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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


The Matchmakers at the Parks Conservancy

Urban EcoStewards Celebrate a New Year – A Winter Gathering

You know what’s better than a Winter Gathering to kick-off the 2013 Urban EcoSteward training year? A snow-covered Winter Gathering complete with a one-mile hike in Schenley Park! Around 35 dedicated park stewards signed up for the event on Saturday, January 26. The Urban EcoStewards represented a variety of organizations including the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, Frick Environmental Center, Allegheny Cleanways, Allegheny Land Trust, and Nine Mile Run Watershed.

Wintry Schenley Park

Tufa Bridge in Schenley Park

The day started with lunch at the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center which was restored by the Parks Conservancy in 2002. Rumor has it, Patty’s Smoked Mac and Cheese was the big hit of the day! After a brief overview of the participating organizations, the day continued with a celebration of 2012 successes and what the EcoStewards have to look forward to in 2013.

Urban EcoSteward celebration at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center

The group then bundled up and strapped on their snow boots for a one-mile hike around the Lower and Upper Panther Hollow Trails.

Headed down for a snowy hike through Schenley Park

Looking up at Panther Hollow Bridge from the Hollow

Led by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Education Program Coordinator, Taiji Nelson, the group discussed winter tree identification, soil erosion, and emerald ash borer along the way.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Education Program Coordinator, Taiji Nelson, explaining soil erosion to the EcoStewards

Lesson in destructive tree identification

The day ended with an overview of Phipps Run and Panther Hollow Watershed’s and restoration efforts being implemented in the area.

Hiking along Upper Panther Hollow Trail

Urban EcoStewards give back to their communities by adopting a specific section of park land that they agree to maintain. Stewards receive training from Parks Conservancy staff and other program partners and visit their site throughout the year to remove invasive species, plant native flora, slow erosion, and clean up trash. EcoStewards report to a coordinator, who will accompany them on at least one site visit per year to determine maintenance needs.

If you’re ready to take on your own little piece of the park, sign-up for our next training date on our Urban EcoSteward webpage. For more information, please contact our education department at 412-682-7275 ext. 232 or volunteer@pittsburghparks.org.

The Winter That Was

Now I’m not foolish enough to think that these comfy temperatures and clear days mean that winter in Pittsburgh is really over…even though a certain puckish groundhog would like me to believe it’s true.  But I’m already looking ahead to another spring of photographing new blooms and returning wildlife, so now seems like as good a time as any to post a look back at the winter in photos.

There wasn’t nearly as much fresh snow this winter as there was last year, so a lot of the time I was trying to find some type of different angle.  I would try to look closer, or look at the world a little out of focus.  Truth be told, I spent a lot of this winter inside!  But here is what I managed to collect from the parks as a commemorative winter souvenir.

We’re currently planning some work in McKinley Park in Beltzhoover, restoring a stone entrance structure.  I went over in early December to grab some before photos, and the many red squirrels were the only things that popped against a brown landscape.

Red squirrel

This was a fun outing.  I was visiting Westinghouse Pond in Schenley Park, which is a small area that for some reason always yields some kind of photographic surprise.  There had just been a big snowmelt and the pond was flooding, buoying the last of the fall leaves on the ground, so I was looking downward and shooting the leaves and droplets…

Red-tailed hawk

…when a man walked over and told me that if I’d look up, I’d see some red-tailed hawks.  Even with the tree branches silhouetted against a flat white sky, I could not make out anything resembling a bird.  Finally he had to walk me over to where I was standing directly underneath one.  This is one of the birds shortly before being knocked off its perch by another.

Fall leaves

This is the first winter for the restored Mellon Park Walled Garden, so I was curious to see how the stars in the lawn would show up.  They’re very subtle–you can’t make them out too strongly in the wide view, but the garden is lovely nonetheless.

Mellon Park Walled Garden

You can see a couple of stars a little better close up.  I consider this a personal achievement, because the wind chill was 2 degrees, it was about an hour after sunset, and I handheld this for about 8 seconds.  Steady as she goes!

Mellon Park Stars

Winter isn’t winter without a shot of snow on a witch hazel branch.

Witch hazel

Some more snow-on-plants from behind the Highland Park reservoir.

Snow on leaves

There’s an area near Clayton Hill in Frick Park with lots of moss and interesting little heart-shaped plants growing on a rocky wall.  These were the only green things I saw on a gray day.

Green hearts

I have lots of photos of Schenley Plaza’s holiday lights; I have lots of photos of the Mary Schenley Fountain.  But I never shot the fountain through the trees.  In a funny way it looks like it’s snowing.

Holiday lights and fountain

This was the final day the holiday lights were up.  This time I decided just to fuzz everything.  I’ve been finding the lack of edges in deliberately out-of-focus photos sort of cool lately.

Lights out of focus

A leaf during a snowstorm and the reservoir following one.

Leaf and reservoir

This one was an instance of looking closer.  There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground so wide shots weren’t looking all that nice, and I really wanted to see if there were any flowers that had survived the cold.  I found these along the Nine Mile Run Trail in Frick Park, and they were so faded and lovely that I decided to give them the full antique-photo treatment.


This one was from that same walk, shot into the sunset.

Sunset grass

I just love happening upon a brand-new tree.  This little oak sits underneath a stand of larger ones in the bed where all the daffodils are planted on Bartlett Street.  The photo on the right is of the parent trees; once again I thought the spaces between the branches were almost more interesting than the branches themselves, so I went out of focus.

Oak tree

And finally…the sure sign that Schenley Plaza has shifted its focus to the season ahead.  Photos of real daffodils are just around the corner.  I can’t wait.

Plaza daffodils

Beautiful but monstrous

That was the phrase that popped into my head while I was walking through Squirrel Hill on a nearly silent Saturday night.  The evergreen trees were piled high with snow, making them look even taller than usual, and because I was walking in the middle of the street due to impassable sidewalks, my perspective had changed.  It felt like a scene from a movie and not a walk through my familiar neighborhood.

Because my car is still marooned (and my snow driving skills are minimal anyway), I’ve had to make the most of my geography and limit myself to taking photos in Schenley and Frick Parks.  Yesterday in particular was absolutely gorgeous and worth trudging through snow-packed trails to experience the snowy trees against that brilliant blue sky.  It was disheartening to see that some trails were blocked or impeded by some trees that didn’t survive the snowstorm, but given the amount of snow, it seemed like it could have been a lot worse.  Phil says that most of the damage seems to be broken limbs–he’s going around assessing the situation this week, and we’ll post an update soon!

For now, here are some pics from the Snowpocalypse in the parks.  First up, Schenley Park, where I headed almost as soon as the snow stopped on Saturday afternoon.  I partially waded up Beacon Street through several house-lengths of unshoveled snow until someone finally shouted at me from their porch, “Walk in the street!  It’s much easier!”  He was not wrong… The “Welcome to Schenley Park” sign was almost totally buried, as was this bench.

Schenley Snow 1

The view up Beacon Street was gorgeous.

Schenley Snow 2

Intrepid cross-country skiers, two of the handful of people I spotted in the park.

Schenley Snow 3

The snow started blowing off the trees, creating a really beautiful soft cascade downward.  In this shot you can see in front of the playground equipment that the birch tree has bowed over under the weight of the snow.  It didn’t look to me like it had snapped, so perhaps it’ll find its way back upward again.

Schenley Snow 4

Yesterday I walked over to Frick Park, noting that the now much colder temperatures were barely noticeable since climbing through all the snow and icy sidewalks was such a workout.  Here’s a shot of the sled tracks near the Blue Slide Playground, and then one from the Falls Ravine Trail.  The contrast of so many tall trees and the one that didn’t make it was interesting to me.  The rest of this tree was also blocking the trail, so I had to turn back.

Frick Snow 1

This one is just one of those shots where you realize how indispensable the woods are.

Frick Snow 2

This was my “wow” moment, coming up the Riverview Trail Extension toward the Environmental Center.  The sky was an amazing blue, and then right in the direction of the sun, the snow started to slide off the trees in thousands of tiny sparkles.

Frick Snow 3

There were lots of mourning doves (and a couple of quick-moving cardinals) hanging out around the Environmental Center.

Frick Snow 4

Good to see the snow isn’t piled too high to get inside the gatehouses!

Frick Snow 5

For more park snow photos, check out John Moyer’s Nine Mile Run pics from Saturday on Flickr.  Really beautiful!

Winter wonderland

Winter is not my favorite season (I’m from Tennessee, a temperate land where they close the schools based on a forecast of half an inch of snow).  So I still struggle with the prolonged cold after six years in Pittsburgh.  I drove my slush-covered car past some joggers the other day and thought, “OK, there is nothing I’m so committed to that I’d stay outside in the cold for any length of time!”

And then I spent pretty much the whole weekend outside taking photographs.  So…I am obviously not committed enough to fitness, but it turns out there is something about winter that I really like.

So here’s a little tour through the parks during what I’m calling Arctic Rock 2010 (thanks to this New York Times article that describes the recent cold snap as “a mass of high pressure…sitting over Greenland like a rock in a river”).


I took a walk in Schenley Park after work, and everything was so quiet and peaceful.  There’s something nice about looking down at Panther Hollow Lake when it’s covered in snow–you forget for a minute what a mess it looks like the rest of the year!

The view towards Phipps Conservatory; Panther Hollow Lake

My fingers were borderline frozen, but I decided to grab a few shots of the Schenley Park Cafe while there was still a little light, and the sky turned this beautiful pink while I was shooting.  Hooray for that historic railing for serving as my tripod.  (I go through tripods like a kid goes through candy; I finally caved and ordered a nice one, but it arrived with just the body and no head.  Go figure.  But eventually I hope to lead a blur-free existence.)

Schenley Park Cafe


I didn’t make it to the park, but Phil and Laura were game for making snow angels outside of our office.  Debbie spotted me standing on a picnic table as she came in to work, so she decided to join in!  Have I mentioned we have a delightful group of folks at the Parks Conservancy?

Snow angels


I paid an afternoon visit to Frick Park, but didn’t get a whole lot of great shots.  General rule of thumb: snow makes attractive photos, but not so much when it’s actively snowing.  I probably looked kinda funny with my camera clutched to my chest wrapped in a plastic bag.  Here’s a photo of the Reynolds Street gatehouse with a vintage look applied in post-processing.

Frick Gatehouse

Here’s another one from Frick, taken around the council ring.

Frick Park tree

Newly intrigued by the half-hour after sunset since the Wednesday shots turned out so nicely, I headed over to Schenley Plaza to get some photos of the holiday lighting with some actual snow on the ground.  The streetlights gave the snow a pinkish cast, which I like.  It’s a good thing I’m not a white-snow purist or I’d probably disappoint myself on a regular basis!

Schenley Plaza holiday lighting

But I think the real subject on Friday night wound up being the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.  The combination of the lighting and the blowing snow made it look so dramatic, whether from across the street or standing right beneath it.   This was also the rare occasion that the very last picture I took was my favorite one, especially surprising considering I had no feeling in my fingers by that point and was shivering all over the place.

Mary Schenley Fountain


I made it over to Highland Park just before sunset to find the park mostly deserted (which was a surprise, because how could you resist sledding down Mount Bigelow?).  I thought this one magnificent tree surrounded by a lot of newcomers was pretty cool-looking.

Highland Park tree

I stopped by the Entry Garden on my way out.  This is one of my favorite vantages to take photos, but I’ve never been able to perfect the balance between the sky and the ground, usually resulting in the sacrifice of a brilliant sky.  This was no exception, especially with the added challenge of that pesky sensor-tricking snow.  Anyone who wants to give me an impromptu lesson on metering, I would be much indebted to you!

Highland Park Entry Garden


I only had about 10 minutes to stop by Riverview Park on my way to pick up my Little Sister, so I just made a quick stop at the Mairdale entrance.  Not much going on (I was sort of hoping to see a deer…or a cardinal, because I’ve never gotten the iconic cardinal-in-the-snow shot).  Maybe when I get my tripod… 

Riverview - Mairdale Entrance

On the way to get Xiana, I noticed that the rivers were partially frozen, which is the one thing about Pittsburgh winter I always get a little giddy about.  I’m not sure why I find that so cool, but for some reason it always makes the cold a little easier to stand.  I asked her if she’d ever seen a frozen river, and she said no, so I took her down to the sculpture park at Allegheny Landing to check it out.

Bridges from Allegheny Landing

As we walked along, we saw a huge flock of ducks and geese sitting on an icy patch, so we walked up for a closer look.  As soon as we stopped walking they all started flying at us, which was not the response I expected!  I imagine they’re pretty hungry.  I’m just glad they didn’t take out their rage at our lack of crackers by pursuing us all the way to the car.

Ducks at Allegheny Landing

Finally, after I took Xiana back home I decided it was time to finally venture up to the West End Overlook and try to get a nice skyline shot with the icy rivers.  Unfortunately, I got there about an hour before dark so the photos weren’t exactly dramatic.  But I decided to stick it out, since I’ve been meaning to get up there for a long time and I obviously haven’t made the effort.  So I found an awning and stood under it until about 5:30, at which point I blurred 99% of the photos.  Go figure.  But hey…all it takes is one, and I like this one a lot.  Next time, though, I’m going to venture up there when the temperature is higher than 18!

West End Overlook

Got some fun winter photos of your own to share?  Post them to our Flickr group!