Your Parks, Your Stories

To begin to list all the possibilities green spaces offer would be quite long! With summer around the corner, our staff began to brainstorm ways in which we can remind the community that your parks are a space for everyone, with enjoyable activities for all.  Last year, we turned to the parks when most of the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also provide us a way to build relationships in our community. In turn, we hope we can help build safe green spaces for a healthy ecosystem and for our future!

We recently asked several members of our staff to think about what makes Pittsburgh’s parks such special places for all to enjoy. In this short Q&A, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gets a chance to share what they love about the parks. Four of our team members will share their thoughts about their day-to-day park use and appreciation for these cherished public green spaces.

How long have you worked for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and what makes you passionate about the work you do?

Saul Wells, Manager of Visitor Experience, “I have worked for the Parks Conservancy for five years. What makes me passionate about the work I do is getting to talk to all the park users, seeing their expressions, and hearing their stories.”

Maggie Herrick, Restoration Gardner, “I have been with the Parks Conservancy since December 2019. As a Restoration Gardener, I am passionate about restoring habitat and maintaining our natural environment. Observing a thriving ecosystem, teeming with diverse life, that you helped create and nurture is beyond rewarding and entertaining. Working in a public setting lets me share this passion by showing park users plant and wildlife interactions while also demonstrating best practices they can use in their own home landscapes.”

Zakkiyah Madyun, Marketing Associate, “I’ve worked  at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy for two years now. I love how creative I’m able to be in my role. Being able to put together videos and design content is very enjoyable work, and having it support our local green spaces only makes it better!”

Erin Tobin, Community Engagement Manager, “I’ve worked for the Parks Conservancy for six years, but before that I worked for the Allegheny Commons Initiative for more than two and a half years, I have been working in the parks for almost nine years. I love people and the outdoors, and my job allows me to combine those two things. I also love getting to know different parks across the city through the lens and perspective of the different neighborhoods and communities. Pittsburgh has so many neighborhoods and they are all very different from one another. It's cool to see differences and at the same time the similarities and how no matter where you are people care deeply about the green spaces in their neighborhood.”

Working for the Parks Conservancy allows us to see the maintenance and effort put forth behind the scenes to make the parks function successfully.  From our Horticulture and Forestry Department to Visitor Experience, our team deals with diverse, across the board management to provide well-rounded experiences for all.

What’s one thing you feel our community doesn’t know about the parks?

S.W., “There are so many employees that work for us only part-time that care for these parks and care for the park users because they themselves are and were park users and wanted to help out.”

M.H., “The spread of invasive species throughout our parks system is extensive. This has a detrimental impact on our forests and the ecological communities within them and need continual monitoring to contain and suppress. Specifically, for invasive plant species, many people see a mass of green during their outdoor adventures and either don’t think much of it or just assume everything is where it belongs and it’s a healthy ecosystem. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and there are many species that cause issues by outcompeting native species leading to a decrease in biodiversity. Many of them are very pretty in their own right, which explains why they may have been introduced in the first place, but offer little to no wildlife value while also causing economical damage. We spend time removing invasive plants species in park gardens and forests, especially focusing on vines like oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle that cover whole communities of plants and eventually pull-down trees.”

Z.M., “How much work it takes to maintain them. I had no idea how much hard work it takes to protect our trees and plants from things like invasive insects, deer, disease, and more. Before I worked for the Parks Conservancy, I thought that all you had to do was plant a tree sapling and it took care of the rest on it’s own, but this is very much not the case!”

E.T., “How much work, time, resources it takes to keep them in good shape. And that there are 165 park and recreation sites in Pittsburgh. People don’t realize how many there are in the City!”

Wow, all that time and effort spent devoted to making your parks habitable!  But, hard work deserves some play, right?

What is your favorite park activity, and why?

S.W., “My favorite park activity is watching the fountain. It brings me so much peace to be around water.”

M.H., “My favorite park activity is wandering around the trails looking for native plants and observing the animals that live throughout the parks. I’ve only lived in Pittsburgh for two years, so it's exciting to have many options of trails to explore and seeing something new every time is an adventure.”

Z.M., “I love getting out for a good photo hike. I’ll grab my camera and head into the park, and take pictures of anything that looks interesting to me. It’s good exercise, good camera practice, and helps me pay closer attention to the plants, animals, and insects around me.”

E.T., “Walking my dog in any park! She loves it and I love seeing her happy.”

Our staff loves to take advantage of green spaces, just like so many of you!  Over the past year, we were lucky to have areas in our community to provide peace, nature and a place to socialize when the future felt unknown. Your parks played an important role in maintaining a little bit of normalcy in what was a chaotic time.

During the pandemic, activity in the parks increased. What role do you believe the Parks Conservancy played in adapting to that shift? What would you like to see the Conservancy accomplish with that advantage?

S.W., “I believe Parks Conservancy played a huge role by letting people know that there is still a place to find peace and you did not have to still be home to remain safe. We let them know of socially distant activities and gave them activities to do in their own backyards. I want to be able to see usage continue to thrive and for the Conservancy to offer programming and activities at all levels. Be those in person, digital, passive, or immersive.”

M.H., “For the Horticulture and Forestry team specifically, even though we were unable to work in our gardens for a month during the initial lockdown and then had shortened hours to work, the gardens we care for still received high levels of maintenance and remained beautiful. I believe this speaks to many of the careful plant selections and attentive care that had gone into these spaces for years prior, setting them up for success when this unprecedented time occurred. Even more so, it shows the unwavering dedication and resilience of the staff to the parks and the community at large.”

Z.M., “The biggest way we had to adapt was by going digital with a lot of our content, and providing resources that people can use independently while exploring the parks. Also, leaving out lots of reminders about the importance of masking and staying safe, even while you’re outside. My hope would be that all of the people who maybe started spending time in the parks for the first time during the pandemic, are able to stick around once things open up as regular park users and hikers, and join us for our free outdoor programs. The goal will always be to make the parks a fun, safe, welcoming space for everyone.”

E.T., “We certainly played a role in keeping them open! We helped spread the word about how to be safe in the parks alongside our partners in the City. I think the Parks Conservancy should continue to promote the importance of parks, remind people why they are important and then leverage resources to continue investing in them.”

It’s important for us to move with intent and consideration for all heading into our future. We have the opportunity to capitalize on the situation at hand, by using this as a time to inform people about how to care for our environment. If we can help people recognize that if we don’t take pride in upkeeping our green spaces, they might not be there for future generations.

We also hope to bring awareness that your parks can be a reflection of your community.  If we show dedication to diversity and inclusion, then we can utilize the parks to the fullest and make them accessible to everyone!  

What is one hope you have for the future of our parks?

S.W., “I want to be able to see the parks be safe for all users and programming be related to all users.”

M.H., “I hope that the future for parks is more investment and even more multi-use functions. The past year has shown the need and benefits of our parks so hopefully park lovers new and old find ways to give back to them. Whether this is volunteer time, monetary contributions, or advocating for the parks, all valuable contributions.” 

Z.M., “I hope that with green infrastructure, sustainable practices, and continued environmental research, we are able to find new ways to sustain our parks in the face of changing conditions so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

E.T., “That following the pandemic and the uptick in park usage, people will really start to understand the importance of green spaces and begin investing in them more. We need to take care of our green spaces and preserve them for generations to come.”

If there is one thing we hope to accomplish from this article, it’s to shine light on the love and care that we put forth to make the parks enjoyable and inclusive for generations to come.

We thank you all for following along!  We hope you can be part of our journey to help make the parks the best they can be!  Be sure to check for upcoming events and programs happening in your parks and online, and explore other ways in which you can get involved.