Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy: Nurturing Nature


Like many post-steel towns, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Map A) saw a sharp and rapid decline in its economy.   As steel and manufacturing operations moved over sea, and as already inadequate factories continued to decline, the city of Pittsburgh was in finical and political turmoil by the mid to late 1960s.  

Map A: Pittsburgh, PA.

An unfortunate side effect was also the decline of the city’s infrastructure, including its parks.  As money became tight and politics thorny, many of Pittsburgh’s natural and recreational faculties crumbled.  My mother, who spent a large portion of her childhood living in Pittsburgh, remembers some of the parks as being dangerous and dilapidated.

Nevertheless, through the hardest times, Pittsburgh has had and continues to have citizens and professionals dedicated to conservation in the Three Rivers region.  In 1996, in an effort to restore and enhance Pittsburgh’s four main regional parks, a grassroots organization was formed.  In just a few short years, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy grew into a well-endowed non-for-profit organization with an elite and dedicated group of professionals that have partnered with the city to revamp and revitalize Pittsburgh’s parks and natural resources.

Capital improvement projects that have been funded and/or supervised by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) have included stream bank restorations, invasive species control, trail improvements, environmental education, historical preservation, and urban runoff control.  The PPC has even expanded its range beyond the four main city parks to include the restoration of an urban green-space in downtown and the renovation and management of an historic stone wall garden in the affluent Point Breeze neighborhood.  In addition, the PPC is partnering with various other organizations to improve and clean up the once degraded Highland Park, as well as creating a new park and nature study area in the economically disadvantaged Hill District neighborhood.

In just a few short years, the PPC is grown to be a significant conservation organization and urban revitalization partner in the city of Pittsburgh.  Table A shows the facts and figures of of the success of this young but successful conservation NGO (data is from their website).

Table A: PPC stats and figures (from their website).

Starting in the beginning of September, I will have the honor of serving the PPC is one of their conservation and environmental education interns.  My tasks will include:

  • Stream monitoring.  I will have the opportunity to work with professional hydrologists on measuring stream velocity and water quality in the urban creeks of Pittsburgh’s parks.
  • Invasive species removal
  • Habitat restoration and the planting of native vegetation
  • Lead guided hikes and tours in the four main parks
  • Work with PPC field staff on biological surveys of the parks
  • Other miscellaneous (but fun anyways) tasks

I look forward to working with this state-of-the-art urban conservation team.  Below are pictures of some of the places in Pittsburgh’s spectacular city parks.

Sun shining through the trees along the Nature Trail near the Frick Environmental Center.

Peaking through the trees into the valley below from Riverview Park in the northern section of Pittsburgh.

Panther Hollow Trail in Shenley Park.

A Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched on a powerline near the Junction Hollow bike trail in Schenley Park.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) blossoming in Frick Park Meadow.

Downtown Pittsburgh


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