2010 Year in Review: A Dozen Things You Did for the Parks

Whether it’s in the six miles of restored trails or the shining solitude of the Mellon Park Walled Garden at dusk, you’ve probably noticed some of the impact the Parks Conservancy has made in the parks this year.  Through your support, we’ve been able to complete two capital projects and a host of other work, including laying a lot of foundations for the coming years.  Before we enter our 15th anniversary year in 2011, here’s a look back at some of the notable accomplishments of 2010.

The Mellon Park Walled Garden Opens
This June, hundreds of people blanketed the lawn at Mellon Park to honor the memory of Ann Katharine Seamans at the garden’s rededication ceremony.  Since then, the garden has been filled with couples getting married, friends having picnics, families enjoying Bach Beethoven & Brunch, and more photo shoots than we can count.  The community has embraced this space anew and we couldn’t be happier with how everyone is taking care of it.  And now that winter is approaching, it should be fun to watch the stars shine through a thin blanket of snow. 

Mellon Park Walled Garden

Image courtesy of Alexander Denmarsh

$3.8 Million in Trail Improvements
There’s a spot in Highland Park that overlooks the Allegheny River and the Highland Park Bridge, and legend has it that this spot was used as a lookout during the French and Indian War (well before there was such a bridge, of course!).  For the past few years, if you wanted to get to this area you had to sneak through a fence and wade through a construction storage area.  Now, thanks to the trail and signage project that’s just been completed, you can access this spot from a new trail that goes all the way to the seasonal pools that were installed in 2006.  This new connection in Highland Park is just one of the benefits of a project that has made an impact in all four regional parks, including Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow (below).

Panther Hollow Trail

Schenley Plaza Welcomes Its Millionth Visitor
It’s hard to believe that Schenley Plaza has been around long enough to host a million people, but that’s the mark we celebrated this July when Carol Ambrosia became the park’s millionth visitor.  We’ve got some big events scheduled for 2011 that we’ll tell you more about in the spring, but here’s hoping we get to two million even faster than we got to one!

Carol Ambrosia and Jim Griffin

Carol Ambrosia with Jim Griffin, Schenley Plaza Manager

Panther Hollow Gets a Million Bucks…and a Plan
Since 2003, the Parks Conservancy has been working to remove invasive plants and replace them with natives in the Panther Hollow Valley of Schenley Park.  This ongoing project, which has also included the restoration of the Phipps Run Stream and the installation of a rain garden at the Schenley Park Cafe, is all part of a larger initiative to clean up the Panther Hollow Watershed and restore Panther Hollow Lake.  That project gained a lot of momentum this summer when the Richard King Mellon Foundation gave the Parks Conservancy $1 million, in part to develop a watershed management plan.  We’re in the process of choosing a firm to work with, with a goal of developing healthier stream flows and recapturing and infiltrating some of the water that’s currently going into the sewer system.  You can follow the project on this page.

As part of the planning process, this year we began holding public programs to educate watershed residents on how their actions at home contribute to the health of the park and the watershed as a whole.  From Michele Adams’ presentation on stormwater management to our workshop on building rain gardens, we’re forging connections between the park and its neighbors.  Look for more programs like this in 2011.

Panther Hollow Lake

Volunteers Create an Extravaganza
This past spring we teamed up with several other local organizations to host what was possibly the biggest volunteer event in our history, the Panther Hollow Extravaganza.  Nearly 200 people braved the rain to do everything from planting trees to removing discarded parking meters!  We’re planning to have a similar event to celebrate Earth Day in 2011, so keep an eye out here for a date announcement.

Panther Hollow Extravaganza

Image courtesy of John Altdorfer

We Tip Our Caps to Maz and Our Hats to Highland Park
Our two big special events this year covered the gamut from one-time-only to a beloved tradition.  In October, we co-hosted with the Pittsburgh Pirates a celebration of the Pirates’ 1960 World Series win, starting with an unveiling of a sidewalk plaque at Schenley Plaza dedicated to Bill Mazeroski.  Following the radio broadcast of the game, the 1960 team alumni headed over to PNC Park, where an evening gala was held in their honor.  We were thrilled to be part of the sharing of such sweet memories, and we’re happy to be neighbors with that famous Forbes Field wall.

Bill Mazeroski

Image courtesy of Mary Jane Bent

This year’s Spring Hat Luncheon was our twelfth annual opportunity to mingle high fashion with the great outdoors, but it’s the first one in recent memory to feature a very special guest: sunshine!  Not only was our visit to Highland Park bright and full of flowers (on hats and in the garden), it also attracted a huge crowd, with the tents practically bursting at the seams to hold almost 700 guests.  We’ll be back in Riverview Park for 2011, and tickets will be available online soon!

Spring Hat Luncheon

Image courtesy of Mary Jane Bent

Hill District Completes Greenprint Plan
The plan to reframe the vision of Pittsburgh’s Hill District as “A Village in the Woods” is in place.  The Hill District Greenprint was developed by Hood Design, the Find the Rivers! consortium (including the Parks Conservancy), and the community to address land use in a way that promotes economic and health benefits for the neighborhood.  The plan’s unveiling this June has left teasers throughout the neighborhood of what’s to come, including sidewalk stencils signaling local businesses, ribbons indicating future trails, and cleanup projects that improve connections and access.  Bringing the Greenprint’s vision to life will be a multi-year process, which you can follow on this page.

Hill District Greenprint

Image courtesy of Hood Design

Cliffside and McKinley Parks Receive State Funding
Part of the Greenprint’s agenda includes the renovation of Cliffside Park, a playground on Cliff Street with potentially spectacular views of the Pittsburgh skyline and the Allegheny River.  The park is in a great location and could be developed into a community gathering space as well as a place for children to develop a connection to nature.  Along with this project, an effort to restore one of the entrances to Beltzhoover’s McKinley Park received $500,000 in state funding this year, which the Parks Conservancy will match.  We’re holding meetings with McKinley Park’s supporters now to determine the best project for that park, and we’ve been working with Cliffside Park’s neighbors this year too.  These community parks will receive some well-deserved attention in the year to come.

McKinley Park

Gardens Get a New Focus
If you’ve walked by any of our garden projects this year, you might have noticed they’re all looking especially well-cared-for.  That’s because we now have a full-time gardener, Angela Masters, attending to the flowerbeds.  From the mums that brightened Schenley Plaza this fall to the daisies in the Mellon Park Walled Garden, Angela has been keeping everything blooming beautifully.  She’s also become a great ambassador for the Parks Conservancy, because she has a chance to speak to so many people passing by every day.  Next time you see her with her gloves and pruners, make sure you stop and say hello!

Angela Masters

High School Urban EcoStewards Plant Seeds for the Future
The first semester of our High School Urban EcoStewards program, with students from City High School, was a huge success, with students contributing to the Panther Hollow project as they learned about ecological restoration.  And thanks to a grant from the Grable Foundation, the program is continuing this season with students from The Ellis School and the Science and Technology Academy.  We’ll return to City High this spring to continue developing the next generation of park stewards.

City High UES

Image courtesy of John Altdorfer

Park Lovers Help Plan for the Future
None of the things we do at the Parks Conservancy happen without a plan, and no document is more important to us than the Regional Parks Master Plan, which we published jointly with the City of Pittsburgh in 2000.  Ten years into our blueprint for parks restoration, it’s time for a refresher, to cross completed projects off the list, add new ones like the Frick Environmental Center, and refocus on what’s still left to accomplish.  This fall we held four community meetings that addressed the big issues in each park, and we’re incorporating public input into our plan update.  In the meantime, you can offer us your comments and suggestions about the parks on our feedback forum.

Master Plan Update Meeting

Image courtesy of John Altdorfer

The Focus Turns to Trees
The last several years have brought increasingly bad news for the trees in our parks: an increasing deer population, the arrival of the invasive emerald ash borer beetle, and now an outbreak of oak wilt disease.  Is any tree safe?  And is there something we can do to improve their chances of survival?  We believe that there is, and we want to learn from the best, so we’ve been consulting tree experts from around the country to develop a tree action plan.  We’ll be hosting a public symposium in February to share what we’ve learned with you.  For now, read up on the threats to our urban forest and how you can help prevent the spread of pests and diseases in your own back yard.

Horse chestnut

Thanks to all our supporters for another unbelievable year of progress in the parks.  We hope you’ll all join us in celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2011, when we’ll look back at all that’s been accomplished since 1996 and announce exciting plans for the future.  If you’d like to make a year-end gift to the Parks Conservancy, please click here.

Ecological Society of America tours Pittsburgh restoration sites

The Ecological Society of America held its annual conference right here in Pittsburgh last month. About 4,500 scientists from around the world were in town for the weeklong meeting, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy showcased the work it has been up to for the past 14 years.

Bryan Dolney

Bryan shows ESA attendees some of the work being done in the canopy gaps in Panther Hollow.

The Parks Conservancy organized a special session during the conference to present data from researchers who have worked on wetland restoration projects in the mid-Atlantic region. The special session included Dan Bain, professor of Geology and Planetary Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, who presented results of his work on Nine Mile Run in Frick Park.  The Parks Conservancy and Professor Bain worked to organize a field trip to visit both Nine Mile Run in Frick Park and Panther Hollow in Schenley Park. Almost 30 conference participants attended this field trip, which began at Schenley Plaza, where our own Phil Gruszka explained how the Plaza project is a benchmark for sustainability and green thinking in design and maintenance.

From there we headed down to Panther Hollow, where both Phil and Erin Copeland talked about past and future restoration work in the area. A major discussion concerned combined sewer overflow and ecosystem services in urban watersheds.  Erin discussed restoration of Panther Hollow Lake and the daylighting of the Four Mile Run stream.  Lisa Brown, from Nile Mile Run Watershed Association, met us back at the Schenley Park Café, where we looked at rain barrels we got from NMRWA at a great discount.  (Get your own rain barrel here!)  Lisa discussed how urbanization and the growth of impervious cover across our city has impacted urban watersheds and how citizens can help by installing rain barrels and rain gardens.


Macroinvertebrates like this damselfly are repopulating Nine Mile Run.

Next, we headed to Nine Mile Run where Mary Kostalos, from Chatham University, talked about the history of Nine Mile Run and her role in monitoring the restoration of the stream. She talked about how the macroinvertebrates have been doing lately.  Dan Bain then discussed how water quality is affected by hydrology and stream structure. As we made our way down the creek, Kathy Anderson, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, talked about the Corps’ role in the restoration process. She led a lively discussion about how the regulatory process can be instrumental in leading efforts for restoration, especially in wetlands. Dick Wilford, the foreman for Frick Park, provided insight into maintenance of the restoration. He also told the attendees how the restoration has made the park a more aesthetically appealing place to visit, although the increased visitorship creates its own set of problems.

Marion Sikora, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, told us about nitrogen in the Nine Mile Run stream and how restoration has impacted overall water quality. Biohabitats was the consulting firm that helped work out the restoration plan for Nine Mile Run, so we had Joe Berg, a Senior Ecologist, discuss the planning process and the challenges of urban stream restoration. Finally, we talked about how the entire restoration process cannot be maintained alone by either the city, the Parks Conservancy, or the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, but only through the dedication of countless volunteers can the restoration ever be successful.