I must say, before I volunteered with The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, I thought I had a pretty good handle on things.
I grew up in the 60’s in the country. My dad never owned a TV and there were no video games, personal computers, calculators, or cell phones. The woods and fields of Armstrong County were my playground. I lost countless hammers and saws building forts in the woods, aggravating my dad to no end! My Schwinn was my best friend. We read books – lots of them. We had a garden the size of a football field. We raised chickens and ducks and I worked on a nearby farm. I drove a farm tractor before I was allowed to drive a car. So, as an adult, I thought I knew quite a lot about quite a lot.
That changed when I turned 50, my milestone. My kids were grown and on their own. I had time. I needed something to do. One day, while looking for maps online, I stumbled across The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy web site and the Urban EcoSteward program. So I joined. While attending Urban EcoSteward training, I was surprised to find out I didn’t know so much.
Each training session involved actual field practice – not much classroom time here. We learned by doing. Rain or shine we learned how to plant trees by planting trees. We learned to identify invasive plants by going out and removing them spring, summer, and fall. There were a variety of trainings, too, like seed propagation, erosion control, and winter tree ID. The Parks Conservancy staff, past and present, are all wonderful, friendly, helpful, dedicated, and most of all, knowledgeable people. But there was a problem.
Now that I was familiar with most of the invasive species present in our parks, I saw them everywhere. I could spot them a mile away along roads, in fields, in the woods, and even in the city. Everywhere! What a jolt. I had to sort this out somehow. How could we possibly win this battle? The answer, I think, is with more volunteers working with The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and many other organizations committed to restoring our woodlands. So how could I help? I became a crew leader with the training of the Parks Conservancy. That is how! The more volunteers there are, the more work that can be accomplished. At least I can be part of the solution.
Each experience I’ve had with the Parks Conservancy is remarkable to me and repeated by many others I’m sure. Here are just a few:
- Finding a dozen tires on my EcoSteward site and carrying them to a designated drop off a hundred yards away. Not only are tires unsightly, but they breed mosquitoes. Here’s to your health!
- Leading a crew of 6th graders from the Winchester Thurston School who were celebrating the school’s 150th anniversary by planting 150 trees in the Highland Park oak wilt area. I could tell they had loads of fun getting out of the classroom and digging in the dirt.
- Three pawpaw trees and one redbud volunteered to grow on my site. Deer fence were installed to protect these new trees, thanks to a Highland Park work day crew.
- Teaching a volunteer how to blow his nose in the woods without a hanky. (Isn’t that what long sleeves are for?)
- Opening a hydrant (authorization required!)
- Picking garbage off the hillside above the oval bike loop in Highland Park and selling the recovered scrap metal to help the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group build and maintain multiuse trails on that hillside. To this day, I still walk these trails with my Chihuahua, the fastest Chihuahua in Pittsburgh!
- Planting dozens of trees on a landslide in Riverview Park, preventing further erosion.
- Planting ten or so hackberry trees on my site. I carried buckets of water from a seemingly great distance to help those trees survive.
- Girdling Norway maple and sycamore maple (invasive species) on my site. They eventually die and fall. Watch out!
If I sound excited, it’s because I am. Yes, I get irritated at people who litter. I fall a lot and I get dirty (my balance isn’t what it used be). Poison ivy beats me up at least once a year. But I’m always having fun and learning, thanks to The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.