All-ages fitness fun in Frick and Schenley Parks
By Scott Roller
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
If your grandpa was anything like mine, the words he always said to my brother and I when we arrived at his house may sound familiar: “Give your grandma a hug. Then get outside or I’ll box your ears.” Thankfully, we never had our ears boxed, but we did learn the joy of outdoor exploration and the thrill of running through the woods until we collapsed on our backs, seeing the sun peak through the leaves as we looked skyward.
Living near Frick and Schenley Parks makes it easy find fun sports and fitness activities for you and your loved ones that will give you the same kind of outdoor magic. The great outdoors is your backyard, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works work year-round to keep your parks in tip-top shape. What does your week of all-ages fitness and fun in Frick and Schenley Parks look like? Grab your jacket, a water bottle, and let’s explore.
Let’s start in Schenley Park. Enter Pittsburgh’s second largest park from Darlington Street, and drive, bike, or hike along West Circuit Road until you wind down to the Westinghouse Memorial. Take a peek at the construction site to get a rare look at the lily pond basin as it is being built. It will not only be beautiful but will also play an important part in stormwater mitigation for the surrounding neighborhoods. Now take a left and head around the bend to the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center. Go inside, grab a table, and have a snack or use the restrooms. Then, with everyone’s input, make a list of 15 nature items that you want to find on your hike including things like “fungus growing on side of tree trunk”, “berries” and “a bridge”. Once you’ve completed your list, go behind the Visitor Center and locate the steps that lead down into the park. You will be on Lower Panther Hollow Trail, and as you spot the items on your scavenger hunt list, check them off until you’ve completed the hunt.
More Schenley Park fun can be had on the section of Pocusset Street that winds through the lower right section of the park. Linking Squirrel Hill to Greenfield, Pocusset Street has been shifted into a sleek and safe thoroughfare with ‘lanes’ for bikers, wide shoulders for walkers, new LED street lighting, and reflective bollards that bar motorized traffic. An all-family bike ride or walk on Pocusset will take you to the site of the current Greenfield Bridge construction site, so you can soak in the engineering of that project while you pump the pedals.
Wrap up your Schenley Park activities by starting a seasons-long creative project. Hike or bike to your favorite spot in Schenley Park (preferably a spot with a great view like Bartlett Shelter), and take a picture of the surrounding landscape. Return to the same spot every week and take a photo from the same place. At the end of the year, put the photos side by side, and see the magic of the seasons traced through your own pictures.
It’s time to move on to Frick Park, which holds the dual distinction of being both our city’s youngest and largest park. There are 11 miles of trails in the 644-acre Frick Park, making it a great place to get your hiking or biking fix. Park on Beechwood Boulevard near the intersection of Shaw Avenue, and take Falls Ravine Trail as it winds down beside the lower portion of the Frick Environmental Center construction site. As you look at the new Center, see if you notice anything unusual about the tall concrete columns. Look closer and you will notice they are not evenly spaced from one another like most columns usually are. This is intentional, and is meant to give the feeling of the forest, where trees grow in wonderfully random order.
Frick Park also has one of our city’s most popular playgrounds. The Blue Slide Park is at the Beechwood Boulevard and English Lane entrance to Frick Park, and there’s a reason it is such a special place for everyone who has experienced it. The titular blue slide was designed to give those using it the feeling that they were being daring, as the top of the slide begins in the treetops and winds like a blue river down the sloping hillside to the safety of the valley below. Keep a tally on your phone of how many times you’ve done the slide, and add them up at the end of the season. Then measure the slide, and see how many miles you’ve traveled on the blue slide in one year.
Themed hikes – or hikes with a purpose or goal—are one way for younger kids to keep excited about their fitness accomplishments. Enter Frick Park from West Hutchinson Street, and wind down the hill to the parking lot in what is known as Lower Frick Park. Hike along Tranquil Trail, and when you see the picnic pavilion, take a sharp right onto Falls Ravine Trail. Before you reach the creek, look to your right and see if you can spot the bat boxes. The small box structures with slanted roofs attached to a tall pole are homes for bats. Continue your hike along Falls Ravine Trail and see how many other animal or bird homes you can spot. Bird nests, wasp nests, ant hills, or groundhog or mole holes may all be visible. Keep your list handy for future hikes, and add to it throughout the year.
Now that you have some great fitness ideas for Schenley and Frick Parks, hug your favorite person and get outside. We won’t box your ears if you don’t. But with the great outdoors practically in your own backyard, you’ll want to experience every rolling trail, treetop slide, and amazing view that your city parks have to offer.
For Frick and Schenley Park maps, and for all-ages park activity ideas, visit www.pittsburghparks.org.