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

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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!

Thanks for Parks, Thanks to You

No table is big enough to fit everyone who loves Pittsburgh’s parks.

While we may not all be able to gather in one place this Thanksgiving, we can still reflect on all that parks give us. We’ve picked four reasons (from the almost endless list) that we’re thankful for Pittsburgh’s prettiest places.

Love the images below? Click here to download them as wallpapers for you desktop or device!

1. Changing seasons 

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Every few months we’re given completely different parks to enjoy. Crunchy fall leaves give way to a blanket of snow until flowers and trees bloom before we realize that we’re doing it all over again.

2. Quality time

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City parks were created for all to enjoy. They’re where we can spend a sunny afternoon with family and friends, practice tai chi, and meet others enjoying these fabulous places.

3. Room to breathe

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Every once in a while we each need to turn the volume of the city down, leave our phones at home, and take a stroll. The parks are there to give us a little rest and relaxation whenever we take the time to make a visit.

4. Places to dream

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Parks are places where we find inspiration, creativity, and peace. They’re places where we can reach our personal goals, learn something new, paint a picture, come up with our best ideas, and just be inspired.

Thanks for sharing in Pittsburgh’s great parks with us this year. 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy!

Love the images below? Click here to download them as wallpapers for you desktop or device.

Want to give back to the parks that give so much? Make a gift to your parks here on Giving Tuesday!

Shaking Like A Leaf: Halloween in the Parks

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Fog rolls into Frick as a full moon rises over Riverview.
Snakes slither silently through Schenley.
A howl is heard in Highland.

Pittsburgh’s parks are all decked out and ready for Halloween. Visiting haunted houses this October? Don’t forget to take a trip to a park near you. You never know what frightfully fun things you’ll find.

Which Hazel? Witch Hazel?

They can pop out at you at any time. Blooming witch hazel shows its bright colors during different seasons, and the same plant isn’t guaranteed to bloom at the same time year after year.

This gnarly member of the hazel family might not really be supernatural (its etymology is Middle English wiche, meaning bendable), but those who know its powers might claim that it has some magical properties. Common as an astringent, witch hazel has historically also been used to treat everything from skin sores to sore muscles, and even as a remedy for hemorrhoids. Did we also mention that it might have even been used to heal broken hearts? And finding water… underground?

Read more about the past and present of this mysterious plant in this great Atlantic article.

20141104HObatboxHoly Echolocation, Batman!

If you think you’re scared of bats, imagine how insects feel. These darkwinged denizens of the park can nosh on anywhere between 6,000 and 8,000 bugs a night. This is especially impressive given that the most common bat in our parks — the little brown bat — measures just about 3.5 inches from tail to ghoulish chin.

Sorry to disappoint, but of all of the species in Pennsylvania, none are the bloodthirsty vampire type of lore.

In October and November, bats begin looking for a spot to hibernate. Tunnels, caves and mine shafts are ideal, as they allow the bats to cluster together and hang from the ceiling, upside down, all winter long. These primo locations can be in short supply, however, which is why bat boxes have been placed throughout the parks to lend a hand (wing?) in helping them survive.

Click here for our guide on how to build your own bat box.

Jack-O’-Lanterns All AGlow 

The gleaming glow of jack-o’-lanterns isn’t just for the pumpkins on your front stoop. You might think that fireflies have cornered the market on lighting the parks at night, but keep your head down and you might find something glowing underfoot.

Bioluminescence is used by organisms on land, under the sea, and in the air for a number of reasons: finding a mate, finding a meal, communication, and defense, among other things. With fungi like the jack-o’-lantern mushroom and the bitter oyster mushroom, their eerie glow may contribute to the spreading of spores as they hitch a ride on the curious insects that are drawn to them.

Learn more about these spectral ‘shrooms in this local blog by Josh Doty.

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The Panellus Stipticus (bitter oyster) mushroom by day. Photo courtesy Josh Doty.

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The Panellus Stipticus (bitter oyster) mushroom by night. Photo courtesy Josh Doty.

Ghosts on the Ground

The first time you see a plant without chlorophyll you just might turn white as a ghost. Ghost flowers (also called Indian pipes) are a pretty unique local wildflower that stick out because of their shock-white color that contrasts with the browns and greens of the forest floor. This little flower draws its power from the underworld rather than the sky — it gets its nutrients via its roots and its symbiotic relationship with fungi, rather than through photosynthesis.

Have you spotted other ghouls and goblins in the parks, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial? Share your findings in the comments sections below! And the next time you visit one of the parks, make sure to keep a lookout for the dreaded Garlic Mustard Monster!

The Garlic Mustard Monster, spotted on a volunteer day in Frick Park by Rosie Wise.

 

Hidden Treasures: Fungi in the Parks

What if each time you visit a Pittsburgh park, you were really on a treasure hunt? What if the clues, and even the treasures themselves, constantly changed?

Would you participate?

What is this hunt all about?

Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus species

Golden Chanterelle – Cantharellus species

The words treasure hunt bring to mind exciting quests to find buried gold and silver by following ancient clues on faded parchment. In today’s world, a treasure hunt has morphed into a game played at birthday parties and social events where everyone enjoys the challenge of outsmarting their peers with the hope of being the first to solve all of the clues. Geocaching has drawn countless adventurers around the world to hide or seek treasures using GPS. Treasures range from the worthless to the valuable and the hunt for the unknown drives these explorers to pursue the prize.

A dynamic adventure for all ages is already underway. But do not fear! You are not too late to join the search. The treasure is called fungi and the treasure map is sketched by the changes in the weather, the presence of specific trees, the soil conditions, the time of the year and many other factors.

What treasures am I hunting this season?

A recent visit to Schenley Park uncovered the following fungi, and, if the weather conditions are favorable, it is likely that the observant seeker will find these treasures, too:



Others10Jack O’Lantern Mushroom
Scientific Name: Omphalotus illudens

Fun Facts: This mushroom glows green in complete darkness. It is also poisonous but a derivative of the poison is currently being studied for its effectiveness in attacking some cancers.


others12Bear’s Head tooth fungus or Lion’s Mane
Scientific Name: Hericium americanum

Fun Facts: This mushroom is known to have nerve-regenerative properties which are being studied by researchers. For an interesting project, this mushroom can be grown at home with a simple kit that can be found online.


Ringless Honey Mushrooms

The Ringless Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria tabescens

Fun Facts: This mushroom is often found in tight clusters in the grass under oak or silver maple tree or where hardwood trees formerly stood. Harvesting is discouraged so as to minimize the spread of spores; this species is known to attack hardwood trees, especially oaks and silver maples.


Others7The Honey Mushroom
Scientific Name: Armillaria mellea

Fun Facts: The vegetative part of the fungal organism is called the mycelium and is made up of branching fibers. This species has a bio-luminescent mycelium; it glows in the dark. A west coast relative (in eastern Oregon), called an Armillaria ostoyae, holds the title for the largest known organism in the world (almost 2400 acres in size).


Others6Shrimp of the Woods
Scientific Name: Entoloma abortivum

Fun Facts: This fungus forms when the Entoloma mushroom attacks the Honey Mushroom and becomes a parasite, forming the lumpy mass known to some as Shrimp of the Woods. You can see all three specimens in this photo.


Others11Chicken of the Woods
Scientific Name: Laetiporus sulphureus

Fun Facts: Trained experts who have harvested this mushroom (outside of the parks!) have found it to have the same texture as chicken, and easily absorbs the flavors of the sauce or spices in which it is cooked.*


Others4Hen of the Woods, Maitake, or Sheepshead
Scientific Name: Grifola frondosa

Fun Facts: The colder evenings this fall will help to kick start the growth of these mushrooms. With the right conditions, they grow up to 40-50 lbs and they are rumored to grow as large as even 100 lb.


Witch's ButterWitch’s Butter
Scientific Name: Tremella mesenterica

Fun Facts: This fungus is not picky about the temperature. It likes warm and cold weather and usually appears in rainy weather.



What to do with the treasures once they are discovered?

  • Forage for “fotos.” Fungi make an excellent subject for “foto-foraging” regardless of your photography experience.
  • Become a citizen scientist. Support the research community.
  • Encourage discovery in younger generations. Already, many of today’s medicines are derived from fungi, and others are in the developmental stages. Budding scientists may discover an answer to the many industrial challenges that face the world. The recycling industry has already found fungi to be effective for many applications.
  • Art. Some species are used as blank canvases for sketching, to create 3D objects, for creative spore printing, and even to make dyes.
The Split Gill Fungus - Schizophyllum commune

The Split Gill Fungus – Schizophyllum commune

What about harvesting?

Fungi found in Pittsburgh’s city parks must be left to rest so that everyone can enjoy them. Pittsburgh’s city parks do not permit anyone to remove mushrooms from them.

How should mushrooms be documented?

There are a few basic things to note:

  • Was the mushroom found in the woods and if so, what types of trees were nearby?
  • Was it attached to wood or was it attached to the ground (terrestrial)?
  • In what time of year was it found?
  • Photograph the mushroom from all angles for future reference. It is important to get a clear photo of the underside.

All images and content for today’s post were provided by Josh Doty, author of the blog Foto-Foraging, a collection of his fotos of fungi, fauna, flora, forest, field, farmer and food found while “foto-foraging” on foot. Check it out here! 

Want to learn more about mycology and foraging? Check out the Western PA Mushroom Club!

Local Change, National Opportunity: Be a Force for Change in Your Parks

Like so many “city kids,” Councilman Corey O’Connor remembers having gone to the Frick Environmental Center when it was an airy wooden barn off of Beechwood Boulevard.

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Speaking on the construction site of the new Center.

Over the years, the Center, after burning down, became a danger and an eye sore. Although the building sat unused for a dozen years, the educational programs that had once taken place there continued on in makeshift locations throughout the park.

Fast forwarding to his inaugural  year on Council, O’Connor seized on an opportunity to leverage his new position to help secure valuable funding needed to rebuild the Frick Environmental Center. Hand-in-hand with the Parks Conservancy, this concerted effort channeled $5.9 million from the Frick Trust (not city taxpayer money) towards the construction of the new Center, now underway.

“It was a really good fight to have because we knew the importance of that asset [the Center]. More partners helped us get more accomplished. And I’m really proud of that. That was one of my favorite projects to work on.”

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Supporters sign the final beam of the Frick Environmental Center before placement.

As Chair of City Council’s Committee on Urban Recreation, Councilman O’Connor, who holds a degree in elementary education, has a perspective on how projects like the Environmental Center impact every corner of Pittsburgh, and beyond.

O’Connor planting a tree in Frick Park.

“I see Pittsburgh’s parks as a huge regional asset that we need to continue to invest in, especially as Pittsburgh continues to grow. Parks can help to generate economic development. That’s why I like being a Committee Chair – you’re taking the park into a different conversation. Instead of, “Yeah, we’re going to go on the swings,” it’s more than that: you’re creating communities.”

Creating communities through national support: Help save the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is like the Swiss Army knife of national funds. From the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to Sheraden Park right here in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden neighborhood, battlefields to ball fields, the LWCF has been an invaluable resource in supporting communities big and small across the United States.

Most of us won’t have a slam-dunk moment fighting to restore a favorite childhood park place, like Councilman O’Connor has had with the Frick Environmental Center. But, we do have a chance NOW to fight to save the LWCF, which is set to expire at the end of this month if not voted through again in Congress. That national funding source is the backbone of park funding nationwide.

Click here to tell Congress to keep the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 
(Note: Click the ‘TAKE ACTION’ button on the right-hand side of the page to get started)

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Frick Park’s trails, one of the local projects that have benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This fund, which has supported Grand Tetons National Park and the Everglades, has also made a big impact here at home. Here are just a few of the local projects that have benefited:

  • Schenley Park Oval: $166,000 (1978)
  • Schenley Park Fountain: $25,000 (1985)
  • Frick Park trails: $77,000 (1987)
  • Great Allegheny Passage Trail: $2,000,000 (2002 – 2006)
  • Bloomfield Park: $40,000 (1973)
  • Sheraden Park: $113,000 (1973)
  • Cliffside Park: $52,000 (1975)
  • McKinley Park: $88,000 (1972)

We can’t fight to put these important funds to work in Pittsburgh’s parks if they don’t exist. And it’s been a long time since Pittsburgh communities received their share of support through the LWCF. Help us change this. Speak up for this important funding by telling Congress it’s worth keeping around. Speak up here.

Thanks to Councilman Corey O’Connor for sharing his thoughts and experiences. Currently, the Parks Conservancy is leading two big parks projects in his district in partnership with his office and the City of Pittsburgh: the rebuilding of the Frick Environmental Center and the restoration of Panther Hollow Watershed. As Chair of City Council’s Committee on Urban Recreation, Councilman O’Connor has gotten to visit oodles of our city’s parks. A hidden gem park that he recommends? West End Overlook.