Spring presents us with opportunities to get outdoors and explore the beauty of nature. Pittsburgh's parks are home to many unique species and creatures, including various birds!
We recently sat down with Brandon McCracken, a Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's (PPC) Horticulture and Forestry team member, to discuss accessible birding.
Question: The Parks Conservancy recently listed information about accessible birding on the Birdability website. Can you tell us a bit about Birdability?
Answer: Through education, outreach, and advocacy, Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe, and accessible for everybody. It focuses on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing, or who have other health concerns. In addition to current birders, it strives to introduce birding to people with disabilities and other health concerns who are not yet birders so they too can experience the joys of birding. People can learn more by visiting https://www.birdability.org/.
Question: Why did the PPC decide to submit the Frick Environmental Center/Clayton Loop to the Birdability webpage?
Answer: The Birdability Map seemed like an excellent way for us to intentionally invite and welcome folks from the disability community by providing a level of detailed site accessibility information that has not been publicly available until now. We chose the Frick Environmental Center because it serves as a hub for the environmental education and programming that we present to the public. We included the Clayton Loop Trail because of its status as a popular 1-mile loop trail without drastic slope/elevation changes near the main park entrance. Upon first reviewing the Birdability Map, we noticed a considerable lack of site reviews in Western PA! We are proud to be one of the first in our region to share this information with the public through this platform, and we look forward to completing more reviews of other parks and green spaces in Pittsburgh. We would also encourage anyone to submit a review of an area of their choosing. Of course, it helps to know the birds at that site, but the most critical information for the site review can be collected and shared by anyone. Learn more at https://gis.audubon.org/birdability/.
Question: What is the goal of providing people with this information?
Answer: The goal is embodied in the popular saying, "Knowledge is power!" Many people who experience accessibility challenges would love to visit and enjoy outdoor spaces more often. Still, many parks and green spaces don't share enough information for these same people to know if they will be able to explore and enjoy the area adequately. Are the trails firm or soft? Flat or steep? Wide or narrow? Are restrooms, water fountains, parking spaces, or park maps available? Is there shade, or are benches available to take a rest? For so many people, these questions and their answers determine if a park or trail visit will be enjoyable and comfortable or a frustrating, challenging ordeal. The more information we can provide upfront, the more people can feel comfortable about visiting our sites.
Question: Is the Birdability Map meant only for avid birders or for someone who may be exploring for the first time?
Answer: Only one section of the Birdability Site Review asks for information about local bird species! The dozens of other areas are all about site accessibility. The Birdability Map is a fantastic resource for first-time visitors to a site, even if they don't consider themselves a birder or someone who experiences an accessibility challenge.
Question: Is there anything additional you'd like to add?
Answer: Using Birdability and its collection of great resources like the Birdability Map is a step in the right direction for the PPC. However, we recognize that we can do more to actively include and welcome different groups who have been historically left out or underserved in their parks and green spaces. Check out our upcoming "Accessible Birding for Beginners" program on Saturday, April 23 at 9:00 A.M. at the Frick Environmental Center as part of our celebration of Earth Month.