Growing, Learning, Leading: Park Pals Ages 55+ Create Community Through Public Programs


A new community is taking root in Pittsburgh's parks. Coming from all professional and personal backgrounds, park pals ages 55+ looking to discover something new and connect with nature have come together for events designed just for them.

Since these programs began last year, over 700 new friends have joined in on morning Tai Chi sessions; monthly nature walks and fitness hike; courses in nature journaling, trees, and watercolor; book club meetups; and crafternoons. Whatever your experience or interest, we invite you to join us at these upcoming events:

Mary Jo, a regular at these events and now a trained volunteer naturalist, recounts how one of these programs helped her see nature in the city in a whole new way:

Two days after I retired, I started a nature journaling course in Frick Park with Mike Cornell, a Naturalist Educator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  As part of the course, Mike encouraged us to sit in our yards to observe the nature around us and write about it in our journals.   

At 3:00 AM the next morning, I was awakened by a terrible screeching sound.  I opened the window and looked at the big ginkgo outside my bedroom.  Climbing down the tree was a raccoon carrying a squirrel in its mouth.  I didn’t know raccoons ate squirrels, but Google confirmed that they do.

Later that morning, I opened the door to get the newspaper and was surprised to see a wild turkey starring back at me.  I got the newspaper, made a cup of tea and went out on my patio to read. As I settled in, a robin began flinging leaves out of the gutter at me. Apparently I was invading his space and was not welcome; I gave up trying to read and went inside. 

That afternoon, my friend picked me up to go to the movies.  She asked me, “What’s this animal by your wall?” It was a baby opossum crawling into the stone wall that divides my yard from my neighbor’s.  

My house is in the middle of the city. I have lived there for 15 years and have never seen such a variety of wildlife in such a short period. Take Mike’s advice: Sit quietly in your yard at different times of the day and see what wildlife shows up. You may be as surprised as I was!