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Park System Is ‘Key Part Of A Great City,’ Says Outgoing Conservancy CEO

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA
Meg Cheever pictured at the Frick Environmental Center in Frick Park on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

When Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy CEO Meg Cheever looks out of the “living room” of Frick Parks' environmental center, she marvels at what she sees. 

When I look out the windows, I see a wonderful park," she said. "I see lots of green trees and nature, sometimes a red-tailed hawk sometimes people enjoying the park and walking their dogs and taking their kids by the hand."

Cheever said she’s particularly excited about the new Environmental Center, which opened to the public in September, replacing the old facility that had been destroyed by fire in 2002.

The new facility, which generates it's own water and power, is one of 17 major park renovation projects the conservancy has completed.

Credit Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Students with the Ellis School work on a resoration project at Frick Park.

In December 1996, Cheever led a group of citizens concerned about the deteriorating conditions of the city’s parks to create the conservancy.

More than 20 years later, Cheever announced she will step down as the organization’s president and CEO in March. 

I think we have a wonderful park system and together with the city, I think we've done a really good job of doing projects across the park system,” Cheever said. 

The conservancy entered into a public-private partnership with the city in 1998 to restore the city’s regional parks: Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley.

“It's possible that his reaction at the very beginning was, 'Oh, don't call us, we'll call you,'” Cheever said, recalling her first meeting with then-Mayor Tom Murphy. “That's only because I think he wasn't sure what expertise we had, what our intentions were and whether we could really make a difference. But we got to be very close partners.”

Over the last 20 years, the nonprofit has raised $100 million for its projects, combined with funding allotted from the Regional Asset District, directed toward maintaining and improving the parks. But, she said, there is much more to be done.

“There are so many parks that are wonderful and real opportunities because the renewed investment hasn’t been made to bring them up to what they could be,” she said.

Cheever said she believes, though, that there is enough public interest get it done eventually.  

“Definitely, 20 or 30 years ago, people might have thought of parks as an after thought," she said. "You do everything important in the city—police, fire, schools and then when you have time to just kick back, you might think about parks. Well, I think that's outmoded thinking. I think forward-looking people have really realized that a park system is just a key part of the whole infrastructure of a great city.”

A national search will be conducted for Cheever’s successor.