Zumba, Great Blue Herons and Hiking Among Winter Attractions at North Hills Parks

Great horned owl nesting, outdoor Zumba dance and fitness classes, and hiking the trails are among the winter offerings at North Park and Hartwood Acres.

As more people visit county parks in record numbers to take refuge from the pandemic, they continue to visit during the colder months, said Andy Grobe, deputy assistant director of recreation for county parks. ‘Allegheny.

Due to public interest, Allegheny County Parks is increasing its activity offerings. “We’ve been busier than ever,” Grobe said. “We encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy nature during the day when we are open.”

Walking, running and cycling are by far the most popular activities. Parks staff are clearing snowy and icy roads and driveways and closing some roads in North Park during snowy weather, including the loop around the sports fields and much of North Ridge Drive.

“People love that we close certain roads because they don’t have to worry about cars,” Grobe said.

Many events are on hold in Hartwood as the area around the mansion is closed for the installation of a sculpture garden. Work should be completed in the spring.

For something different, an outdoor Zumba dance and fitness class will be offered at North Park.

Hiking and mountain biking are all-weather activities on 48 miles of trails in North Park and 14.5 miles in Hartwood. An Allegheny County Parks Trails app is available for free download to help walkers explore the entire park.

Nature programs including guided hikes, prowl owls and more are offered by park rangers at North Park and Hartwood as well as the Latodami Nature Center in North Park.

Winter is a great time of year to see a variety of wildlife, said Chris Kubiak, director of education at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Audubon offers winter programs at its Fox Chapel headquarters as well as Succop Nature Park in Penn Township in Butler and Buffalo Creek Nature Park in Buffalo Township.

Kubiak grew up in Franklin Park near Big Sewickley Creek where he learned to watch birds.

“People have this misconception that once winter comes, there’s nothing worth living in nature,” he said. “But from a bird’s perspective, there’s a lot of cool things to experience.”

North Park has such great wildlife habitats, Kubiak said. “A diversity of habitats is what you want to give you more options,” he said. Eastern bluebirds fly in open grasslands with a variety of hawks. The lakes attract great blue herons, waterfowl and bald eagles.

Bald Eagles can be found in the North Hills near creeks. The great horned owl, the largest nocturnal bird of prey, is the first breeding bird to begin dating in December and January, Kubiak noted. “In the North Hills, I guarantee people have them in their backyards,” Kubiak said. Hear their distinctive calls during courtship as they establish their breeding territory to prepare for the next generation.

To better get around in snowy weather, snowshoe rentals will be available at all nine county parks for $10 for visitors 11 and older and $5 for ages 10 and under.

Indoor dog training classes are offered, as well as outdoor flag football at North Park.

Some free and paid ice hockey programs are available at North Park, which offers the program with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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