Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy introduces backpacking lending program


By Jordan Snowden

With more and more people utilizing parks this year, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has been coming up with ways for visitors to enhance their outdoor experience as part of its Parks on the Go initiative, designed to help people enjoy city parks during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest addition to that initiative is the launch of a weekend backpack lending program.

For a $10 fee, visitors to Pittsburgh parks can choose from four themed backpacks that each provide a unique set of materials and resources to help visitors experience and learn about the local park habitats in different ways.

Photo: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
The Meadow Backpack

To receive a backpack, users must submit a reservation by 3 p.m. on the Friday before their reservation date, then pick up their backpack on their designated Saturday or Sunday at the open-air gatehouse at Frick Park's Environmental Center. 

The four backpack options include:The Meadow Backpack for learning about insects, spiders and butterflies with a book about common meadow creatures; The Forest Backpack with features a ‘Bird Identiflyer’ for identifying and making bird calls; The Stream Backpack with tools, such as a sieve and aqua-viewer, for discovering what lives in a local pond or creek; and The Health Backpack with hiking poles, a hammock and a FitBit to help visitors measure their workouts.

A padlock combination will be sent in a confirmation email to unlock the gatehouse and visitors will then match the backpack number provided to the backpack waiting in the gatehouse. Bleach wipes and hand sanitizer are provided in the pick-up area.

Once finished, backpacks are to be returned to the designated "used" bin at the gatehouse. The backpacks can be borrowed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. All backpacks must be returned by 5 p.m. on Sunday.

"Even though our parks are located in the heart of a major city, they provide lots of opportunity to discover the magic of nature," says Camila Rivera-Tinsley, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's director of education, who also feels the backpacks provide a safe and exciting way for parents and children to enjoy a self-guided learning experience. "Every day is different, so you never know what you’re going to find in the woods or on a trail on a given day, plus it’s a great way to enjoy a day off, whether it’s sunny, cloudy or even a little bit rainy."