Nature Lovers Need Apply: Join Us As A Volunteer Naturalist

Visit any of our country’s national parks, and the first few faces that greet you on your way in are there to help you make the most of your time outdoors. They’re trained to help you find the right trail, stay safe, learn about park history, and maybe, most importantly, locate a bathroom. These wonderful people make your park adventure exponentially better.

Soon, friendly faces like those found in our national parks will also greet you upon arrival in Frick Park. And, we’re excited to announce, one of those faces could be yours!

The new building will serve as a welcome center at the gates of Frick Park.

Starting this year, we’re introducing a new opportunity fit for those who love parks and want to tell the whole world about ’em. The new Volunteer Naturalists program, kicking off next month, will train a small cadre of park lovers to be part docent, tour guide, and welcome wagon at the new Frick Environmental Center.

What is the Volunteer Naturalist program?

Commencing February 8th, the program includes eight small-group trainings that cover topics like Frick Park history, park interpretation, CPR, and the new Frick Environmental Center building. Taught by long-time Naturalist Educator Mike Cornell, these trainings are designed to give Volunteer Naturalists — whatever their background coming into the program — the tools to be park experts.


Mike says: “Any adult can become a Volunteer Naturalist. All you need is a passion for nature and history, and a desire to share that passion!”

The Frick Environmental Center, once opened, will be home base for the Volunteer Naturalist squad. They’ll be stationed here to provide park visitors with insights on things like the best trails for strollers, the energy-saving aspects of the new Center, how to get involved in volunteering, and much more.

In case you needed any more reason to join, Volunteer Naturalists will also be getting special swag like shirts, hats, and water bottles!

Applications are currently being accepted for this program. Interested? Find more information and sign up here.

Questions? Contact Mike at

iBirding: Birding with Apps

When you walk out into your yard or into the park, can you point out a tufted titmouse or a Carolina chickadee? How about a red-winged blackbird or a dark-eyed junco?

This year for my senior project I had the opportunity to intern with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to create a digital field guide for anyone interested in knowing their local birds.


Zoe out in the park with the iNaturalist app.

Called Common Birds of Pittsburgh Parks, the guide lives on the iNaturalist app and lists 56 of the most common area bird species. It uses the convenience of technology to connect with the outdoors, making birding accessible: you don’t have to carry around a huge book to identify birds in the park. Anybody can download the free app and use the mobile guide just about anywhere.

The guide gives a concise summary of bird species’ appearance, size, diet, habitat, and behavior, providing just enough information to be helpful in a simple format that makes it easy for beginner birders. The birds are also searchable by different tags such as size, color and habitat.


Snapshot of the iNaturalist app.

To get the guide:

  1. Download the free iNaturalist app through iTunes or through Google Play.
  2. Open the app and click on the “Guides” tab.
  3. Type “Common Birds of Pittsburgh Parks” into the search bar.
  4. Open the guide and tap on each bird to see more information and photos about the species — scroll right to see photos, scroll down to read.
  5. Tap on the book icon in the upper right hand corner to open the menu of tags, and tap on the characteristics that match the bird you are trying to identify to narrow your search.
  6. Found one of the birds? You can add a sighting by clicking on the tab at the bottom labeled “Observe” and following the instructions to share!

Pro tip: Open the Parks Conservancy’ profile in iNaturalist, and you’ll also find guides to parks frogs, toads, trees, reptiles, mammals, and invasive plants!

If you’re interested in birding, the first step is going outside! Dress for the weather and bring your phone with the iNaturalist guide, and maybe a pair of binoculars. Look for birds in areas with woodlands, meadows, or streams. These could be in one of Pittsburgh’s beautiful parks, in your backyard, or even the side of the road. The great thing about birding is that you can do it anywhere. You can even attract birds directly to your home by setting up bird feeders and bird houses and growing different kinds of plants.


Young Naturalists birding at Beechwood Farms with Audubon Society of Western PA.

Guide books can be intimidating. But iNaturalist’s simplicity and mobility encourages people to engage with their environment in a new way.

Zoe Merrell is a graduating Senior at The Ellis School in Shadyside.  She will be attending Smith College in the fall and plans to study Environmental Science.

Want more resources about bird identification? Check out Cornell’s website and their beautiful Merlin app and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

From Fires to Phenology: Meet Our New SCA Fellow!

One year ago, I left the land of cheese, beer, and badgers in search of new experiences and meaningful work.

Ryan (2)

Parks Conservancy’s new SCA Green Cities Fellow Ryan, whose last stint was cuddling sea turtles in Florida.


Ryan leading fearless volunteers into Jurassic Valley in South Side Park.

Thanks to the Student Conservation Association and AmeriCorps, I’ve lived, worked, and played in four different states. My most recent stint has landed me in the Steel City. After spending months in New York and Florida, Pittsburgh has the comforting feeling that I remember from Midwestern cities closer to home. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has welcomed me with open arms, and I’m already knee deep in a series of projects to be completed by Fall.

Japanese barberry (invasive)

Invasive Japanese barberry.

My primary project involves invasive species and their phenology. Phenology is the study of the significant stages in life cycles of plants and animals, e.g. the times of the year when garlic mustard leafs, flowers, seeds, and dies.  My goal with the Parks Conservancy is to research when and where invasive plants grow in the parks to aid in strategic restoration of those areas.

Already I’ve spent a significant amount of time hiking and crawling around Pittsburgh’s parks documenting the activity of plants. It wasn’t surprising to find that weeks of hot weather and reliable spring rainfall triggered quick, early growth for many plant species, including invasive plants. Garlic mustard was ready to begin seeding in early May. Poison hemlock started flowering a few weeks later. Usually, those plants’ life stages occur one month later than we’re seeing, but seasonal and inter-annual climate patterns have drastic effects on plant phenology. Cool and extremely wet springs can cause delayed growth. Warm temperatures and moderate precipitation — which Pittsburgh experienced this year — caused early growth.

The effects of climate change can already be seen and will continue to influence the timing of plant and animal life cycles.

Jetbead (invasive)

Invasive Jetbead.

The general pattern of plant phenology will keep leaning towards earlier growth as global average temperatures rise. My research will be used by the Park Management and Maintenance team at the Parks Conservancy as they work to control invasive plants. Invasives have the potential to drastically change the parks as they out-compete local plants. I’ll be making an interactive map showcasing when, where, and which species need to be managed, giving staff the tools to better fight invasives.

Using similar strategies, I will be looking at species diversity in the parks and discovering methods to prioritize and improve restoration sites. I will be keeping an eye out for the Asian Longhorned Beetle and predicting the potential impact it could have on our park trees. I will also be the volunteer crew leader for invasive sweeps at Highland Park on the second Thursday of each month (you can register for these here).

The next time you’re out in the parks, be sure to keep an eye out. There’s a tall, blond Wisconsinite roaming a park near you!

Ryan Klausch is from Wisconsin, but his name is not Yon Yonson. He’s serving as an SCA Green Cities Sustainability Corps Fellow through the rest of this year.


Only you can prevent forest fires! (Unless Ryan is starting them as part of a controlled burn team with SCA in Florida.)

Learn how to remove invasive plants like the ones Ryan is studying at the upcoming Urban EcoSteward training on June 9th. It’s free and open to the public. Register here!

Star Light, Star Bright: Shining the Stars at Mellon Park Walled Garden

The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
Carl Sagan

All of our volunteers are all-stars. One group that recently worked in Mellon Park’s Walled Garden, however, was particularly star-studded.



Seven volunteers from Macy’s joined Parks Conservancy Horticulturist Angela at the site of the Mellon Park art installation on a sunny Sunday to get the stars in the lawn to shine brighter than usual.

Armed to the teeth with toothbrushes, they spent the morning cleaning the 150 stone markers hidden in the lawn. The markers, part of an installation in memorial of Ann Katharine Seamans, reflect the stars and planets in the same alignment of Katharine’s birth in 1979.

Want to learn more about this special space? Read more about the Mellon Park Walled Garden art installation.






These bright, shiny faces lit up the park. Many thanks, Team Macy’s!



Interested in getting your company/organization out into the parks for a volunteer day? Click here!

The Brisk is Worth the Reward: Winter Activities in the Parks

The Brisk is Worth the Reward: Winter Activities in the Parks

We have to admit, Jack Frost nipping at your nose is not always as cute as it sounds; getting outdoors and exploring the parks in Pittsburgh winters is a challenge.

But the brisk is definitely worth the reward. The parks in winter are a wonderland; and more often than not the parks are quieter and less crowded, almost like you have them to yourself.

A good place to start are the parks trails, which are open all year. Take care to watch for icy and snowy conditions, though, since trails are not salted so as to protect the park ecosystems. And the Citiparks Schenley Skating Rink is a must-do activity.

We highly recommend joining the slew of groups that aren’t afraid of a little cold and are out and about in the parks all winter. Get to know them if you don’t already:

Urban EcoStewards on a hike at the annual Winter Gathering.

The mighty, mighty Urban EcoStewards

The exceptionally friendly Urban EcoStewards use the winter as a time to hone their skills for the warmer months, and are always looking for new recruits. After the annual Winter Gathering (held this year on January 10th), various partner organizations will host a free and open training once a month covering a range of topics. Join them for sessions on crew leading, dump site cleanup, stream flow monitoring, and more. And while you’re at it, feel free to sign up to steward your own piece of the park!

Find more information here.


Students hike through Schenley Park.


The hiking aficionados 

The Pittsburgh Hiking Meetup Group eats, sleeps, and dreams in their Keens. Hikes span a range of difficulty levels and terrain, and are led entirely by volunteers who love the outdoors. Pick and choose the times and places you’d like to meet up, and don’t worry, there are a number of treks that end at eateries.

Sign up to meet up here.


Hawk spotted in Schenley Park. Photo courtesy Melissa McMasters.


Three Rivers Birding Club

The Three Rivers Birding Club (3RBC) takes full advantage of the fallen leaves to go bird in the parks. Sign up for their mailing list for daily updates on bird sightings and upcoming events and dig into their active forum to connect with local birders. Then, gear up for one of 3RBC’s organized events in the parks and around the region.

Cross country skiing in Schenley Park. Photo courtesy Melissa McMasters.

Venture Outdoors

Follow the fearless volunteers at Venture Outdoors on hikes with themes like Soup of the Month, Winter Tree ID, or Cocoa and Cookie Adventure through the parks. Or, pick up skills like snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Offering over 500 public programs a year, you’re bound to find something that will inspire you to venture outdoors.

Find more information here.

There are countless ways to enjoy the parks even on the coldest days. We’d love to hear what inspires you to play outside — share your thoughts below!

Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

When I told my family I was moving to Pittsburgh after college, they could not understand why I would want to live in such a dirty city.

It was noisy, dreary, crowded and depressing. Green, open spaces — besides where the Pirates or Steelers played — were not what came to mind when they thought about Pittsburgh.

Rosie, embracing her new home in Frick Woods.


After all, I enjoyed the simplicities of a rural upbringing; a world without cable. Play time included exploring the woods, creeks and meadows — my backyard. Traffic involved not being able to pass an Amish horse and buggy or farm tractor on a country road.

Invasive grapevine choking a tree.

I admit moving to an urban area was an adjustment — especially before I knew what the “Pittsburgh left” meant. But folks here are friendly and happy to share their favorite spots in and around the city. I found great comfort and relief in discovering the many nearby parks and exploring them. A short drive or long walk and I could be in the middle of the woods.

Before coming to the Parks Conservancy, I established the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in Bellevue, an urban garden that provides fresh produce to two food pantries. I was also a grower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the Watershed Coordinator/ Environmental Educator at the Snyder County Conservation District. I hold a BS in biology from Lycoming College.

Sedum groundcover growing on shaded slope.

I am excited to be a part of the Parks Conservancy team, serving as the Zone Gardener for the Frick Woods Nature Reserve. My focus will be identifying and regenerating native plants and developing sustainable, multi-purpose gardens while tackling the removal of invasive species in the Reserve.

The winter months are ideal for familiarizing oneself with the park. I will be spending time journaling my observations and prioritizing restorations sites. I will also be in charge of the gardens surrounding the new Frick Environmental Center. These gardens will showcase native plant species of western Pennsylvania, allowing park visitors to see them in their native habitat throughout the Nature Reserve.

Orange bark of invasive Norway maple.

Managing over a hundred acres is not an easy task and I’ll need your help, Pittsburgh. I look forward to working with Urban EcoStewards and volunteers. Conquering invasive plants and restoring native habitats will be a rewarding experience that we can reach together.

Rosie Wise, Zone Gardener with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

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


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


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


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


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


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


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.