Board Member Spotlight: Rep. Dan Frankel

Dan Frankel

Rep. Frankel visits Nine Mile Run in Frick Park.

A native Pittsburgher, Dan B. Frankel has served as State Representative for the 23rd Legislative District in Allegheny County since 1998.  He grew up using Pittsburgh’s park system, is a current member of the Parks Conservancy’s Board of Directors, and has been a dedicated supporter by advocating for funding for Schenley Plaza and continuing his support with the Environmental Center at Frick Park.  We interviewed him for the fall edition of the Parks Conservancy’s newsletter, The Voice.

What’s your favorite Parks Conservancy project?

Schenley Plaza.  The Conservancy took a parking lot and turned it into a community square.  It’s such a huge improvement, and it’s amazing to see the mix of people that use it.

How do you use the parks?

I grew up using the parks, and I still actively use Schenley and Frick all time.  They are just fabulous assets.  My kids grew up using the parks, and living in the city, it was extraordinary to have access to open space. 

Why are parks important to cities?

I’ve travelled a great deal and lived elsewhere, including New York City, and I can’t think of a more unique system of parks, nestled into neighborhoods.  Parks are essential to quality of life in the city; they’re part of what makes us “The Most Livable City.”

How have you witnessed the Parks Conservancy improve Pittsburgh?

Under the Conservancy, each park has had a significant, meaningful, and symbolic rejuvenation.  I remember when Meg came up with the idea, and I thought it was a great idea but was honestly pretty skeptical.  I thought it might be too grandiose.  I am glad that I was wrong; the results are monumental. 

People in the parkHow do the parks improve public health?

Parks are great places where class and economic distinction melt away, and you see people from every generation.  They offer active recreation and opportunities to improve both physical and mental health — a place to socialize and decompress.

You are supportive of the Environmental Center at Frick Park.  Why do you believe that this project is so important? 

I was delighted to secure funding for a feasibility study for this great education tool for people in the middle of a vibrant neighborhood.  Even better, there are several schools which can use the center, all within walking distance.

40 Under 40: Yay Marijke!

Marijke HechtWe’re excited to announce that Marijke Hecht, our Director of Education, is an honoree of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s 40 Under 40 awards and the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project’s 40 Under 40.

Marijke leads the Parks Conservancy’s efforts to use the parks as classrooms for people of all ages and backgrounds.  This includes the redevelopment of the Environmental Center at Frick Park and the design and installation of over a dozen outdoor learning spaces for families.  She is also responsible for managing the Parks Conservancy’s educational programming and volunteer activities.  “Marijke is an advocate for Pennsylvania’s environment, and she is a great asset to the Parks Conservancy’s management,” says our President and CEO, Meg Cheever.

Prior to joining the Parks Conservancy, Marijke was the Director of TreeVitalize Pittsburgh with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where she raised over $3.9 million and managed the planting of more than 3,300 new trees with over 1,500 volunteers.  She previously served as the Executive Director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, where she led the organization’s community forestry and rain barrel program and advocated for the $7.7 million Nine Mile Run stream restoration project.  She received a Master of Science in Botany from the Field Naturalist Program and the University of Vermont and Bachelor of Arts in Nutritional Anthropology from Hampshire College.

“This year’s 40 Under 40 honorees truly embody the spirit of this award every day through their volunteerism, civic participation, and professional contributions to Pittsburgh,” says Erin Molchany, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project.  “These individuals are not only making our community better through their efforts, but they also inspire all of us to be more generous and active contributors in making our region vibrant.”


Marijke introduces the City High Urban EcoStewards at their end-of-year gathering.

Selected from a nomination pool of more than 200 candidates, this year’s honorees were chosen by an independent panel of twelve judges, comprised of former winners, business professionals, and civic leaders.  Winners were chosen based on their passion, commitment, visibility, diversity, and overall impact on the region.

The 40 winners will be guests of honor at a celebration in November.  The event, sponsored by Carlow University and Subaru, includes a tribute to this year’s “40 Under 40” honorees, music, entertainment, and food and drink from local restaurants.  The winners will also be featured in the November Issue of PITTSBURGH MAGAZINE. 

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council selected 40 Pennsylvanians under the age of 40 as recipients of its 40 Under 40 Awards.  Recipients will be honored at PEC’s 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Civic Club of Harrisburg on September 22.  Nearly 100 environmental professionals and volunteers were nominated for this statewide honor.  Nominees include volunteers and professionals in a diverse range of environmental fields throughout the entire Commonwealth, including planning, research, education, advocacy.

“PEC has reflected much on our past successes during our 40th Anniversary, and recognizing this next generation of environmental leaders is our way of looking to the future with a great deal of excitement,” said Don Welsh, President and CEO of PEC.

How Do Our Gardens Grow?

Angela MastersAs the number of landscaped sections of the parks has increased, the Parks Conservancy is pleased to welcome a Gardener to its staff in Angela Masters.  Angela is responsible for general maintenance of the gardens, including weeding, deadheading, transplanting, fertilizing, and insect control.  She focuses on the landscaped areas of the park like the newly restored Mellon Park Walled Garden, the Highland Park Entry Garden, Schenley Plaza, the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center, and the Riverview Park Chapel Shelter.

Angela previously worked as a Landscape Service Coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  She also worked at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA and Trax Farms in Finleyville, PA.  She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Pennsylvania State University. 

Schenley PlazaThe addition of a gardener attests to the Parks Conservancy’s commitment to preserving the parks and the long-term maintenance of capital projects, like the Walled Garden and the Highland Park Entry Garden.  Angela said, “Time and effort go into the installation of a new garden, and many people are excited about it opening, but not everyone realizes the level of maintenance that projects require.  I am passionate about taking care of our gardens and keeping them as close to the original intent as possible.” 

Angela also mentioned that the physical exertion of her job is a big perk.  She said, “I work every day, but I can eat whatever I want without going to the gym!”

If you missed it last month, you can see Angela give a video tour of the Schenley Plaza gardens here.

Planting the Seeds – High School EcoStewards

I spent part of an afternoon in June with some students from City High who signed up to become High School Urban EcoStewards (you can read about their program here).

Since 2003, the Urban EcoStewards Program has provided parks across Pittsburgh with a large group of long-term volunteers to care for sections of green space while working to improve their natural value.   In spring 2010, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy launched an effort with the students of City High and the Student Conservation Association to create High School Urban EcoStewards through a grant from Heinz Youth Philanthropy. 

City High Urban EcoStewardsThis spring, 20 students from City High’s 10th grade class cared for a section of parkland by Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park.  The students performed the same tasks as other Urban EcoStewards, such as removing invasive plants, planting native plants, and controlling erosion.  Students paired their monthly site visits with science-journaling, which builds observation and recording skills.  The program fulfills City High’s 10th grade service learning requirement, and the students are able to spend three hours a month on a Friday afternoon in the park.

16-year-old Graham Evans said, “We’ve learned how to identify many different plant species and maintain an environment.  It feels like an adventure!”

The students learned to identify invasive species like tree of heaven by its rotten-peanut butter aroma.  (I’m not kidding – it really smells like that.)  It was hilarious to watch these students discover the joys of popping the native jewelweed.  They quickly became addicts, searching the Schenley Park trails for new buds to pop.

JewelweedIn case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is jewelweed.  The green coils behind the flowers aren’t always easy to see, but if you lightly squeeze them in your hands, they make a very satisfying pop.  It is addicting! 

Thanks to a new $50,000 grant from the Grable Foundation, the program will continue.   The High School Urban EcoSteward program will expand to other schools next year, including the SciTech Academy, the Ellis School, and the Homewood YMCA Lighthouse program.  “Environmental restoration can happen at any age, and connecting young people with these activities is part of the ultimate vision for the Environmental Center at Frick Park,” said Marijke Hecht, Director of Education for the Parks Conservancy.  

The Urban EcoSteward program is part of the work of the Urban Ecology Collaborative of Pittsburgh. This is the local branch of an eight-city effort with a mission to cultivate healthy, safe and vibrant cities through collective learning and united action. In Pittsburgh, EcoStewards work under the supervision of staff from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, the Frick Environmental Center, or the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation.

In July the City High EcoStewards got together in Schenley Park to make final presentations about the work they had completed throughout the semester.   See photos from the wrapup presentation here (thanks to John Altdorfer for the photos!).

Below are some videos from the participants.

Wednesdays in Mellon Square

Sam WebbI recently had the chance to spend a bit of time with park docent Sam Webb.  Sam leads Mellon Square’s lunchtime tours and a few of the Walks in the Woods sessions in Schenley Park that focus on trees.  History isn’t my focus at the Parks Conservancy, but it is something that I’ve always loved. 

While Mellon Square currently offers an audio tour about park history and design, Sam’s tour dives into greater detail, showcasing the park’s significance and the impact of the Mellon family.  I have always thought of Mellon Square as a green escape for downtown workers, but Sam showed me an additional purpose for some of the horticulture.  He mentioned that between the park edge and the interior, there are 25 feet of trees and landscaping that muffle traffic noise.  Sam is a soft-spoken man, but he is able to lead the Mellon Square tours without a microphone because of this feature.  The difference in noise level inside the Square and out on the street corner is really quite dramatic.

StepsWe took a moment and walked across the street to observe the Square from the front of Saks Fifth Avenue.   It was really remarkable to study the Square from the outside – seeing trees stretching up out of concrete and seeing people buzz past and through the park. 

One of the most interesting things I learned in my time with Sam was that the Square has similar lines to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  Apparently, Wright submitted an initial design for Point Park that was a parking garage with a park on top.  It was rejected, but RK Mellon remembered the design and asked Mitchell & Ritchey to use it for Mellon Square. 

Sam’s tour also focuses on the 1950s design of the space, highlighting the surrounding buildings – like the Alcoa building that is made of aluminum.   If you’re interested in joining Sam, meet at the AFL-CIO sign at 12:15pm to join this free tour on the third Wednesday of each month.