By Fiona Lubold – 11th Grade, North Hills Senior High School
Pittsburgh is full of neighborhood parks where people can gather, have fun, explore nature, walk dogs, ride bikes, exercise, picnic and play. Many of these parks have been around for a long time. The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has been working this summer with youth to upgrade and beautify some of these parks.
McKinley Park is situated near the South Side of Pittsburgh in the Beltzhoover neighborhood. This 79 acre park has playgrounds, a skate park, sports courts, and hiking trails through the woods. There is also a senior center on the grounds.
Until recently, not a lot has been done for upkeep and maintenance but neighbors wanted to see improvements especially to the old stone entryways and various connections throughout the park. Through the efforts of the neighbors, the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a huge renovation project was completed in 2013 that restored the stone entrance to its historic excellence of the 1930’s. Other improvements included storm water management, rain gardens, and walkways with easy access between the streets and the playgrounds and basketball courts. (from www.pittsburghparks.org/mckinleypark)
Work continued this summer through the SCA program. The SCA went into McKinley Park to improve some of the walking trails through the woods. The students participating worked together on a specific part of the park. They learned to use different kinds of tools by taking out a set of old deteriorating stairs. They then redesigned the incline and dug out a better path. In the process they dug out really heavy, big rocks that they used as part of the new stairs. In the end they had a safer, more accessible path with two sets stairs instead of one unstable deteriorated set.
Another project included clearing a loop trail that was full of brush, limbs, overgrown weeds, garbage, and excess dirt. Other teams did similar projects in parks throughout Pittsburgh. All of the work done was based on the needs of individual communities.
In addition to improving the park system for Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the students working with the SCA gained many important skills. The SCA worked with these students on four main areas: conservation work skills, environmental education, leadership skills, and job readiness.
Students connected to this program through newspaper listings, past experience, online applications, flyers put out by the SCA and at job fairs. They chose to sign up because it sounded interesting or fun, they were excited about doing real work with real tools, they wanted more experience in this area, and it was a summer job that would teach them important skills like construction skills.
I talked to five of the students who were working on the program. I asked each of them what their favorite part of what they did at McKinley Park was.
Ashley: “I liked working on the trails. It made me feel happy to do this.”
Zaphora: “I really liked the camping trip. It was a lot of fun.”
Shyelle: “Working on the trails was fun. I felt like I was making a difference.”
Seric: “I liked doing this again. I did it last summer at Frick Park. I had a good experience with the trail work.”
Cedric: “I really enjoyed making trails, keeping the park clean, working with tools, and making the park better for people.”
It brought me great joy to see kids my age having fun while making a difference to a neighborhood. It’s good to help make things better, and it’s even better when you have fun doing it. After talking with these students I felt like maybe I could make a difference too. And I felt that our generation could make this world a better place to live.
Fiona Lubold will be a junior at North Hills Senior High School in the fall. She enjoys music, arts, acting, cooking, baking, reading, and writing. She hopes to gain more experience in media and journalism with Pittsburgh Youth Media.