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

Projects Underway: Schenley, Cliffside and Frick Park Updates

The parks as you know them are getting even better.

With four Parks Conservancy Capital Projects currently in the works, areas that you know and love (and maybe some that you don’t!) are undergoing exciting changes. Get the scoop on what’s going on with these projects:

Project: Westinghouse Memorial and Pond

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Rendering of the restored Westinghouse Memorial and Pond.

What’s happening: 
Nearly 85 years after its original dedication in Schenley Park, restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial and the surrounding landscape are underway. The $2.5 million plan includes aesthetic and structural improvements to the monument, Lily Pond restoration and aeration system installation, and stormwater projects to better the overall health of the Panther Hollow Watershed.

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Parks Conservancy President/CEO Meg Cheever and Mayor Bill Peduto unveil the Westinghouse Memorial rendering at the groundbreaking ceremony.

How to learn more/stay involved:


Project: Panther Hollow Watershed
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What’s happening:
For more than a decade, we’ve been working to restore the health and ecological function of the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. Most recently, we’ve been working with the community and designers to reduce stormwater runoff along Schenley Drive. The Schenley Drive Green Street Project aims to improve the health and function of the park by curbing stormwater and creating a safe transportation corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

How to learn more/stay involved:


Project: Cliffside Park

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Rendering of the revitalized Cliffside Park.

What’s happening:
We’re proud to be partnering with a coalition of Hill District partners on a comprehensive plan for green space in the neighborhood. Called the Greenprint for the Hill District, this plan includes a renovation of Cliffside Park, a beloved community playground. This month, community kids are helping shape this project by contributing to a children’s art piece to be displayed at the park.

How to learn more/stay involved:


Project: Frick Environmental Center

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The new Frick Environmental Center, reaching for the sky.

What’s happening:

Currently in the first phase of construction, the Frick Environmental Center will serve as a welcome facility and a gateway to the woodlands of Frick Park where educators use the parks as classrooms. The new Center is quickly taking shape. Designed to meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards for energy efficiency, each feature of this unique building is more exciting than the last. Most recently, a 15,000-gallon rainwater harvesting cistern was brought to the site!

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Our Zone Gardener Rosie stands beside the rainwater cistern for scale.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Get updates on these and other exciting projects and programs in the parks by signing up for email updates here!

Healthy Watersheds, Greener Streets

Imagine for a moment that you’re a doctor. But instead of treating people, you’re charged with healing a watershed.

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The meadow at Bartlett Street in full bloom.

Like the human body, watersheds are complete systems; one part of the system influences another. If you get a fever, it’s usually the result of a chain reaction inside resulting from any number of ailments. Likewise, too much runoff, pollution, and chemicals like pesticides cause a ripple effect throughout a watershed.

Keeping watershed ecosystems healthy requires work and persistence. Over the past decade, the Parks Conservancy, along with partners Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and the City of Pittsburgh, have been nursing back to health an ailing Panther Hollow Watershed. Read more about the history of this project here.

Some symptoms are visible (sediment build-up in Panther Hollow Lake), while others are below the surface (combined sewer overflow, or CSO events after major rains).

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Two of the last remaining above-ground streams in Pittsburgh flow in Schenley Park.

So, what’s the prognosis?  With a holistic approach (a comprehensive restoration plan), it’s looking better and better. The recently installed meadow at Bartlett Street and infiltration berms at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course will help absorb rainwater, naturally letting it replenish the water table.

The next treatment to better the health of the watershed involves Schenley Drive.

Making up a large portion of the impervious surface of the park, Schenley Drive acts as a sort of autobahn for rainwater, channeling gushing gallons into the sewer system every year. Estimates for the Schenley Drive Green Street project that 70,000 bathtubs of water would be diverted from the sewer system every year. Plans for this road are just starting to take shape, with the second public meeting having been held on July 29th. Thanks to the feedback of so many park users, bikers, walkers, neighbors, and community members, this project will be shaped not only to better the health of the park, but to better serve as a “complete street,” accommodating all park and road users.

Help us in shaping this next step in the Panther Hollow Watershed restoration — give your feedback on what you’d like to see happen on the Schenley Drive Green Street!

Click here to take the Green Street Survey.

Keep abreast of projects going on in Schenley Park here on our website.

Parks Are Gyms: Your Guide to Working Out

In the parks, we have a whole different approach to working out.

Smelly, sweaty gym socks? We’ve got blooming daffodils.
Recycled air? How about a cool breeze and wind through the trees.
Beige walls? Try chirping robins, rolling clouds, and kids riding bikes.

For the low, low membership fee of $0.00, you can sweat it out all day every day in the parks. Train for your first marathon, conquer hills on the bike sitting in your basement — just get out and get moving! Here are some ideas to start your new workout regiment in the parks:

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Tai chi in Mellon Square. Photo: John Altdorfer.

Tai chi in Mellon Square
Some call this Chinese traditional practice meditation in motion. Originally designed for practicing self-defense, this class is a splendid and graceful way to balance, strengthen, and de-stress. Take a class in the Modernist masterpiece park, Mellon Square, or in Schenley Plaza, for free all spring and summer. Schedule to be posted here.

Yoga in Schenley Plaza
Breathe in, breathe out on the Emerald Lawn in Schenley Plaza during these bi-weekly yoga classes. Bring your own mat or borrow one when you arrive at these free, open classes taught by expert instructors. Schedule to be posted here.

Disc golf in Schenley Park
Spread across rolling hills and sprinkled through shaded woods are 18 metal baskets that make up the Schenley Park Disc Golf Course. This go-at-your-own-pace course is an effective arm workout and a healthy walk, the length of which depends on how well you aim your shots. Find directions here.

Volleyball in Highland Park
Recently renovated, the sand volleyball courts in Highland Park are an ace place to work out while working on your tan. Find directions here.

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Biking in the park. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

Bike in Riverview Park
The popular Riverview Loop is all about the gluts. The topography of this two-mile loop is a challenge but takes you past amazing spots like the Chapel Shelter, Allegheny Observatory, and gardens throughout Riverview. See the Bike Pittsburgh bike map here.

Tennis in Frick and Arsenal parks
Serve it up on the red clay courts in Frick Park or the newly refinished courts in Arsenal Park for two unique playing experiences. If you’re game, there are a plethora of clinics and tournaments held on the many courts throughout the parks. Click here for the Frick Park Clay Court Tennis Club.

Have your own workout recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

A Race with the Red Queen

No disrespect to the ancients, but the best time to plant a tree was not 20 years ago. It might be this spring.

A variety of leaves from trees planted last fall in Highland Park. Photo by Taiji Nelson.

Whether plant, animal, virus, or bacteria, all living organisms are locked in battle with the pathogens, pests and parasites in their surrounding environment, using the tools and tricks nature’s equipped them with to keep them in the game. One of the strongest tools in this arsenal? The ability to adapt, to one-up opponents in a constant arms race.

One huge task that the Parks Conservancy faces is shoring up this arsenal for the trees in our care. The founders of these fine parks left quite the legacy, not only in the consideration that they gave to the design and experience of the parks, but also the impressive diversity of the urban forests.

It’s tough to overstate the importance of biodiversity to healthy parks. Voracious pests and sneaky diseases gain a slight foothold within the bounds of our parklands and spread like wildfire, faster than we can catch and quarantine them — even with sharp eyes out at all times. Our trees need their natural defenses as they stand on the front lines of these attacks, especially since they face added stresses of living in the city: polluted water, poor air quality, micro-climates, and human intervention.

London plane tree in Schenley Plaza.

A general in this battle, the Parks Conservancy’s Director of Park Management and Maintenance Phil Gruszka is a seasoned veteran. Phil has been rocking war paint for years now. Since conducting a study with Dr. Cynthia Morton of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, he’s realized that our legacy park trees are impressive in their biodiversity… but that we have to really work to keep it that way. Their study found that tree stock from major nurseries across the country have actually been whittling down the tree gene pool.

“When London plane trees were first introduced to the United States, one nursery had a tree that did very well. But they couldn’t get it to reproduce from seed, so they started getting cuttings to grow out. Then they released it to the trade and named that cultivar ‘Bloodgood.'”

Selected for it’s superior resistance to the fungus anthracnose, the cultivar (a plant chosen for its particular genetic makeup) Bloodgood has been spread around now for about 30 years, dominating nursery stock of London planes. Plane trees bought from nurseries have identical genetic material to every other plane tree — they have not been grown from seed from two parent trees. They’re clones.

“Today, if I wanted to replace a London plane, I can only buy the cultivar Bloodgood.”

But trees from Schenley Plaza and around the park surprised them. “The Schenley Plaza trees were all genetically different, very diverse.” The park trees, planted before Bloodgood started to gain popularity, were much more diverse than the current nursery stock. The surviving 100, of the 200 that were planted years ago, were of a strong and diverse population, toughened from years of fighting off pests and disease.

Then, they widened their net. Was this true only for London planes? How much more diverse are our park trees than trees sold around the country? After polling nurseries from various parts of the country, they found that ten common trees used all over the U.S. were clones — their genetic diversity was actually getting less and less diverse.

Red oaks with oak wilt in Schenley Park, soon to be cleared.

Why has this study been so important? As the Parks Conservancy has taken on ecological restoration projects in the parks over the years and established the Park Tree Action Plan with the City of Pittsburgh, TreeVitalize, and Tree Pittsburgh, we’ve actively worked to increase biodiversity in the parks. Taking cuttings of our own heterogeneous tree stock, we’ve started growing new trees around the park and city in our own sort of diversity study, learning as we go about resistant new cuttings that withstand biological threats. This knowledge gives us only a peek at the immeasurable value of Pittsburgh’s parks; less mature forests and parks elsewhere are markedly more homogeneous, posing a threat to themselves and surrounding forests against the pests and diseases that have shown an uptick in recent years. Our trees are better equipped to keep our parks healthy and beautiful.

This week, a large stand of red oaks — about 50 trees in total — will be cleared from Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. Oak wilt, discovered earlier this year by an observant park user, got a stranglehold on the interlocking root system of the trees, infecting an entire grouping of trees. Left there, the trees are a risk to the health of other park trees. It’s terrible to have to take down so many trees, but it’s something that needs done for the overall well being of the park. And when these trees are replanted in the spring, a variety of new and diverse tree stock will be added to the expanding biodiversity and health of the park.

Wondering about the title of this post? Read more about the Red Queen Effect here.

Tackling Oak Wilt in Schenley Park

On this blog and through a variety of media, The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has had an open discourse about the health of our parks and the battles to keep threats such as Emerald Ash Borer and oak wilt at bay. Earlier this year, these conversations with the community really paid off for our parks. Thanks to an observant park visitor, we were able to act quickly to curb the damaging effects of what we were holding our breaths not to discover: oak wilt in Schenley Park.

Infected oaks at the Bartlett-Greenfield and Panther Hollow-Hobart intersection

After oak wilt was discovered in Pittsburgh city parks in 2009, it didn’t take long for it to make its way to three of the four major parks: Frick, Riverview, and Highland. Now, only four years later, we are seeing that this devastating fungus has finally put down roots in Schenley Park.

The oak wilt site in Schenley Park was called in this summer by a park visitor who became suspicious of five or six oaks that seemed to be losing their leaves and generally looking unhealthy. Parks Conservancy staff immediately visited the site, where five to seven oak trees were showing signs of active oak wilt infection. Added to the toll were 25 nearby oaks that had already succumbed to oak wilt and died.  In all, we believe 50-55 red oaks will be affected on this site, covering an area of about 1.5 acres. City of Pittsburgh and Parks Conservancy staff have since been fighting to arrest the spread of oak wilt on this site.

Oak trees killed by oak wilt

As in the other major parks, the fungus will force the removal of infected trees in Schenley Park. The loss of so many trees is unfortunate and will be a noticeable change to the landscape. But there is good news; oak wilt can be managed and stopped (unlike the Emerald Ash Borer). There are also positive outcomes, such as the restoration of a more bio-diverse tree canopy. The site at Schenley was dominated by just two types of trees: Norway maple and red oak.  Plans are already being made to replant the site with an enhanced, diverse assemblage of native tree species. These new species will not only be visually appealing, but will also provide renewed habitat for wildlife, help capture storm water, and reduce erosion potential.

Oak wilt will continue to be found from time to time throughout our city parks. But with careful management and mitigation the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will minimize the impact it has on our parks and, when possible, make our parks even stronger.

You can help prevent oak wilt in your own trees by avoiding trimming between April and October. Wounding trees during the growing season makes it easier for the fungus to spread.  If you have any questions about oak wilt, call us at 412-682-7275 or the City Forester at 412-422-6655.

Bryan Dolney, Parks Conservancy Field Ecologist

Notes about Oak Wilt

Oak wilt disease is a fungal vascular disease. Aided by its biology, it readily spreads; once infected, oak trees will begin to lose leaves in just a few weeks. Some trees can be killed within a month of first infection. Oak wilt is so rapid because of how efficiently the fungus fills the water conducting vessels (xylem) of the tree. This not only spreads the fungus, but also blocks the tree from attaining water. 

Oak wilt spreads underground by root grafts, which is noticeable while viewing stands of oak trees growing in groups close together. Red oaks in particular form these root grafts, making them the primary target for oak wilt. Roots of adjacent trees grow together as they share nutrients, water, and sometimes oak wilt. When one tree becomes infected and spreads, infecting adjacent oaks, we call this an infection center. This is how oak wilt is spread from one tree to the next, eventually infecting the entire stand. 

Infected oaks are most easily spotted in July

Infection centers can move long distances via picnic beetles from mats of fungus called pressure pads.  Once a tree has been killed by oak wilt, these pressure pads form under the bark and crack open.  This often happens the spring after a tree has been killed by oak wilt (about 9-10 months after the tree has died).   These pressure pads produce a sweet odor that attracts picnic beetles and sap feeding beetles that feed on it. Once the beetles crawl on these pressure pads they pick up the oak wilt fungal spores and carry it to healthy oak trees.

Signs of infection are often noted in July. A tree infected with oak wilt is characterized by:

  • Leaves at top of tree wilt and turn brown along tips and margins. 
  • Leaves begin to fall while they are still green. This can be rather conspicuous in the summer when tree should have full canopy of leaves, not a Fall canopy.
  • On the forest floor one can see a mixture of brown, green, and partially green leaves amassed at base of tree.

Gold Letters and Silver Linings: A Birthday Celebration for George Westinghouse

Happy 167th!

This past Sunday, George Westinghouse would have celebrated his 167th birthday. Almost 100 years after the passing of this American titan of entrepreneurship and engineering, The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh are honoring his memory, not by cutting cake, but by cutting granite.

This week, we were surprised by what was probably one of the only silver linings in the current government shutdown. McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Lab, a leading national art and artifacts conservation center and the studio that brought Mary Schenley’s fountain and the Highland Park entry gates back to their original splendor, couldn’t work on their scheduled government contracts, which left an opening for them to start work on the Westinghouse Memorial on Tuesday. We like to think of it as a gift to Mr. Westinghouse.

McKay Lodge starting work on the memorial

This stage of restoration is necessary not only to clean up the appearance of the memorial, but also make foundation repairs that will allow for additional improvements. Keeping the memorial clean and cared for actually works as a deterrent against future vandalism. When visiting the site today, the contractors remarked at some new graffiti in the center of one of the panels that appeared overnight. One remarked, “It’s like fighting a Sisyphean battle!” Without the restoration, the memorial is a target for even more tagging and vandalism.

During this stage, shifted foundation stones will be reset, cracks and missing chinks in the granite will be repaired, and all mortar and caulk will be replaced.  The monument’s granite and bronze surfaces will be cleaned, and the crowning touch will be long-missing gold leaf applied to the carved locomotive and lettering.  All of this is a lead-in to the next stage of progress that will take begin in late 2014, when the pond, pathways, and surrounding landscape will be restored and enhanced.  A meadow and rain garden will help protect the memorial from flooding, and lighting will subtly showcase the beautiful sculpture and its reflection in the lily pond at night.

All of these improvements would not be possible without very generous donations from Pittsburghers that care about this historic monument. Please consider a donation today to invest in further work to maintain this wonderful Schenley Park staple. And don’t forget to check out this great video on the history of the memorial and drop by the site this month to wish Mr. Westinghouse a happy 167th birthday!

Sundown at the memorial