Frolic through Frick Park

Head outside to a park that fosters observation, exploration, and play. An Environmental Center is on the way! Meanwhile, visit Blue Slide Park, play tennis, and eat a yummy sandwich at Frick Park Market.

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Admission Price: Free

TransportationGoogle Maps

WebsitePittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The first thing you might notice missing from the general information section is an address. This is because Frick Park has no specific address. The Park is 644 acres of nature. Don’t fret, this makes the site easy to find, especially through the use of the transportation guide above and the small map to the left. As you can see, Frick Park connects several East End Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The space can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never visited before, so here is a map of places to park, restrooms, and trails. There are no roads that run directly through Frick Park, so you will not be able to park right next to your favorite trail. If you think parking is a hassle, the park can also be accessed by bus, bike, or foot!

Now, back to these wonderful trails; they are only about two miles long each, but their twisted connections could keep you walking on new paths all day. The paths are friendly to pedestrians, bikes, strollers, and dogs. You can spend the day walking, or take one of the trails to an activity space. There is a soccer field, tennis court, baseball field, and playgrounds, all accessible by trail. If you’d like to spend time solely in the natural outdoors, you can find wooded parkland, open parkland, streams, and meadows. The endless lists in this guide may seem excessive, but there is so much to do in Frick Park; you wouldn’t want to miss anything!

Within the many listed spaces, there are different habitats and therefore different kinds of wildlife. The animal and plant life at Frick Park is very diverse. Over 200 species of birds have been seen in the park. Bring a pair of binoculars and a bird guidebook to hopefully see some America’s largest species of woodpecker, red tailed hawks, screech owls, redwing blackbirds, and more. If you don’t have binoculars and still want to spend time searching for wildlife, you can flip over some rocks near the stream and you might find a salamander or crayfish. Make sure to put the rock back though; it’s someone’s home under there!

The adventures at Frick Park appeal to a wide range of ages and the multitude of activities makes the Park an easy place to visit many times. Pittsburgh’s hustle and bustle is charming at some points, but other times it’s nice to take a break from the large city lifestyle. Frick Park is an opportunity for that escape. If the long lists of activities left made you curious, keep reading for more information about what the park has to offer, and then turn off your computer to go see for yourself!

Frick Environmental Center: Now More Green

Fig. 1. Frick Environmental Center Under Construction

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy began construction of the new Frick Environmental Center in October 2014 and is scheduled to open in July of this year. The center will fit nicely in the space of Frick Park and Pittsburgh due to all the environmentally friendly features and the planning behind the building. It will replace the old center which burned in 2012. The Frick Environmental Center is a positive space for the city and will help promote awareness of nature and the environment. The main goal of the building is to balance the needs of history, ecology, and park users while serving as an entrance and base camp for Frick Park as a whole.

The Frick Environmental Center is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certified, the highest rating given for green construction (“Investing in Our Future” 11). Also, it will be one of only a handful of buildings certified to meet the Living Building Challenge, including the only city-owned building (Jones). The environmental goals of this include “net zero water” and “net zero energy”, as in the finished project will capture and reuse water as well as create enough energy over a year to cancel out all the traditional energy used (“Investing In Our Future” 13). This is not the first construction project in Pittsburgh to be LEED certified. In fact, Pittsburgh has become a hub of green construction lately with 39 LEED certified buildings (with more than sixty more on the way) and many US firsts: first green convention center, first green radio station building, first green dorm building, and the first green financial institution, among others (“Green Buildings in Pittsburgh”). Based on that alone, it appears that the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is in line with other Pittsburgh companies and organizations and their values when it comes to the environment. Pittsburgh is sixty-second in city population but eighth in the nation in number of LEED certified buildings (“Green Buildings in Pittsburgh”). Of course, this is very impressive for the Steel City.

The Frick Environmental Center will creatively reuse the water that is captured from the roof through a sculpture that “will create a watershed in miniature, evoking the shale geometry of the park and giving a sense of the patterns of the movement of water throughout the park” (“Investing in our future” 16). The water will also be filtered then released naturally through the park with the sculpture representing the overall flow of the water. Collected water will also be used for cooling, thanks to geothermal wells below ground (Jones). The only water that will be brought in from the municipality traditionally is for drinking, for obvious legal reasons (Jones). Also part of the project is the planting of 200 trees and more than 6,500 other native plants (Frick Environmental Center). One of the project’s goals, based on input from more than 1,000 citizens and stakeholders, is to “[b]alance a spirit that promotes appreciation and protection of the environment and a public space that is functional and welcoming” (Frick Environmental Center). Some other ecologically conscious, but functional features include solar energy panels used as parking canopies, and an outdoor amphitheater built into the hillside for community events, lectures, and programs (“Investing In Our Future” 8, 14). The parking lot solar panels will generate more than enough energy to meet the Living Building Challenge (Nelson). This amphitheater will be integrated with the water structure and was the top priority of the project to the local community (Nelson).

Fig. 2. “Render – Water Feature View From Amphitheater”; Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Pittsburgh, PA; Frick Environmental Center; Web; 22 April 2016.

All of these functional, yet also green, features add to the overall space of Frick Park. Space Theorist Edward Soja’s Trialectics of Spatiality says that a space is comprised of perceived, conceived, and lived parts with each part affecting the other two (FitzPatrick). Perceived being what is physically there in a space, conceived being imaginary spaces that are “entirely ideational… from conceived or imagined” ideas of that space, and lived being how the space is used by people (FitzPatrick). Frick Park will greatly improve in all three areas with this grand new building. As I saw the construction site from beyond the fence, I could see how great the space could be even before our tour guide talked about the building. Even in its current state, my conceived space of Frick Park slightly changed just from hearing about the center and the community outreach to complete it. I can imagine the joy of everyone in Squirrel Hill who will walk by the completed product. With the building being rebuilt and having net zero energy and water use and being constructed to LEED platinum certification specifications, the lived space will hopefully be improved for visitors. Anyone who visited or walked by the original center will have a different lived experience than a kid visiting the first time for an elementary school class. Regardless of the person, I think anyone can agree this building helps Frick Park’s perceived, conceived, and lived spaces, especially compared to a trailer sitting there serving the same purpose, just not as well. Pittsburghers will be able to continue making lasting memories at Frick Park with the help of the Frick Environmental Center.

If you think about Frick Park, you might think of Henry Clay Frick and his fortune, as he left $2 million and 150 acres to start the park (Standiford 302). However, most do not know that Helen Clay Frick, his daughter, is behind Frick Park. According to Helen’s great-niece, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, Helen Frick had a love for green space and “nature was her respite” (Jordan). As Helen Clay Frick was a major philanthropist, I think she would be very happy to see how the park has been maintained throughout these years. She also would be very with the new construction and the green features, as she incorporated gardens into all her building plans, including Frick Fine Arts on campus (Jordan). Currently, Frick Park offers four programs to schools to help “learn concepts of ecology through hands-on activities” (“Investing in Our Future” 23). Although actually being out in the park and exploring is the most important part of the trip, having classroom space to reflect and teach lessons seems important. Having a space to go inside if the weather is terrible or something, can only lead to more groups coming to Frick and more outreach from the community. In our class trips, even we have used classrooms (or at least tables and chairs) that are on-site at the places we visited. Frick Environmental Center will also host programs for the community in a space that is “one of the most environmentally advanced buildings in the world” and “will be free and open for everyone to experience” (Gormly). The number of classes visiting Frick Park has increased over 9 times the original amount six years ago (Jones). As seen in Figure 2, students have been visiting Frick Park for as long as the park has existed.

Fig. 3. “Campers in Frick Park”; Hebrew Institute Photographs 1915-1984; Historic Pittsburgh, 1950; Web; 22 April 2016.

The Frick Environmental Center will have a great impact on Frick Park, an impact that is already being imagined just by looking at its impressive three story structure. The new center is a positive space for the city and will help promote awareness of nature and the environment. If you would like to visit the center’s construction site, there are hard hat tours scheduled for every third Thursday of the month until the building opens. More information and registration is available at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy events page here. Even though I will be moving out of town in a couple weeks, I will definitely visit Frick Park when I come to the city again.

Education and Environment

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Figure 4. A student’s drawing of her trip to Frick Park’s Habitat Explorers Program

The environmental education portion of the park’s website states “our parks are our classrooms.” During a class visit to the park we received a tour from the Naturalist Educator, Taiji Nelson. Taiji placed importance on children’s observation, exploration, and play.

Despite the beautiful education building being built, Taiji still states that most of the learning will be done outside. The program seems very free-flowing and encouraging of exploration of the children. Taiji states “we have a plan, but it really depends on what the park is doing.”

Investing time to give children a meaningful experience with nature will make them care about nature more as adults. Taiji asked us to think of one meaningful moment that we had with nature.

When I was younger, I had a toy dinosaur that I loved to play with. My brother and I took it into the lake at my grandmother’s house, because we thought it might want to swim with us. Sadly, my dinosaur didn’t know how to swim and sunk to the bottom of the lake where it was sucked in by the squishy sand. Despite the loss of my dinosaur, my brother and I had fun for weeks trying to find her in the sand. The education program’s goal is to give children the opportunity to create these experiences, which should then positively influence their relationship with nature.

Now when I learn about wastewater treatment plants and combined sewage systems that sometimes result in dumping untreated water into lakes and rivers, I subconsciously think about my experiences as a child in the lake and feel more inspired to treat the lake better and find solutions. Of course, solving environmental issues is not as easy as one meaningful experience with nature, but it seems to me that the inspiration to take part in sustainable living starts as a child. (Now can you think of a meaningful experience you had with nature as a child?)

A study was conducted in 2015 in order to determine the importance of childhood education on the environment (Engdahl 347). The aim of the study was to implement more education programs like the education program in Frick Park. Children up to eight years old were interviewed around the world about their views on the environment. This is one response from a child in Poland:

“If everybody cleans it will be cleanly and colourful. The children want everybody to be healthy and everybody has happy life. We have to protect environment against death. Without plants we will also be ill. Without the trees, oxygen will disappear” (Engdahl 362).

Part of the study, like this quote, showed children were able to see the causes and consequences of our daily actions on the environment. When discussing some ways we can reduce waste of plastic bags, students decided we should invent disappearing plastic bags. Their concern however, was “what if it disappears at a wrong moment and everything that’s in it will drop onto the pavement?” (Engdahl 360). This is an example of how education programs make children aware of how they need to live differently in order to help the environment. Although the solution makes an adult audience chuckle, the thought process shows that children are thinking critically.

Another, less present, example of a way children interact with education and the environment was found using the Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection.

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Figure 5. Regent Square Elementary School Students and their “Earth Week” Exhibits.

This photograph was taken on March 30, 1973 at the Regent Square Elementary School. The image shows sculptures made from garbage collected in Frick Park in honor of Earth Day. Students collected beer cans, pieces of cardboard, tin cans, bottle caps, etc. The garbage collected was used to make sculptures that value the environment. For example, the cardboard pieces were made to build a diorama of a recycling plant and the cans collected were made into a table and a vase that holds fresh picked flowers. The project, to me, inspires creativity, encourages care for the earth, and cleans up Frick Park.

Now I would like to analyze how these education programs actually work by using Edward Soja’s description of the theory of spatiality found in Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Ither Real-and-Imagined Places


Figure 6. Edward Soja’s Trialectics of Spatiality

As seen in figure 6, Soja states spatiality is made up of three parts: the lived, perceived, and conceived. Childhood environmental education programs through the lens of the trialectics of spatiality enforces the importance of observation, exploration, and play. The conceived is the imagined experience. In this context, the conceived is how schoolchildren think about the environment. For example, some students learn that the environment is a delicate resource that humans need to save. The lived experience is the actual experience, such as the garbage sculpture made in the classroom. The perceived is the physical, which would be the garbage, before it’s in the form of the sculpture. This example shows the complexity of childhood environmental education. The process is not just one dimensional, its structure is intricate.

The Center for Ecoliteracy gives some concrete educational examples that I imagine are similar to Frick Park’s education program. An activity that I thought could be helpful in the classroom prior to an outdoor adventure was the Oak Woodland Learning Activity. The activity is basically an art project that breaks apart the picture below into pieces and describe one piece at a time. Some pieces will show leaves, others birds, bugs, sky, tree, etc. After each piece is described, they are made into the large picture.

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At this point, most of the objects in the picture have been individually described, then the students are asked how the different parts of the picture interact. The final goal of the activity is to understand the relationship between the different parts of the environment. This in-class activity will change the way that students think about nature as they step outside and give them opportunities to interact with all three parts of Soja’s Trialectics of Spatiality.

Beyond the formal educational opportunities available through Frick Park, going outside generally is a great place to interact with insects, and build relationships with nature and relationships with the people you’re exploring with. If you’re reading this in Pittsburgh, hop on a bus towards Frick Park to start your adventures. If the weather is yucky, which is very typical of Pittsburgh, click on a different neighborhood to find some indoor exploration options. If you’re reading this at a place far away from Pittsburgh, plan a road trip to this beautiful city, we’d love to have you, or research some other outdoor opportunities near you, I bet there are plenty. Get outside, you’re missing out!!

Works Cited

Engdahl, Ingrid, et al. “Early Childhood Education for Sustainability: The OMEP World Project.” International Journal of Early Childhood3 (2015): 347-66. Web.

FitzPatrick, Jessica. “Outlining Space & Place.” Handout to Secret Pittsburgh class. University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA. Fall 2015. Print.

“Frick Environmental Center.” Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <

“Frick Environmental Center: Investing in Our Future.” Issuu. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <>.

Gormly, Kellie B. “New Frick Environmental Center Will Make Quite a Splash.” TribLIVE. Trib Total Media, Inc., 02 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Green Buildings in Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh. City of Pittsburgh, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <>.

Jones, Diana Nelson. “New Frick Environmental Center to Feature Water, Energy Savings.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. PG Publishing Co., Inc., 3 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <>.

Jordan, Jennifer S. “The Green Legacy of Helen Clay Frick.” The Allegheny Front. The Allegheny Front, 20 July 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. <>.

Regent Square Elementary School Students and their “Earth Week” 1973. Senator John Heinz History Center Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection. Web. 03 March 2016.

Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Ither Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 1996. 53-70.

Standiford, Les. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America. New York: Crown, 2005. Print.

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