Allegheny Commons Park is “my” park. It’s the neighborhood lawn that other people mow with a lake that other people clean of debris, with places for people and dogs of all ages to play and relax in, with great trees all around.
It is a formal park, a thoroughly urban greenspace, and its walk-challenge rating is barely a 1. Since I am city all the way these days, the wooded hillside legs I developed as a kid are not tested much. When I am in Frick Park’s heavy woods, I get those legs back, in spirit if not in reality, and the smells of decomposition and sap and wet things take me back.
Yesterday I took a short tour of the area around the Environmental Center at Frick Park, a place I had never been. The center burned in 2002, and the city and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are raising money to build a new one on roughly the same site. That construction will be part of a larger plan that is awe-inspiring, and you can read about it on page 2 of the Oct. 16 Post-Gazette.
There were 30 people on the tour. One was a little boy. He is a clean slate environmentally. He hasn’t had a chance yet to trample on too much or abuse too much or waste too much. He has the opportunity to learn things that my brother and I wouldn’t have known to notice or look for in our treks through the woods.
Marijke Hecht, (shown in the foreground at left), the conservancy's director of education, told us that when the conservancy realized how many kids in the city had never been exposed to a nature education like the one they can get at Frick Park (now programs operate out of a trailer), they began doing outreach to schools outside the regular-use area. This was part of the public planning process for the new center.
With a group of students from Homewood, she led a walk in Frick Park and then a walk on the streets of Homewood, both to identify species. In the woods, the kids were expectant but on the sidewalks they know, she said, they were incredulous thet she would suggest a nature walk.
“In one block, one block,” she said, “we identified 22 plant species and eight animal species,” she said. “The kids were like” — her mouth fell open.
Environmental education is something everyone in this country needed when we were little enough to reach apprehensively for our mother or father’s hand. It was something some people were lucky to get from parents to the degree that they were able — if nothing else, learning not to waste. It’s something too many grown-ups are heedless about, if not downright scornful.
The little boy in our group will inherit the future we are shaping now. Maybe he and his peers will rescue it because they were taught why and how when they were young.
Photos by Mike Sexauer of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy