As Pittsburgh gears up for winter following the first snow of the season, many are looking for safe ways to enjoy the outdoors while coronavirus cases increase in the region.
Tyson Johnston, land stewardship coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy says Pittsburghers should prepare in advance for outdoor experiences.
“It’s always a good idea to take a look at the place you’re going before you get there,” Tyson says. “I’d suggest preparing with some extra warm clothes, bring some extra water and snacks with you, and let someone know where you plan on going.”
Tyson proposed several trails for winter hikes:
- Toms Run Natural Area in Sewickley has a new 2-mile trail with varying terrain and a parking area.
- Bear Run Nature Reserve in Fayette County is the largest area with over 5,000 acres near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
- West Branch French Creek Conservation Area in Erie County is along a tributary and open space along the water.
- Lower Elk Creek, also in Erie County, is popular for fishing.
Tyson also suggested trails great for kids:
- Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area in Butler County near Slippery Rock is a relatively flat loop.
- Helen B. Katz Natural Area in Crawford County near Meadville is also a flat trail and great for cross country skiing.
Tyson says hikers are likely to see frozen wetlands and other ecological sites that differ from the usual summertime scenes.
“Even if you go to the same place multiple times a year, it’s going to look different each time you go, and you’ll learn to observe new things each time you visit.”
Biking is another way to enjoy the winter weather while also maintaining a safe physical distance, says Alex Shewczyk from BikePGH.
“There are definitely ways to keep yourself riding through the winter time.”
Shewczyk recommends layering up and keeping an eye out for ice following rain or snow. She also says there are ways to prepare bikes for icy trails, like adding spikes to tires for added traction.
Shewczyk says there are bike trails throughout the city that are manageable during winter weather, including new bike lanes connecting the Great Allegheny Passage Trail to the Point. The path goes through Downtown Pittsburgh and by the ice rink and the Holiday Market in Market Square.
Other trails throughout the city include:
- Three Rivers Heritage Trail
- Highland Park Loop
- Riverview Loop
- Trails throughout Schenley and Frick parks that are mostly gravel
For those looking to travel a bit outside of the city, Shewczyk suggests the Panhandle Trail in Fayette County and the Butler Freeport Trail for a mixture of road and gravel trails great for winter riding.
BikePGH has laid out ways to maintain a safe social distance while riding, including wearing a mask and riding six feet apart, as well as checking out designated “Slow Streets” throughout the city for decreased traffic. The Pennsylvania Conservancy also encourages everyone older than two years should wear a mask when unable to physically distance on the trails.