as he stood very still. The buck turned sideways and gently bumped Cornell with his antler.

“It was like he was waiting for me to come after him,” Cornell said, “So I gently tapped him on the back and then he tapped me. I had a little game of tag with a deer and it was so surreal.”

From planning hikes to leading them, it seems Cornell is out in the parks enough that even the deer and bucks have taken a liking to him.

– Danielle Levsky, Communications and Media Coordinator at Venture Outdoors

Though the upcoming winter hike is now closed for registration, check back with us at the Parks Conservancy to see when Mike will host his next hike. Also, check out Venture Outdoors’ upcoming hikes, like the New Year’s Resolution Hike on January 1, the Game Day Hike on January 3 and the Winter Tree ID Walk on January 9.

Know Your Native, Winter Edition

Believe it or not, staff at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy do not hibernate during the winter.

Angela, Jaci, and Jake taking care of a tree in Highland Park

While some of us cozy up in the office with woolly sweaters and Big Gulp-sized mugs of coffee and tea, there are those of us that are out in the parks in any weather. Two such dauntlessly awesome staffers are our horticulturist Angela and our gardener Jaci. Regularly spotted outside in ultra heavy duty winter wear, they recently visited the office clad in all-weather work boots carrying a box of treasures — seeds and buds and clippings from plants around the parks. These finds, hidden in the drab colors of winter, were an unusual learning experience and a fun way to study the parks in winter.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog/social media, you might have caught our Know Your Native or What’s In Bloom segments. During the growing seasons, Angela compiles pictures of blossoms and buds from the park gardens for her monthly What’s in Bloom series. Our more sporadic Know Your Native highlights local plants that staffers find and photograph around the parks.

This week, we’re meshing the two. And adding a fun mnemonic twist. We’re also bending the rules; technically, none of these finds are currently in bloom. And a couple of them aren’t natives, but we’re throwing them in, too. Let’s get started! (Note: Information about these plants came from the great Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera)

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A large deciduous tree native of eastern North America, the tulip tree, otherwise known as the yellow poplar, is easily identified by its tulip-shaped flowers seen here. The flowers can be tough to spot in spring since they bloom after the tree’s leaves pop open. Its genus name comes from Greek leirion (lily) and dendron (tree). Tulipifera means tulip bearing.

Fun fact: Native Americans made dugout canoes from tuliptree trunks. Source.

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

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Tripping over the large spiked fruits that we think look like boot spurs is an easy way to identify the invasive horse chestnut, or conker tree. When the skin of the fruit breaks, you can find one or two dark brown horsechestnuts, a relative of the buckeye (but not the chestnut), inside. Check back with these trees in the spring when they show off white, red and yellow flowers.

Fun fact: The alternate name for this tree, conker tree, comes from a British-Irish children’s game that dates back to the 1800s. For this “game,” children would tie strings to the spiked fruits and bop each other over the head until the fruit broke. We’re not sure if you win when the fruit breaks…? Don’t try that at home.

Goldenrain (Tree Sapindaceae)

In the winter, you can identify the invasive goldenrain tree by the papery seed capsules that are a bit reminiscent of Chinese lanterns. The tree blossoms in early summer with flowers of varying shades of yellow, which make a golden yellow carpet under the tree. This tree is air pollution resistant, helping it thrive in urban areas.

Eastern beech (Fagus sylvatica)

The European beech has been a popular ornamental tree in the United States since the mid-1700s. The trunk has a distinctive smooth, gray texture that seems to fold and melt around branches. Leaves of the beech tree aren’t abscissed in fall, meaning they hold on to their leaves all winter. Female flowers give way to two triangular nuts held in spiny capsules, seen here:

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

A native to eastern North america, no doubt you’ve noticed the sweet gum’s signature ‘gumballs’ spread out at the base of these trees. These spiky globular fruiting clusters are the product of female flower. The name of this tree comes from the sweet-smelling ‘gum’ that the tree exudes when cut.

Fun fact: The tree’s gum has indeed been used for chewing gum. It’s also been used to make incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings.

Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina)

Identifying this native tree is a bit of a gimme. Shown here are the nut-like fruits that cluster like bells. Watch in April when the trees flowers start to bloom in even more obvious bell shapes. Like a bell rung for dinner, these gorgeous flowers seem to bring in warmer weather.

Like to learn more about what makes up our park flora? Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to catch our Know Your Native features, or subscribe to our blog at the bottom right corner. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of our gorgeous Invasive Plants of Pittsburgh guidebook, order one today! 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

We just have to throw in one more, because we can’t resist. We’ll leave you with Staphylea trifolia, otherwise known as bladdernut. While not the most attractive name, this native does show some pretty flowers in spring!

This blog was originally posted in February 2014.

Textures, Colors, Patterns: Identifying Trees by Their Bark

With most trees stripped bare of leaves, winter is a great time to get a good look at the wonderful variations of pattern, color and texture that form the trunks and branches of local urban trees. With a little practice, you’ll be able to easily identify many local tree species by name just by looking at their bark. Here are a few to get you started:

beech barkBeech

Found in all four of Pittsburgh’s major parks — Schenley, Riverview, Frick and Highland — these trees can live up to 400 years. The beech tree can be recognized by its smooth silvery-gray bark that contrasts with the browns and dark grays of other forest trees.


 

Photo: Selena NBH, Flickr


Lacebark pine

The lacebark pine is an evergreen and keeps its needles year-round. Its bark peels, or “exfoliates,” uncovering patches of white, green and purple underneath, almost like a camouflage jacket. You can find lacebark pines near the tennis courts in Mellon Park and near the Frick Park gatehouse.


 

sassafras barkSassafras

The bark and roots of the sassafras tree have a scent similar to root beer, and its bark was traditionally used to make tea and for medicinal purposes. The grayish-brown trunk of the sassafras tree is ridged and furrowed.

 


 

london plane barkLondon plane

The rows of majestic London plane trees that line the street near the entrance to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland are impossible to miss. These massive trees have gray bark that sheds in flakes almost year-round, revealing smooth, creamy-white bark underneath.


 

dawn redwood barkDawn redwood

The dawn redwood was once thought to be extinct but was found in China in 1948. Seeds and seedlings were brought to North America, where it has survived well. The dawn redwood has needles, but, unlike evergreens, it loses them in the winter. It sheds its dark brown bark in long strands, which squirrels snatch up to use as building material for their nests.


 

What other trees have distinct bark? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!