Drive 40 minutes in any direction from Downtown and you're outdoors. I mean really outdoors -- in the woods or a big field, on the water in a lake or stream -- and all around you are things to do that require no electricity.
Biking, hiking, wildlife watching and more in public parks and greenspaces, hunting and fishing on public lands and private properties with the owners' consent, all in the near suburbs of an urban center still perceived by much of the world as the "Smoky City."
Ginette Walker Vinski and the folks at Sustainable Pittsburgh want to show the world, well, just how environmentally sustainable Pittsburgh is. The group's flagship event that kicks off Friday, Great Outdoors Week, is really dozens of separate outdoor recreational events scattered across southwestern Pennsylvania and connected under the Sustainable umbrella.
And while Ms. Walker Vinski hopes you'll step outside Friday through May 20 and participate in an organized Great Outdoors Week activity, what she really hopes is that after May 21 you'll step out on your own.
"That's the whole point," she said. "We want people to know there are plenty of outdoor activities to do whether you're in the city or suburbs or rural areas. And in order to celebrate Great Outdoors Week, you don't have to do one of the activities on [our] calendar. Take a walk with your son or daughter, or hang out with a friend at a nearby park."
But as Great Outdoors Week approaches its 11th year, Ms. Walker Vinski said she's worried about what's happening inside at the governor's office. Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed $27.1 billion general fund budget shaves $20 million from a $700 million state deficit with belt-tightening measures that include trimming at each of the state's environmental agencies. Among the cuts is elimination of the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources initiative that last year invested $36.1 million into parks and recreation projects, land trusts and state park and forest rehabilitation.
"Here we are encouraging folks to get out to enjoy the natural amenities of Western Pennsylvania, and if these budget cuts go into effect we're going to be shortchanged in our ability to enjoy them," Ms. Walker Vinski said.
Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has drawn 15 percent of an existing state real estate transfer tax to spend on repairs and upgrades to community park rest rooms, water fountains, parking lots and trails. It was recently tapped for completion of the Great Allegheny Passage trail.
"We did not have a dedicated right of way for the trail from McKeesport to Pittsburgh," said Hanna E. Hardy, a director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which has been instrumental in completing the hiking and biking trail that stretches to Washington, D.C. "We needed to create an alignment by working with 29 different parcels on the 9 short miles from McKeesport connecting to the Glenwood Bridge. The Keystone funding was critical for us to acquire pieces of land."
Ms. Walker Vinski said each Keystone Fund dollar leverages an additional $2.28 in direct local investment in parks, trails and community greenspaces. On its website Sustainable Pittsburgh is pushing a pro-Keystone Fund petition drive pegged to Great Outdoors Week.
"It's an opportunity for folks to demonstrate that they believe the Keystone Fund should remain intact," she said.
Whether or not the budget is passed, Great Outdoors Week showcases a wide range of outdoor recreation in a swath of the state rich in natural resources and with a culture of getting out.
The calendar of events opens Friday at the Three Rivers Rowing Association's Millvale Training Facility where participants get a lesson in dragon boating on indoor tanks and a rowing machine.
And every kid who's climbed a tree can watch professional tree climbers -- you read that right -- competing for a chance at state and national prizes at the Western Pennsylvania Tree Climbing Competition Saturday at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville.
At Butler County's Moraine State Park, also on Saturday, experienced guides provide kayaking equipment, instruction and a tour of Lake Arthur's shoreline. West at Beaver County's 7,572-acre Raccoon Creek State Park, dogs are welcome to join in a moderate 6- to 9-mile hike. In the city a smorgasbord of bicycling activities throughout the week includes a beginner's ride, short and energetic trail trips and Pittsburgh's launch of Car Free Fridays with National Bike to Work Day May 18.
The Venture Outdoors Festival May 19 at Point State Park is a centrally located sampler of much of what the region has to offer in outdoor recreation. In addition to a climbing wall set up by Climb Pittsburgh, the festival will include kayaking, fishing, hiking, yoga, biking and just about anything else you could do in the great outdoors.
John Hayes: 412-263-1991 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published May 10, 2012 4:00 AM