Great Outdoors Week gives chance to get out and do something ... for free

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We've had the soggiest weeks in memory, but things are looking up for the weekend.

If you've been chained to a desk, computer or TV, now's the chance to step outside for the climax of Great Outdoors Week.

The 10th annual event is coordinated by Sustainable Pittsburgh in cooperation with numerous outdoors organizations throughout the region. Its mission is to make outdoor recreation here a hallmark of quality of life.

"More often than not, folks might not think of an urban area as a place that would offer free outdoor amenities," said Ginette Walker Vinski, communications manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh. "The opposite is true -- not only do you have all the great parks, but you also have the wonderful trail network and the rivers."

Great Outdoors Week picks up in earnest Friday morning with National Bike to Work Day -- not a bad idea with the price of gasoline at $4 a gallon.

"We had a great turnout for Bike to Work Day last year, the best ever, and we're expecting another strong turnout this year," said Lou Fineberg, program manager for Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit advocate for local cyclists.

Bike Pittsburgh is hosting free Biker Breakfasts at Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Market Square, REI in the SouthSide Works and Whole Foods Market.

New this year is the Car Free Calculator, an online tool for cyclists and walkers to log their commuting miles. Mr. Fineberg encourages participants to sign up for the tool and to join one of the many bike pools that are planned (go to www.carfreefridays.org).

"Bike pools are a great opportunity for people who are a little nervous on the roads to ride with other people, learn from their experience and increase their visibility," Mr. Fineberg said. "The more people we see out on their bikes, the better it's going to be for all of us."

Sunday brings Pedal Pittsburgh, which, unlike the marathon, is a "ride not a race." Organized by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, it provides an opportunity for cyclists of all ages and abilities to enjoy the city's "defining architecture, unique neighborhoods, parks and green spaces" from the seat of a bicycle.

A ride as unique as the city, it annually attracts more than 2,000 participants ranging from families with children and recreational riders to fitness enthusiasts.

"We've made minor tweaks to the routes this year, but the real new stuff will happen at the rest stops where riders will have the opportunity to engage in fun activities focused on how design and planning makes a difference in our communities," said Jen Fox, director of administration at the Design Center.

Participants can choose from six courses ranging from 60 to six miles -- the latter being an ideal family ride on the Eliza Furnace Trail.

"New riders are always surprised by the neat perspective they get of the city from their bikes," Ms. Fox said. "It's an up close and personal way to enjoy Pittsburgh's distinctive neighborhoods."

The Saturday highlight is the Venture Outdoors Festival at Point State Park, featuring family-friendly activities including a climbing wall, fishing, kayaking, dragon boating, yoga, biking and more.

"New to the Venture Outdoors Festival will be a highly interactive family area featuring local youth-serving organizations, arts and crafts, bike bowling, a passport to adventure activity and Tyke Hikes -- stroller-friendly nature hikes geared toward children ages zero to 8," said Jeremiah Morrison of Venture Outdoors. "Children visiting the tent can also receive passes to attend a future Family and Community program for free."

Three Rivers Rowing Association invites you to try rowing in its indoor tanks at the Millvale Boathouse.

"The sports of rowing and paddling bring so many positives," said Rick Brown, executive director of Three Rivers Rowing Association. "They are sports that anybody of any age can pick up, which is a unique thing for many sports." In addition to the positive physical attributes of the sport, he notes the mental break from daily rigors that rowing and paddling provide. If weather permits, participants will also try out dragon boats on the river.

"Our rivers are so critical to the city in so many ways," Mr. Brown said. "Rowing and paddling is such a neat way to be right in the middle of the city and yet in nature."


For more information and a schedule, go to www.wallsarebad.com or call Sustainable Pittsburgh at 412-258-6646.


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