5 Outdoor Summer Concert Spots

Stifling humidity. 90 degree days. Not a rain cloud in sight.

Step in to the parks, feel the temperature drop. Spread out a blanket or unfold a lawn chair, kick off your shoes. During these dog days of summer, de-stress and cool down at free concerts in the parks.

Mellon Park

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Sundays in Mellon Park are classy and classical. The popular Bach, Beethoven and Brunch series serves up some tasty live music with a side of brunch every week from 10:30am until noon, courtesy of Citiparks. Enter your entree in the “Best Brunch” competition, or take it easy and order up from the Bagel Factory food truck on site.

Find the Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch concert details here.

Highland Park

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After a brunch-induced food coma, make your way over to Highland Park for a change in tune at the Reservoir of Jazz. Setting Pittsburgh’s local talent center stage, Reservoir of Jazz is the best way to close out the weekend. Keep your feet tapping (and really, your whole body moving) afterwards at Summer Soul Line Dancing immediately following the show.

Find the Reservoir of Jazz concert details here.

Riverview Park

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Elevated on Observatory Hill with the Allegheny Observatory and area jazz musicians, you’re a little closer to the stars at the Stars at Riverview concert series. Park your lawn chair for your fill of live music, then stick around for Cinema in the Park afterwards. Shows are every Saturday, now through the end of August.

Find the Stars at Riverview concert details here.

Mellon Square

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Need a break in the workday? Want to get some fresh air and out of the office? Grab a lunch and make a midday outing to Mellon Square for Wednesday Acoustic Music with Bobby V and Thursday Summer Concert Series.

Find the Mellon Square concert details here.

Schenley Plaza

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With its emerald lawn, delicious dining and central location, Schenley Plaza is a fantastic venue for concertgoers, impromptu musicians, and summer shows. The lawn fills up fast, so make sure to stake out your spot for the monthly WYEP Final Fridays, and don’t miss First Thursdays with Calliope.

Find the Schenley Plaza concert details here.

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Parks Are Gyms: Your Guide to Working Out

In the parks, we have a whole different approach to working out.

Smelly, sweaty gym socks? We’ve got blooming daffodils.
Recycled air? How about a cool breeze and wind through the trees.
Beige walls? Try chirping robins, rolling clouds, and kids riding bikes.

For the low, low membership fee of $0.00, you can sweat it out all day every day in the parks. Train for your first marathon, conquer hills on the bike sitting in your basement — just get out and get moving! Here are some ideas to start your new workout regiment in the parks:

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Tai chi in Mellon Square. Photo: John Altdorfer.

Tai chi in Mellon Square
Some call this Chinese traditional practice meditation in motion. Originally designed for practicing self-defense, this class is a splendid and graceful way to balance, strengthen, and de-stress. Take a class in the Modernist masterpiece park, Mellon Square, or in Schenley Plaza, for free all spring and summer. Schedule to be posted here.

Yoga in Schenley Plaza
Breathe in, breathe out on the Emerald Lawn in Schenley Plaza during these bi-weekly yoga classes. Bring your own mat or borrow one when you arrive at these free, open classes taught by expert instructors. Schedule to be posted here.

Disc golf in Schenley Park
Spread across rolling hills and sprinkled through shaded woods are 18 metal baskets that make up the Schenley Park Disc Golf Course. This go-at-your-own-pace course is an effective arm workout and a healthy walk, the length of which depends on how well you aim your shots. Find directions here.

Volleyball in Highland Park
Recently renovated, the sand volleyball courts in Highland Park are an ace place to work out while working on your tan. Find directions here.

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Biking in the park. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

Bike in Riverview Park
The popular Riverview Loop is all about the gluts. The topography of this two-mile loop is a challenge but takes you past amazing spots like the Chapel Shelter, Allegheny Observatory, and gardens throughout Riverview. See the Bike Pittsburgh bike map here.

Tennis in Frick and Arsenal parks
Serve it up on the red clay courts in Frick Park or the newly refinished courts in Arsenal Park for two unique playing experiences. If you’re game, there are a plethora of clinics and tournaments held on the many courts throughout the parks. Click here for the Frick Park Clay Court Tennis Club.

Have your own workout recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

Giving Thanks: Janet of All Trades and 2013 Volunteers

Ten minutes into my interview with Janet Pazzynski, I fully realized why a friend of hers urged her to write a how-to book on retirement.

Janet, AKA Janet of All Trades, weeding in Riverview

Janet’s ever-expanding resume is impressive: graphic designer, actress, unofficial Riverview Park tour guide, Pittsburgh lover, gardener, and volunteer, among many other things. Her last title, volunteer, being the reason for her visit to the Parks Conservancy office one cold Tuesday morning.

“It started with one perennial garden in Riverview Park.”

Janet first began her extensive volunteer career with the Parks Conservancy by simply asking to help. Janet dreamed of being a gardener while working at a telephone company, and after retiring at an early age,  Janet asked if she could help the Parks Conservancy with the planting of a flower bed in Riverview Park.

“If you’re planting this bed, you gotta weed it,” a volunteer leader told her, jokingly.

“Can I!?”

Janet’s sign in front of the English knot garden

Little did anyone know, Janet would eventually take on the herculean task of helping to look after 12 flower beds in Riverview Park. Working with Parks Conservancy horticulturist, Angela Yuele, Janet personally adopted each bed one by one, working on them once a week from the first buds of spring until deadheading season in the fall. Janet also lent her skills at digital design by creating a sign for Riverview’s recently established English knot garden

Janet says that caring for the park gardens has just become a part of her schedule; she goes out on her own every week to weed the beds through the summer months. “It’s therapeutic,” she says. Riverview Park has always been a part of her life (sitting with her for an hour, you can learn the complete history of the park and all of its hidden secrets, like where to find the old zoo), and she says it’s the best feeling when neighbors and park visitors tell her how beautifully the gardens are growing.

Because of her experience in Riverview, Janet recently took a position as a professional gardener — something she’s been wanting to do for a long time. But don’t worry, she won’t abandon her beds come next spring.

We give a big thanks to Janet for all of her work helping our park gardens blossom. And next year, when you visit Blossom Lane, the knot garden, and the flower beds in Riverview Park, don’t forget to tell the rock star community member tackling weeds just how gorgeous the gardens look. 

Volunteers 2013

Volunteers like Janet help us accomplish an extraordinary amount of important work in the parks. This year, volunteers came out in record numbers to really make an impact in our park communities. Here are the numbers we crunched for 2013, our biggest year yet:

1,570 volunteers came out to work in the parks

1,300 trees and shrubs were planted

Volunteers completed 5,500 hours of work  

Volunteer hours amounted to $119,000

(based on national volunteer hour rates)

At the Parks Conservancy, we’re giving thanks this week and every week for our tireless, enthusiastic, and passionate volunteers. We can’t wait to see everyone again in the parks next year!

Lauryn Stalter, Riverview Park enthusiast (thanks to Janet’s recommendations of this video and this video) for The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.   

Volunteers: A reason to give thanks

Not Your Average Garden – Riverview Park’s New Knot Garden

While strolling through the entry garden at Riverview Park, some may have noticed a new addition to the area. An herbal knot garden now occupies the 10×10 empty flower bed that once lay waiting to be awakened. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Horticulturist, Angela Yuele, wanted to fill the space with something unique and try her hand at her first knot garden.

“The Riverview Visitor Center has an English cottage feel, so I thought it would be the perfect space for an English knot garden.”

Knot gardens got their start in English and French tradition meant to mirror the pattern of British embroidery of the time.  They created a more formal, yet inviting ambiance to gardens and provided a feast for the senses with their aromatic herbs and flowers. The intricate gardens are typically laid-out in a square or rectangular shape and require meticulous clipping and maintenance to keep their structure and form. As with the case of the knot garden at Riverview Park, contrasting color can provide the illusion of interlocking knotwork.

Angela carefully planned the knot garden to not only be visually appealing, but also a space that sparks visitor’s sense of smell with the wafting fragrance of earthy herbs. The garden is framed by oregano with lavender dotting the outer four corners and a line of chives standing guard along one side. The intertwining knots are made of common thyme and lemon thyme to give a slight color variation to enhance the illusion. The knot garden is topped off with a rosemary bush as the central focal point.

“The knot garden is still in training, but filled in well for only a couple months of growth,” Angela said.

Park visitors are more than welcome to pick the herbs. One of our dedicated volunteers has already used some to spice up her spaghetti sauce. After visiting the Riverview Park knot garden, be sure to check out the Elizabethan Herb Garden in Mellon Park maintained by the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America.

 
 
 
 
 Looking for ways you can get involved with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy? Check out our upcoming Volunteer Days or consider making a gift online

Pittsburgh’s Central Fire – Finding Common Ground through the World’s Green Spaces

As crowds of people slowly began filing into the Lighthouse at Chelsea Pier in New York City for the kick-off of the Greater & Greener International Urban Parks Conference, Peter J. Madonia of the Rockefeller Foundation remarked, “It’s like Woodstock for parkies.” A rumble of laughter filled the room and the largest urban parks conference in history was underway. Looking around the crowd, it was obvious this was more than just a few environmentally and community-minded folks getting together to gab about green spaces. The City Parks Alliance brought together over 850 people from 210 cities and 20 countries to participate in more than 100 workshops focusing on topics including environmental advocacy, development, and management. Experts in their fields from major organizations, foundations and government intermingled with people and small organizations committed to promoting the influence parks have on our communities.

Staff from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, City of Pittsburgh, Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, Riverlife and many other organizations attended the conference. Determined to not only gain new ideas, but to share success stories and strategies of how our urban parks have contributed to Pittsburgh being consistently named “most livable city” year after year. Keynote speaker, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, got the first full day of workshops started by discussing how parks have become a “powerful catalyst for community development.” This became one of the three overlying themes of the conference: community development, public health and future technological advancements. The conference slowly unveiled a more enlightened and deeper value for urban green spaces other than their beauty.

Public Art at The High Line

Community Development

The Parks Conservancy supports and promotes the environmental benefits of parks, but also focuses on the tremendous community and economic development that comes from urban green spaces. When an urban park is designed or restored, it creates a chain reaction in community development and overall quality of life. It creates jobs both in the implementation and maintenance process. Home values around the park increase while access to trails and open spaces for recreational activities enhance public health. All of these factors combine to increase economic growth for the community. It can be difficult to show citizens not living directly within city limits the advantages to urban development when they can feel so far removed from it. Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, is responsible for leading his city towards an undeniable rebirth and discussed the need to put money and effort into the city infrastructure to benefit the entire metro area. He stated, “ The quality of life in urban areas is directly connected to the quality of life in the suburbs. You can’t be a suburb of nothing.”

The High Line Zoo

A visit to The High Line in New York City revealed another unexpected perk to urban parks and community development.  Strolling down the restored elevated freight line that has been repurposed into a modern public green space on Manhattan’s West Side, you’ll be greeted by a gorilla, an amorous sailor and a portrait of a young Native American child to name a few. A menagerie of public art has popped-up along the buildings and open spaces lining The High Line, intertwining the worlds of nature and art into one harmonious story of city culture.

Digging in the dirt at the Frick Environmental Center

Public Health

Park and nature prescriptions were buzzwords used throughout the conference. Daphne Miller, M.D. discussed the “disease of the indoors” and the Health Care Provider Initiative being implemented through the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). The initiative educates health care providers on the importance of outdoor activity in the prevention of childhood obesity and diabetes, encouraging them to provide nature prescriptions in addition to traditional healthcare. “I think of parks as part of our healthcare system”, Dr. Miller said. United States Secretary of State Ken Salazar, who closed the conference, informed us that children only spend an average of four minutes outside a day. Access to parks and green space is an issue for children in some communities. Many have to walk through dangerous areas or cross highways to get to a park.  Dr. Miller discussed the idea of creating green corridors to connect parks throughout the community and provide “veins of access to green space” for children and others to safely enjoy the parks. The healthier we make our parks, the healthier the people of our community will become.

Playing tag in Highland Park

Technological Advancements

With the role parks play in the health of a society and way to get people outdoors, the topic of technology and the future of parks can often be a tricky subject to tackle. There’s no doubt that we are currently in the era of technology; however, there is still resistance to how technology can contribute to the park system and whether it belongs there at all. Many view the demons of video games, television, Internet, social media and smartphones as the antithesis to the mission of parks and the exact cause of what is keeping people holed up indoors. Garry Golden, Futurist and Founder of Forward Elements, Inc. spoke about the purpose of technology in the future of environmental infrastructure. “Technology doesn’t have to be at odds with simple design”, he explains. Workshop presenter Erin Barnes and her organization, ioby (In Our Back Yard), is a perfect example of how to incorporate technology with environmental advocacy. Ioby is an organization committed to bringing green initiatives to the local level by connecting people to fundraising resources via their website. It’s great to hear about organizations raising millions of dollars to fund environmental causes in the community, but this can at times seem inaccessible for smaller causes.  Ioby uses “crowd-resourcing” and “DIY activism” to empower the community to form their own small fundraising projects through their website.  On the ioby website you can search for projects using filters to discover the needs of a group and how you can get involved. Currently, there is an open project listed on the ioby website in the Pittsburgh community called the Homewood Agricultural Project. They are looking for both donations and volunteers for the project and it’s a great way to help out concerned citizens trying to better our community. Technology isn’t going anywhere, so many of us are embracing it to inform the public about parks and get people active.  The Parks Conservancy has welcomed technological advancements. We are currently developing a mobile app funded through a grant from UPMC Health Plan and the “Parks Are Free” campaign promoting use of the parks and public health within our own community.

Pittsburgh’s Schenley Plaza

Pittsburgh was well represented at the conference as presenters shared expertise in the field and highlighted successful restorations of our beautiful parks to their intended splendor. The Parks Conservancy Founder and CEO, Meg Cheever, served as a moderator for a workshop discussing the importance of public-private partnerships when developing and maintaining urban parks. Parks Curator, Susan Rademacher, sat on a workshop panel called, “People Over Cars” to discuss the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy campaign to restore a parking lot to its original purpose in the development of Schenley Plaza. Ilyssa Manspeizer, Ph.D., Director, Park Development & Conservation for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation filled the crowd in on the “scrappy do-it-yourself ethos” that has helped transform a steep hillside in Mount Washington to the beautiful 280 acre Emerald View Park overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline.

Picnic in Schenley Park

Central Fire

As speaker after speaker discussed the role parks play in the development of a community, it was National Park Service Deputy Director of Communication and Community Assistance, Mickey Fearn that hit closest to home. He spoke of the “central fire where people used to come together to get warm, share stories and inspire and further community.” This immediately evoked images of our own Pittsburgh parks. Swirls of children sprinting to the playground on Schenley Overlook while families reunite at picnic tables. International students fresh off the plane meeting each other for the first time at the University of Pittsburgh international welcome picnic in Schenley Park. Neighbors who have never met swapping stories while their pooches splash mud at the off-leash dog area deep within Frick Park. High schoolers blushing as their parents embarrassingly take pictures of them at the Highland Park Entry Garden before they head-off to their Senior Prom. Our community coming together in our parks to share life and love, this is the central fire that has been burning in Pittsburgh for the past decade.

Holly Stayton is the eCommerce Development Officer for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Learn more about how you can get involved with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy on our website. Also, keep up-to-date on how the Pittsburgh Greenspace Alliance has joined together to promote and improve Pittsburgh’s green spaces.

A City Boy Grows Up in the Country – Riverview Park, My Back Yard (1950-1967)

David D. Erskine grew up in the Charlotte Apartments on Riverview Ave.  He is a retired Project Engineer from BAM International in Butler Country, PA and still does consulting work. He loves sharing the stories of his youth growing up in Riverview Park from 1950-1967.

Welcome to Riverview Park

My earliest recollections as a kid growing up in Riverview were hard to recall at first. However, it just took one trip back with my wife, Donna, to show her around and my childhood memories came flooding back. 

Cherry Blossom Way

The sun-parlor windows at 157 Riverview Ave. were my “windows on the world”. When I was just a toddler, I’d crawl and sit on top of the huge cast iron radiators that lined the windows and just take it all in. I watched the park employees busy at work. Peter, the master stone mason, chiseling and re-pointing some of the stone on the steps leading up to the beautiful flower gardens adjoining the park office. Louie and another park laborer weeding and planting in the flower beds. My dad would invariably appear and wave to me. Sometimes I’d see him walking up the observatory road, past the old barn road, headed up to what was called back then the observatory garage. Dad worked part-time doing small engine repair on the myriad of gasoline powered mowers and tractors that had replaced the old work horse teams kept down in the old barn. I still remember there were two of the huge old horses that were long retired kept as pets down there. Now and then, dad would take me down to the old barn and sit me on the stall rail to get nuzzled by one of the gentle giants.

Riverview Chapel Shelter

Other times, dad would take me down to the Wissahickon Nature Museum, where he also worked part-time with Mr. Harvey, the head naturalist. Wissahickon, in its glory days, was a wonderful place full of live animal, bird, and reptile exhibits. It was like having a local miniature zoo. Dad, Mr. Harvey and the volunteers would “milk” the live Copperheads and Rattlesnakes that were kept in large glass snake terrariums for their venom. Drug companies would then purchase the venom to make antidotes for people who were bitten by a snake. 

Being a kid in Riverview was really an incredible experience. Mom and dad used to take me on my tricycle-tractor down to the old merry-go-round area behind the apartments. They’d let me pedal all over the paved walkways while they sat on one of the many stone and wood benches or the steps of the old merry-go-round.  The old merry-go-round hill used to be steeper than it is today. We would sled ride down it in the winter, sometimes making it halfway across the field to the old Chapel Shelter.

Present Day Watson’s Cabin

As I got older, summer days at the Riverview swimming pool and winter days at the old ice pond playing hockey with my friends were the norm for us Riverview Brats. Whether it was summer or winter, one of my favorite adventures was packing up some food, blankets and sleeping bags then heading to the old Watson Cabin in the park to camp with my family and friends. Built as the Watson family homestead back in the 1700’s, it was a piece of living history that hadn’t changed much over the centuries. It had a huge walk-in fireplace with a stone chimney. In the winter, dad and I would build a roaring black locust fire that would ember-down and last most of the night. Mom would bake potatoes on the hearth and cook chili in an iron pot near the coal. Back then, there was a crude sleeping loft made of boards laid across the log beams. We’d just drag our sleeping bags up the loft ladder to stay warm as we slept.   It was like we had lived there in a past life. It was our home away from home and all within hiking distance from the apartment. 

Snyder’s Point in Riverview Park

We spent a lot of time hiking. We’d hike past the old road house site, down over the long, long, wooded hill into the Woods Run border area of Riverview. What a downhill hike! On the way back, we’d take the Valley Refuge road back up to civilization. We liked to stop along the way at Joe Himmelstein’s Dairy to get cold, fresh milk and pet the horses and cows. We’d then continue on up the valley road, sometimes stopping in to visit my dad at the valley maintenance garage. Occasionally, we’d pick through the huge dump they had there to find weird treasures to take home (yuck!). We spent so much time in Riverview Park, we hardly went anywhere during dad’s vacation times. The park was always there.  Everyone knew everyone in those days. It was like one giant neighborhood.

Thank you for allowing me to reminisce about my wonderful memories of growing up in Riverview Park. It is a tonic, indeed. Even though my employment and circumstances prevent me from visiting Riverview and the Observatory as often as I’d like, I still manage to get down to Pittsburgh now and then. I usually stop in at Primanti’s for a sandwich then go visit the Observatory and my beloved Riverview Park. If anyone would like to talk about their experiences with me, please email me at david_rskn@yahoo.com or contact the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy http://www.pittsburghparks.org.

Lilacs at Chapel Shelter

What’s In Bloom – June 2012

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gardener, Angela Masters has been busy adding splashes of color to our City parks.  With the weather warming up, now is a perfect time to take a stroll through our June blooms.

Highland Park Entry Garden

Allium (Allium caeruleum)

Annabelle hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle”

Asiatic lily, Lilium Apeldoorn

Coral bells, Heuchera x brizoides

Hardy Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides

Montauk Daisy, Nipponanthemum nipponicum

White Trumpet Lily, Lilium regale

Yarrow, Achillea “Parker’s Gold”

A beautiful day at the Highland Park Entry Garden

Mellon Park Walled Garden

Astilbe

Daylily, Hemorocallis ‘Happy Returns’

Hardy Geranium, Geranium x ‘Brookside’

Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia

Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’

Riverview Park Chapel Shelter

Yarrow, Achillea

Don’t just take our word for it, get out to the parks and spend the day relaxing among the flowers!  If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, join us for Weeding Tuesdays at the Mellon Park Walled Garden or for Weeding Wednesday at the Highland Park Entry Garden.  For more information, visit our volunteer page or email us at volunteer@pittsburghparks.org.