What’s going on behind Blue Slide Playground?

The Environmental Center is migrating!

Designs for a new Frick Environmental Center have been completed and construction of the new Center will be underway in the next several months.

Rendering of the future Environmental Center at Frick Park by design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Rendering of the future Environmental Center at Frick Park by design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

The City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy have been working to make sure that the many children, families, and adults that currently participate in environmental education programs continue to have this opportunity throughout the construction period. After evaluating several possible locations in Frick Park, the City and Parks Conservancy have identified a site near the Blue Slide Playground to host temporary classrooms. The site is accessible, nearby to key habitat types that the students are studying, and within walking distance of the old center, which will allow for student visits during construction.

The temporary classrooms will be much the same as the existing trailers that the Frick Environmental Center has been using for the last 8 years. We plan to work with students and volunteers to beautify the trailers and surrounding area with plantings and art. And then, after construction is complete, programs will move back to the NEW Environmental Center at 2005 Beechwood Blvd and the temporary site will be restored.   

What you can expect:

  • The temporary location will be used for children, family and adult environmental education throughout the construction period (approximately 24-30 months)
  • Trailers will be placed in the late fall of 2013. The temporary access road has been constructed now due to City scheduling needs
  • After the trailers are placed at this location, the temporary access road will be narrowed to maintain an accessible pedestrian route to the classrooms
  • The trailers and surrounding area will be beautified with plantings and artwork
  • Busses dropping off school groups will allow children to disembark at the blue gate near Blue Slide Playground on Beechwood Blvd. They will then queue at the old Environmental Center location at 2005 Beechwood Blvd to limit any potential negative impact on parking
  • Once the new Environmental Center construction is completed, the trailers and path will be removed and the site will be restored to its original condition

Please excuse this temporary eyesore and THANK YOU for your patience!

If you would like to learn more, or volunteer to help with the beautification project, please email ecdesign@pittsburghparks.org

High School Urban EcoStewards – A Student Perspective

UES_logo_b&wThrough High School Urban Eco Stewards, schools adopt a plot of land in one of Pittsburgh’s four regional parks (Frick, Highland, Riverview, Schenley).   Students visit their site four times throughout the course of the year to complete ecological restoration projects to control erosion, clean up dumpsites, manage invasive species, and plant native species.  At each session, the students document their experiences, make observations, and reflect on the value of their service in nature journals. 

Non-native invasive species refer to flora or fauna that are transported, purposefully or unintentionally, out of their native region and do not have natural controls (pests, pathogens, or predators) in their new climate.  They out-compete native species for sunlight, water, food sources, etc. and reduce biodiversity.

We at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are so fortunate to go on this journey of discovery with High School students from all over the city. We are thrilled to share this account of the High School Urban EcoStewards program that was sent to us by Tracey Thomas, who will begin her senior year at Westinghouse High School this fall…

May 2013 marked my third year in High School Urban EcoStewards or Eco as most participants call it. I’ve really enjoyed working out in Frick Park to plant trees, flowers, shrubs, dig up invasive species and just sit in nature and write in a journal. I started Eco back in my ninth grade year when my afterschool program, the YMCA Westinghouse Lighthouse Project, introduced the program to a few of us.

Growing up, kids are exposed to nature. But Eco was a way to be exposed to nature while helping it thrive. By all means, Eco didn’t introduce me to planting and learning about nature. I actually had a summer job working for the Student Conservation Association (SCA), which is similar to Eco but at more parks. SCA took a group of about seven-to-ten teenagers (fifteen and older) and took them to different parks around Pittsburgh to fix up the parks, work on stone staircases, plant trees, flowers, shrubs and remove invasive species. I guess that’s why I immediately jumped at being a part of Eco.

The first day we had Eco, we took a walk around the area in which we were to be working. It was not really that far from the entrance but it was still somewhat far. When it rained, the trail would get muddy and we’d have to struggle not to lose our shoes in the mud, but our work site was beautiful. It was an open field with three giant full grown trees in it. One of the trees was a cherry tree and another was in the oak family. The field also had a big, almost jungle gym look to it because of all the grapevines that wrapped themselves around the shrubs and some of the smaller trees. Over the course of that year, we planted about six baby trees and cut down a lot of grapevines.

080613_grapevine fence

The grapevine “fence” that Tracey and her classmates made

The most memorable part about the field was our art project. Instead of throwing away the grapevines, we made a “fence” out of the grapevines to plant inside of.  The purpose of the “fence” was to create something that would protect the plants we would later plant from any animal that would try to eat them. It took a lot of time sketching ideas, but when we finally came up with one, we loved it. Once we finished constructing it, we planted about four to six baby shrubs and a couple flowers inside the “fence.”

The next year, we worked half of the year at the site but soon moved to a new site as there was nothing more we could add to the old site. We basically filled up every available space. The new site though, was much closer to the entrance and was behind a nursery maintained by the park. Sometimes, I miss the old site but the new one had more trees for us to identify and it did offer a good view of the street below and beyond.

At the new site, the first thing we did was write in a journal. When we wrote in our journals, we were to find a spot and write down all of the observations we could come up with. That included animals, trees, sounds, feelings and anything else we could come up with. I think a couple of us even wrote little poems or raps from our spots. The new site was peaceful and bigger than the old one.

Tracey cutting grapevine in Frick Park

Tracey cutting grapevine in Frick Park

After we finished journaling, we jumped right into planting. We planted shrubs and trees, but I’ve long since forgotten the names. Each time we came to the site, we would plant a little, journal a little, and try to identify what type of trees, shrubs and flowers were at our site.

This year, after one and a half years at the new site, we planted trees and flowers. For every tree planted, we were to plant two flowers, one on either side of the tree but not too close. After we planted the trees and the flowers, we went and dug up a few invasive trees and plants. I forget their names but we got to use shovels, loppers, and an axe. It was a new experience for me to use an axe and watch someone up close use one. I felt thrilled. At the end of this third year, we talked about working in Eco as a future career.

I wholeheartedly enjoy working in Eco and I can’t wait until next year. I’m curious and anxious at the same time about whether we will have a new site and to see how the old sites turned out. I’m glad I participated in Eco and if I could do it again, I would and I will. Eco in some ways has become a part of my life. Because of Eco, I appreciate nature a little bit more than I did before.

 – Tracey Thomas

YMCA Westinghouse Lighthouse Project Participant

Help us sustain programs like High School Urban EcoStewards by making a gift designated to our environmental education programs. Or find out if your company participates in the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and encourage them to support our education programs that mean so much to students like Tracey.

What’s in Bloom – A Celebration of Summer Flowers

Highland Park Entry Garden

Asiatic lily (Lilium ‘Apeldoorn’)

Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii Six Hills Giant)

Coral bells (Heuchera x brizoides)

Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum)

Yarrow (Achillea ‘Parker’s Gold’)


Mellon Park Walled Garden

Astilbe (Astilbe)

Daylily (Hemorocallis ‘Happy Returns’)

Hardy geranium (Geranium x ‘Brookside’)

Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

Lavendar (Lavandula angustifolia)


Riverview Chapel Shelter

Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’)

Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)

Yarrow (Achillea)


Schenley Park Visitor Center

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’)

Teachable Moments – a celebration with the High School Urban EcoStewards

Everyone who works in programming loves those warm and fuzzy moments where all of your hard work is reinforced by the actualization of what your participants have learned. This year’s High School Urban EcoStewards Presentations of Learning brought nonstop warm and fuzzy feelings for the Parks Conservancy’s education team.

The SciTech crew at their Presentations of Learning in Schenley Park

The Presentations of Learning are the fifth and final session of High School Urban EcoStewards, and is a celebration of sorts. We invite parents, friends, siblings, teachers, and school administrators to meet us in the park to hear what the EcoStewards have learned over the course of the year. It’s a great opportunity to meet the people who outfit the rest of our students’ lives and to celebrate the hard work they have put into the program all year.

Alexandra with her vibrant watercolor of trees and invasive species. John serving his sumac tea – delicious!

Parks Conservancy staff and the classroom teachers work with the students to put together a fun, creative, and engaging 5-minute long presentation on something that they learned in the program.  We tell the students, “This is your chance to teach us something.” My favorite part of doing outdoor education has been taking advantage of teachable moments like when a hawk flew overhead as we were planting trees and we followed it to discover its nest in Panther Hollow Bridge. We ended up naming the hawk Tuskegee and it became our mascot of sorts. A lot of these moments are captured in the presentations of learning – and more.

Dom made a poster outlining all of the ecosystem services trees offer. Stephen and Jaleel illustrate the connection between the parks and the surrounding community via photos they took throughout the year.

We saw presentations that included modeled tool safety, a matching quiz of all the main ideas (with some trick questions that even stumped some of the staff!), illustrated scientific observation skills, a “choose your own adventure” story, a Jeopardy! game, a fun song about installing check dams, and one group even prepared and served sumac tea. Their Presentations of Learning certainly highlighted the many ways in which people learn – and solidified the importance of experiential learning and teachable moments.

City High crew

Charles illustrates in pen some of the big ideas we learned this year – notice the great sketch of Panther Hollow Watershed! Alex and Cameron made a “fortune teller” to educate others on some scientific vocabulary – featured are opposite vs. alternate branching patterns and toothed vs. lobed leaf margins.

As a whole, 107 students participated in High School Urban EcoStewards this year. They planted 212 trees, shrubs, and wildflowers in all four of Pittsburgh’s regional parks. They spent 229 hours removing 5 species of invasive plants and had one successful year!

Bailey Warren works at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy through an apprenticeship with Public Allies Pittsburgh AmeriCorps program. Visit our website to learn more about our High School Urban EcoSteward program and how you can get involved.

What’s in Bloom – May 2013

Seems like we skipped over spring and went straight into summer. That’s okay, it just means it’s time for some late spring/early summer blooms! Check out what our horticulturist, Angea Yuele, and gardener, Jaclyn Bruschi, have been up to in our May 2013 What’s in Bloom.

Highland Park Entry Garden

Catmint ‘Six Hills Giant’


Blue Starflower


Dianthus ‘Zing’

Iris Species

Iris ‘Cranberry Crush’

Peony ‘Edulis Superba’

Peony ‘Fairbanks’

Salvia ‘Eastfriesland’

Mellon Park Walled Garden

Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

Hardy Geranium ‘Brookside’

Peony ‘Festiva Mazima’

Rhododendron ‘Album’

Riverview Park Chapel Shelter

Golden Alexanders

Heirloom Purple Iris

Salvia ‘May Night’

Schenley Plaza

Salvia ‘May Night’

Yarrow ‘Paprika’

Now that you feel fully inspired to go frolicking amongst the flowers in Pittsburgh’s gardens, check out what else we’ve been up to in our new spring 2013 newsletter, the Voice.