Pittsburgh Parks ConservancyScott Roller, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, USA

This year the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy celebrates 20 years and $90 million in park improvements.

For the Conservancy, 2016 brought excitement and great joy, and Meg Cheever, CEO and Founder considers the 20th anniversary offers the perfect occasion to thank all who have been so generous in helping make Pittsburgh’s parks among the best in the world.

While Pittsburgh’s re-invention as a thriving tech, medical, artistic and green city has received major attention in recent years, its industrial past funded some of the nation’s most beautiful parks. The region’s economic hardships in the 80’s and 90’s resulted in limited resources for park upkeep, leading to the formation of the Parks Conservancy. In its 20-year history, the Parks Conservancy has raised over $90 million for Pittsburgh’s parks, making an indelible mark on the city’s landscape.

Since its founding in 1996, the Parks Conservancy has been devoted to maintaining and beautifying Pittsburgh’s city parks year-round. Formed by a group of citizens who were concerned about the deteriorating condition of Pittsburgh’s grand historic regional parks, the group established a unique public-private partnership with the City of Pittsburgh that has proved fruitful for the city’s park users.

Working hand-in-hand with the City’s Public Works and Planning departments, the Parks Conservancy serves an invaluable role as fundraiser and leader on strategically-chosen major projects. The Conservancy has completed 14 of those major projects, showcasing the fruit of donor generosity, staff excellence, astute usage of resources, and an involved community combining forces to revitalize a city's majestic parks.

The Parks Conservancy has great respect for the historic design of its parks, and it is fitting that the 70-year-old Frick Park Gatehouse in Schenley Park was their first major project. It was guided by plans from the original architects, and the setting was refreshed with new flowering trees and groundcovers. With the Gatehouse complete, in 2001 the Parks Conservancy transformed a dilapidated former park shelter into the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center. Careful restoration of the century-old masonry, windows and roof -- as well as an interior design that included a café and restrooms – has made the Center a gorgeous, welcoming entrance to Schenley Park, as well as continued income for maintenance.

Next came the Babbling Brook at Highland Park, one of the city’s first green infrastructure projects. Careful design turned a deteriorating set of historic steps into a beautiful stream channel that naturally de-chlorinates and cleans waste water from a reservoir water treatment plant on the park site. The Conservancy’s green infrastructure leadership role continued with Schenley Park’s Phipps Run, woodland and wetland area that spans several neighborhoods and plays an important role in stormwater mitigation. The first phase of work redirected upper the upper portion of the run to its original stream bed, built basins to control the flow of stormwater, and established a streamside trail.

In 2003, the Parks Conservancy worked closely with one of the city’s east neighborhoods to return the Highland Park Entry Garden to its late 19th century grandeur. Restoration included reconstruction of a fountain pool and stone coping, installation of new lighting, benches, gardens, and walkway reconstruction. The Parks Conservancy’s most dramatic project to date has been the transformation of the five-acre Schenley Plaza from a parking lot into a popular green oasis. The Plaza now features a one-acre lawn, an intricately beautiful carousel, restaurants, gardens, free entertainment, and an innovative revenue sharing process with on-site businesses to help fund maintenance.

2006 brought the Parks Conservancy and the City Department of Pittsburgh’s Public Works together to address serious flooding issues in the lower region of Highland Park. A series of seasonal pools were dug into a former lawn to collect stormwater from the park's hills, allowing it to seep into the ground rather than being piped into the sewer system. Green infrastructure solutions like this result in less flooding, provide a natural habitat for wildlife, and beautiful park space for all to enjoy.

The restoration of the Riverview Park Chapel Shelter on the city’s north side was completed in June 2008. The building, which had been closed to the public and slated for demolition, was completely renovated to make it structurally sound and accessible by all park users. It is now the most-requested event shelter of all city parks.

A carefully considered 2008 restoration of the Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain enlarged green space, and added nighttime illumination that set off the restored bronze figures and granite basin of this beloved city landmark. The following year the Parks Conservancy completed the Mellon Park Walled Garden. The project revived the garden's long-silent fountain and lush plantings, installed new paths and steps, and added seating. A permanent art installation - commissioned as a memorial to Annie Seamans - brings the pattern of the night sky on the day of her birth into the lawn through fiber optic "stars."

In 2010, trail and signage projects were the focus of major park improvements in Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley Parks. The trail project included significant trail and bridge construction and restoration, while the signage project featured 100 new directional and interpretive signs. In 2013, the Parks Conservancy’s commitment to green infrastructure played a key role in the McKinley Park Entrance and Rain Gardens project, improving accessibility, restoring a historic stone wall and steps dating to the 1930s, and installing a porous asphalt parking lot and path that allows stormwater to be absorbed into the ground.

The most recent major project completed was the emerald jewel of downtown, Mellon Square. The Parks Conservancy concluded a $10 million restoration of this 1.37-acre park in 2014, including reconstructing its signature fountains, installing dramatic lighting, restoring a unique terrazzo paving, and creating a new terrace overlooking busy downtown streets. An unqualified success, Mellon Square has spurred dramatic economic development in the surrounding blocks, as well as winning design awards like Docomomo US' 2016 Modernism in America Design of Excellence Award.

These completed projects – made possible by our donors and partners - have enriched the lives of so many in our city, and are a lasting testament of the great work we can do when we share the common goal of world-class parks. Together we make our city a more beautiful place.