The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy turns 25 this year, and to celebrate, the nonprofit organization is collecting stories about memorable experiences visitors have had in the many green spaces throughout the city.
The First Friday monthly series features stories from people recalling special moments from their time in one of Pittsburgh's many parks.
“I created The First Friday because I wanted to provide park lovers with a piece that would truly make them feel good,” says Conservancy communications strategist Alana Wenk. “Almost everyone looks forward to Friday, so I thought what better way to kick off the weekend than with stories that were not only informative but also provided someone an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life for just a few minutes.”
For February, in honor of Valentine's Day, The First Friday focused on several couples with the post “25 Years of Love in Pittsburgh Parks.”
Wenk says that, so far, she has received a variety of accounts, including the story of the first couple to get married at the Mellon Park Walled Garden with a permit from the city of Pittsburgh.
“We don't have any specific criteria,” says Wenk. “We simply want to share the stories of park users. Whether it's a story about getting engaged in the parks or hiking a new trail for the very first time, we want to hear about it.”
The project also serves to spotlight the many roles public parks serve, as well as how they have changed even since the Conservancy first started. Formed in 1996 as the Schenley Conservancy, the nonprofit organization has worked with the city to restore and improve Pittsburgh city parks. Wenk says that, since their inception, the group has “expanded well beyond [its] roots,” working alongside the City of Pittsburgh in more than 20 Pittsburgh parks, completing 22 capital projects, and providing an “expansive suite of environmental education programs for people of all ages.”
“Our mission has always been to restore Pittsburgh's park system to excellence. It's our passion, what we live and breathe,” says Wenk.
She adds that, since the start of the pandemic, “so many other Pittsburghers have realized their passion for Pittsburgh's green spaces, as park use hit an unprecedented high in 2020.” This reflects the belief that people have taken to using parks as a means of recreation, as they allow for social distancing that public officials see as key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“We most certainly have seen an increase,” says Wenk. She claims that by using Google's COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which track movement in public spaces as a way to spot areas of concern for possible spreading of the virus, they were able to see how many more visitors were using the parks. At one point, Wenk says they saw “an increase of more than 130% over baseline.”
In addition to The First Friday, Wenk says the organization has “so many exciting activities planned as we celebrate 25 years of restoring Pittsburgh's parks.”
“We'll have an array of special events that we're planning in a safe, physically distant manner,” says Wenk, adding that, in addition to celebrating the stories of “Pittsburghers who have created a lifetime of memories in their parks,” the Conservancy will also expand its group volunteer offerings and launch a new podcast series.
To submit your own The First Friday story, email Wenk at email@example.com.