Allegheny County park rangers develop, lead outdoor education programs


New SCA Ranger teams in Parks all around Pittsburgh region

Cavan Patterson has hiked through Allegheny County’s parks for 20 to 25 years.

As co-owner of Wild Purveyors, a foraged food wholesaler in Lawrenceville, it’s his job to know plants — especially the ones people can and can’t eat.

But even Patterson learned of a new plant while taking a hike Saturday with two county park rangers.

“So that was super cool,” Patterson said, referring to Ground Ivy, a bright green leafy plant with purple flowers, along with the hike and the county’s new park ranger program.

“It will be very beneficial to someone who has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to get some insight. People don’t appreciate nature and what’s out there.”

Allegheny County’s new rangers have a packed schedule this summer and early fall, full of hikes and other programs designed to help people explore and learn more about the 12,000 acres of park land.

Rangers will lead nature hikes through most of the parks. Ranger Paul Trusty, whose specialty is mycology, will take visitors on walks through Deer Lakes and Hartwood Acres parks to look for the fungus among us. Other programs will focus on insects and animals living in the waters at North Park, invasive species in South Park and how plants and animals defend themselves from predators in Boyce Park.

“I don’t think that people know that this stuff might be there,” said Ranger Braden Meiter, who is in charge of the county’s program.

Pittsburgh is piloting a similar ranger program this summer. Rangers work only in Schenley Park, but the city hopes to expand it to other parks next year. Full-time head Ranger Jonathan Furman manages a staff of eight part-time rangers.

“People are respecting that we’re here,” Furman said. “They think it’s great for Schenley Park.”

The city rangers won’t develop and lead programs like the county rangers have done, but rather will focus on securing the parks and maintaining order, said parks Director Jim Griffin.

Rangers have provided directions to people looking for attractions in Schenley Park and two weeks ago chased down a group of dirt bikers illegally riding on park trails, Griffin said.

“Those are the kind of things that, left unchallenged, can deteriorate the park,” Griffin said.

Neither the city nor county rangers are armed or replace the police presence in the parks.

Griffin doesn’t expect the city’s ranger program to cost more than $250,000 this year. The county budgeted $400,000 to hire three rangers who will develop the ranger program and manage a team of rangers provided by the Student Conservation Association, who are funded by a $410,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Allegheny Regional Asset District gave the city and county a $92,000 joint-grant to train the rangers.

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