On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the team involved in the trail and signage improvement project in the parks--the engineers, construction crew, park foremen, and Parks Conservancy folks--had a wrap-up walk-through in Schenley Park to take in the trails' transformation.
While the other three parks have seen noticeable changes (Riverview has some more walkable trails, Frick has a new footbridge, and Highland has a new trail altogether), the changes are probably most dramatic in Schenley Park. Walking on the refurbished Upper Panther Hollow Trail, we were able to look down and see the changes on the Lower Panther Hollow Trail as well as the Hollow Run Trail, which is walkable again for the first time in recent memory.
This trail will be a fun new option for hikers--it's more of a woodland trail than the Upper and Lower Panther Hollow Trails it parallels. It's narrower, it's unpaved, and it meanders alongside the path and topography of the stream. After walking along the other trails for so long, it's a neat experience to take a different path and get a more "on-the-ground" look at this part of the park.
We also passed by several of the new interpretive signs, which tell the story of the park's trees, its cultural amenities, and the hard work of the Works Progress Administration employees who shaped the look of the park back in the 1930s. We hope these signs will be a resource to those who are more curious about the places where they take their daily walks or runs.
And now a digression...
The signage project has been a huge opportunity for me personally, starting back in 2007 when I first sat in on a meeting with Phil and Susan from our office and Mike Gable from the City of Pittsburgh to decide where to locate these 100+ new signs. I'm a sucker for tasks with a high level of detail, so I spent a good deal of time making a color-coded overlay and accompanying numeric key on maps of each of the four parks. I assumed I'd be done for a while, since construction was still a few years away, but Phil took my penchant for detail to an entirely new level by asking me to actually map each of those signs in the parks themselves. As in, GPS coordinates of the exact spot where the foundation would be laid as opposed to "near the Highland Park Entry Garden."
Since I possess zero knowledge of GPS mapping, my compadre in all of this was my co-worker Jake. When we visited these 100 or so sites, Jake would make a GPS entry according to my handy (and ultimately not at all useful) numeric codes and I would snap a picture of him doing this so that we could also have a visual representation of what we'd chosen. Phil dubbed these "Jake-PEGs," and they are a hilarious (to me) record of a sometimes challenging task. I should mention here that this was all occurring in February 2008, a time when if it wasn't actively snowing, it was nonetheless hovering around 2 degrees on the mercury. There were a few times when the only thing standing between me and a full day of not being able to feel my face was the hot chocolate at the Schenley Park Café. (All hail Bartho!)
But we persevered, and passed on the GPS coordinates and an enormous file of the Jake-PEGs to the City traffic engineers. The City folks made some edits (which we expected because Jake and I knew next to nothing about the safe distances poles should be located from the road!), we re-mapped, and sent an enormous stack of documentation to the firms bidding on the project with PennDOT.
The next part of the task, which I started in the winter of 2009, was much better suited to a frigid time of year. Kolano Design, who had created the original concept for the signs, put together the interpretive signs for Riverview Park and sent us all the art files. I spent the next few months using those templates to create the Frick, Highland, and Schenley signs. This was where the many hours I've logged in the parks (along with our other ace photographers) really paid off--it was much less difficult than I expected to find appropriate photos for every panel. My favorite ones are the Trees and Plants signs, because each one features specimen trees photographed in that park, so you really get a feel for the different makeup of the canopies. Highland is a showplace for sweetgums, for example, and you probably won't find a katsura tree anywhere but Schenley.
It's been a long road from siting the signs (which of course often had to be relocated when it came time to dig the actual holes--there are pipes EVERYWHERE!) to actually seeing them installed, but just like the restored trails I think they add a lot to the parks. I hope the project has enhanced your experience in the parks as much as it has enhanced mine.