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.

Advertisements

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!

Treemendous Autumn Leaves

If you’re like all of us here at the Parks Conservancy, you cannot get enough of autumn leaves. Right now we’re all wrapped up in the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the bursts of autumn awesome before we settle in for the winter.

What does fall in parks look like to you? We’re asking folks to share their best foliage photos here on our website and on the social platform of their choice with the hashtags #unbeLEAFable #pittsburghparks. Share your best shot and check out ones that have been shared so far:

scottleaves

Photo by Scott Roller, Arsenal Park

Photo by Bonnie West

Photo by Michelle Weaber

Photo by Stephen Harvan

Highland Park HTL leafy path golden orange yellow leaves tree trunk Fall Autumn sunny shadow (Melissa McMasters)

Photo by Melissa McMasters, Highland Park

rosieleaves

Photo by Rosie Wise, Frick Park

What are you waiting for? Get out and get snapping before fall makes like a tree and, well, you know…

Submit your fall photos here!

Fun with Stats: What You Accomplished This Year

Fun with Stats: What You Accomplished This Year

It’s tough telling the world all that you mighty parks volunteers accomplish.

We love posting photos of smiling volunteers. But pictures don’t show the torrential downpours, blizzards, and mucky hillsides that you have weathered.

We love sharing stats from volunteer days. But those stats can’t tell the story of every tree planted or privet hedge pulled.

When looking back at the stats from this year’s volunteer events (over 100!), even we have a hard time wrapping our heads around the numbers, all of the work that you have done. This year, we’ve translated this data into something a little easier to visualize. Look and be amazed at what you incredible volunteers have accomplished:

Volunteers could have filled Carnegie Music Hall

groupshot

All in all, 1,800 volunteers spent time improving the parks this year. With that number of people, you could have filled Carnegie Music Hall almost to its 1,950-seat capacity. (Of course, we would have asked for everyone to take off their muddy boots first.)

Volunteers planted a tree a day

treeplanting

You planted trees of all sizes and species this year throughout the parks. The 365 trees planted could have been spread out, one for every day in 2014.

Volunteers worked on a length of trails equal to the height of the US Steel Tower

trails

Standing at 841 feet is the tallest building in Pittsburgh, the US Steel Tower. You cleared and built 835 feet of trails, making them safer, more accessible, or just making them, period.

Volunteers cleared nine years’ worth of trash

trashcleanup

Assuming that the average person is responsible for putting out one bag of garbage every week on trash day, and that there 52 weeks a year, you took out nearly nine years’ worth of one person’s trash. You hauled over 450 bags of trash bags full of glass, plastic, and objects that ranged from the everyday to the peculiar on playgrounds, hillsides, and through the parks.

Volunteers worked as long as a 331 Harry Potter movie marathons

hiyah!

You clocked more than 6,500 hours of work in the parks this year. This amount of time was a lot more productive than watching every one of the Harry Potter movies 331 times.

Volunteers pulled enough garlic mustard to feed every Pittsburgher some pesto

fence

OK, so we may not have the numbers backing this one up, but we do know that you pulled truckloads of garlic mustard this year (270 garbage bags, to be exact). Enough, we think, to make a tremendous amount of garlic mustard pesto.

If all of that wasn’t impressive enough, you also planted 8,000 bulbs, 10,138 annuals, removed many more bags of invasive plants, and worked on more specific projects in the parks. You also worked as data volunteers and tabling volunteers, helping us make the parks better and better with whatever skills you could share.

THANK YOU, you fabulous volunteers, you! Your parks are in great hands… yours! We can’t wait to work with you in the parks again in 2015.

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The greatest joy of the work I do is planting trees.

If you’re reading this blog, I doubt that I need to sell you on the ecological importance of trees. I don’t need to list all the ways that they make our lives and our planet better, you know that.

Over the past four years I have been honored to oversee the Parks Conservancy’s Commemorative Tree Planting Program in partnership with my colleague Phil Gruszka. I’ve planted trees to celebrate lives well lived and too early lost. I’ve been there for graduation ceremonies and for the exchange of vows. And what I have felt deeply from those experiences is the emotional significance trees can play in our lives — the spiritual, mythological and folkloric meaning they carry.

And most importantly, the way they make us feel.

Veda's tree_Schenley 11.15.14

Family gathers in Schenley Park to celebrate the life of their loved one, Veda.

While the meanings and interpretations of a tree or tree planting are as varied as we are, they provoke a collective feeling of warmth.

Andrew and his tree_Highland Park 11.15.14

Andrew with his tree planted in Highland Park to celebrate his college graduation.

Usually when I meet a donor in the park to plant a tree we have never met face to face, but by the time we part I often get a hug. We are there to do good work and we are connected by the emotional significance of the moment and the change it will create.

In the Jewish faith it is said that trees were the first living things put on earth. Buddha attained enlightenment while seated beneath a tree. We dedicate non-religious holidays to trees all over the world. In the US you may stop to plant a tree on Arbor Day, or Dia Da Árvore in Brazil, Nationale Bloomplantdag in the Netherlands, Tag de Baumes in Germany, or Van Mahotsava in India.

We are globally united with acceptance of the significance a tree planting carries, no matter what life perspective we bring to it.

Veda's tree 4_Schenley 11.15.14

Family mulching a tree in Schenley Park to celebrate Veda.

I am often asked what the “ceremony” in the Commemorative Tree Planting Program entails. I can tell you that every single one is different. I am always there, along with Phil (our resident arborist and Parks Management and Maintenance Director) or one of our ecologists. We plant a fairly large tree (approximately 2” caliper) that has been transplanted from a local tree farm or nursery. The type of tree and exact planting location is arranged in advance based on the donor’s wishes. Sometimes large groups come to be a part of it (I’ve seen as many as 30) and other times it is just the donor. There have been groups who want to get in and get their hands dirty and others where they stand back and enjoy the tree once it is planted. Songs have been sung, prayers read, and violins played. It really can be anything you want it to be.

tree planting day 11 15 14

Kathleen and Phil with their work boots ready at a planting day.

I have watched grief-stricken families approach us along a slope in Schenley Park, their faces worn with loss and exhaustion. Once the tree is in the ground they all leave a little lighter. They will see this tree again and watch it live and grow. We celebrate the endeavors of life too. I have seen a sapling transform into a monument to accomplishments large and small as the last bit of dirt is thrown. People change before our eyes – filled with new gratitude, or comfort and resilience. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of that.

Any reason to celebrate is a reason to plant a tree. I visit the trees I have helped plant and believe firmly that each tree lives in the spirit in which it was planted. They are living totems to the struggles and joys of our lives. And as if that were not gift enough, they will continue to serve our community for generations to come.

Kathleen Gaines, Manager of Individual Giving

Learn more about planting a tree for a special person or occasion in your life by clicking here.

On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

Friends, Pittsburghers, park enthusiasts, lend us your eyeballs.

There’s a Pennsylvania-wide game of nature “Where’s Waldo?” happening right now, and we invite you to play along. Rather than searching for a man in a red-and-white striped getup, though, we’re all keeping our eyes peeled for the white-and-black striped Asian longhorned beetle.

Have you seen Bug Eyes here? Photo: “5 Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) Chewing Egg Site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0/modified from original.

What is the Asian longhorned beetle?

An invasive, or non-native, species of beetle originally from Korea, China, and Japan, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) migrated to the United States sometime in the 1990’s as a stowaway in shipping pallets. Since then, slowly but steadily, the insect has really sunk its mandibles into U.S. forests.

Part of what makes the Asian longhorned beetle such a large threat is its diet. A pickier eater would be more predictable: If it loved just one particular tree, we would know to monitor that tree type and watch for infestation. However, even though ALB is partial to red maples, it will make do with a wide range of host tree species: horsechestnuts, buckeyes, birches, planes, sycamores, willows, elms, boxelders, and other maples.

Once it finds a tree to inhabit, females burrow under the bark to lay eggs. After hatching, larva burrow throughout the tree to feed on the tree’s sugars and nutrients, eventually killing its leafy host. ALB is also a significant threat because it doesn’t respond to any known biological or chemical controls; once it infests a tree, that tree must be removed.

The stories of ALB infestation can be heart-wrenching. But, even though ALB has been found in surrounding Ohio, New Jersey, and New York, we don’t think it has found its way to Penn’s Woods quite yet. And that gives us a lot of hope.

Early detection

IMG_4564

This week, a grouping of exceptionally knowledgeable arborists and naturalists (plus a few of us amateurs) busted out binoculars for an Urban EcoSteward training on spotting signs of the Asian longhorned beetle in Frick Park. Many a success story (such as the oak wilt trees in Schenley Park) of invasive insect/plant and disease eradication starts with an alert citizen speaking up when they see an issue.

And here’s where we need your help!

The more people on the lookout for ALB, the better the chances of spotting this unwanted visitor before thousands of our street and park trees are threatened. Keep a sharp eye out for these signs:

  • Chomp marks. Mature Asian longhorned beetles have a distinct way of dining. They love eating the veins of leaves, as well as the bark of young twigs. Infestations typically start from the apex of the tree, so check for easy-to-spot dead/dying leaves at the top of the tree.
  • Exit holes. Adult beetles exit the tree by burrowing. Check tree trunks for perfectly round holes, usually smaller than a dime.
  • Frass. Beetle burrowing can leave behind a sawdust, or frass, pile.
  • The actual beetle. About .75 – 1.25 inches long, the adult beetle is black with irregular white spots on the wing covers. They have distinct black and white antennae that are longer than their body. Blue hairs on their legs can give them a bluish tinge.
ALB_exithole

Exit holes are about the circumference of a dime. Photo: “Damage exit hole egg site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0.

Now for the most important part: If you see something, say something. Even if you’re not 100 percent sure of what you’ve found, snap a photo. If possible, catch the beetle in a jar or a box. Then, report your sighting by calling the PA Department of Agriculture at 1-866-253-7189 or by emailing them at badbug@state.pa.us. If signs are spotted in the parks, please also let us know at info@pittsburghparks.org.

We’re not all doom and gloom over the Asian longhorned beetle (see photo below as proof). With watchful eyes and this week’s launch of the Park Tree Fund, we’re working hard to keep our park trees safe.

Much of the information from this blog was found through the University of Vermont’s stellar ALB resource pages. Read much more information about ALB here

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting in extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Every Trees Tells a Story

Every Trees Tells a Story

Every tree has a story to tell. We humans are still learning how to listen.

IMG_1803

Throughout the month of August, you’re invited to a unique arboreal story time to learn about a handful of very special trees around the world. A travelling exhibition assembled by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and sponsored by Davey Tree, Every Tree Tells a Story is in Pittsburgh for a short time (July 1 until September 1), spotlighting twelve seminal trees and tree stands around the world.

The woody wonders in this exhibit are a history book in and of themselves. From slaves to Buddhist temples, ladies’ societies to tornadoes, there are some outstanding tree tales to discover. Here are some of our favorites:

The Ficuses of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico

rio tree-o

Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photograph © Juan Pons.

Thanks to the Federal Aid Highway Act that the United States launched after WWII, Puerto Rico carried out a massive construction project to establish a 35-mile road along a shuttered rail line. Edging this road (which has now become a major highway) are three remarkable African cloth-bark trees.

These trees, 70-year-old artifacts of the farmland they once shaded, now reach 50 feet in height. Even in their constrained space, they have grown to stretch over seven lanes of the freeway at their feet.

The Boxed Pines of North Carolina

pines_hunter

Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Frank Hunter.

boxed_1890s

Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

Previously an area worked by immigrants and their slaves, Weymouth Heights is now a planned subdivision that has not only preserved the historic trees of the land, but actually planned development around them.

These longleaf pine trees show scars from a time when slaves and landowners carved, or “boxed,” the pines to collect sap. The sap was then processed to make turpentine, pitch, and rosin. With the careful consideration of preservation groups, these trees will tell the important history of that region for years to come.

The Elms of East Hampton, New York

elms_composite

Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Garie Waltzer.

historic1

Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

The story of the elms of East Hampton includes strong women and persistence. Bent on taking a seat at the male-dominated table of park planning, women of East Hampton joined forces to form the Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS). Buying in to their community via their street trees, these women have been the saviors of their iconic elms since 1895.

Working against hurricanes and Dutch Elm Disease (which killed approximately 75 percent of elms in the first 60 years it was in the United States), the LVIS has kept their streets shaded under these massive elms.

These stories are just a spattering of the amazing tales gathered in this exhibit. Be sure to visit during open hours at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Main, or around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Schenley Plaza (both sites show all of the photos and information). If you visit the display on Sunday, August 10th, we will be there with the expert arborists of Davey Tree. On that day, between 9 and noon, tell us your tree story and Davey Tree will donate $1 to the Parks Conservancy!

Feel free to share any wonderful tree stories in the comments section below.