Escape to Fern Hollow

By Tracy Travaglio

Tranquil Trail is icy and muddy. My boots alternate noises on the different textures of ground, a squish-crunch, squish-crunch, as I make my way down to Fern Hollow. It’s been almost three weeks since the bridge collapsed, sending a flurry of tweets, text messages, phone calls, photos, and of course, memes throughout the city. 

Now, as I sit here on a log on the Homewood trail, with the bench I had planned on using as my desk tucked just beyond the caution tape, I can hear the sounds of the machinery, metal-on-metal, cutting through what used to be my favorite bit of square footage in the city. 

As someone who was born and raised a little over an hour outside of Pittsburgh in the middle of the woods, it was always special to come to the city. My mom made sure that I was able to see museums and musicals, while my dad covered the rock concert portion of my cultural education. As a younger adult, I’d treat myself to days spent shopping and eating in various neighborhoods. But as I got older, I started to seek out the solace of the parks. 

Frick Park has long been a favorite of mine. The entrance, like something out of an urban fairytale, is nestled right next to one of my favorite museums. It draws me down the hill and into the woods, where I can spend time walking, reflecting, listening to the far-off sounds of the city. I’d forget where I was sometimes when I’d walk Fern Hollow. It felt like being back at home, wandering the woods around my house as a small child. 

During the most anxious periods of Covid, Tranquil Trail became my favorite place to meander with Main Character Energy. As someone who has suffered with anxiety from the time I was a teenager, the woods have always kept me grounded. In Fern Hollow, I was able to both escape and also spend time within my own thoughts while I listened to the birds sing or watched the water flow into the little pond. Sometimes I came to run, sometimes I ran into friends. No matter what I was doing there, I cherished the time I spent escaping on the trail, just under the bridge. Though I’d spent time in other parts of the park, Fern Hollow felt like mine. 

On the morning that the bridge collapsed, I texted my mom to tell her. I explained that it was my favorite part of the park, and every time I’d send her pictures from my little “anxiety walks,” they were always from that spot. I explained where it was, and to my surprise, she said, “Oh, I know exactly where it’s at. When we visited friends in the city when I was a kid, we spent a lot of time at Frick, and that was my favorite spot, too.” It makes sense that my mother, who raised me both to love the culture of the city but also to appreciate the sense of peace that the outdoors brings, would hold a special place in her heart for my favorite square footage, too. But that I had never known gives me even more of a connection to the spot that I love.

Even as I sit here writing, a couple of people have walked past. As we’ve chatted, it’s evident that everyone who frequents this little oasis feels the same way. It’s even more apparent as we look beyond the caution tape, that we all look forward to the day when Tranquil Trail can continue to live up to its name and provide solace once more.