Summer Tree ID

By: Samantha Sektnan, Communications Intern

Attending the “Summer Tree ID” program was a great way to start off being a part of the Venture Outdoors community. Taking an easy stroll in Frick Park as we learned tips and tricks to identify the trees around us was something I never imagined myself doing before joining this organization, but I am definitely glad I did it. As someone with literally had zero knowledge on how to identify trees, local ecologist Henry Schumacher – who led the trip – had a lot of work on his hands in order to teach me the basics.. After signing up for my very first Venture Outdoors program “Summer Tree ID”, I was sent an email with basic instructions of where and when to meet, what to wear, and to bring the completed Assumption of Risk Form. I was asked to arrive 15 minutes early so the event could begin at the scheduled 9 am start.

Bright and early, I arrived at Frick Park and after brief introductions from the leader Henry Schumacher, myself, and the seven other participants, the program began. Although we were to cover one to two miles of ground in two and a half hours, the consistent stops to teach and identify trees made the walk very easy for participants of all ages and abilities, which is something I really appreciated. We discussed a great deal of information in this time and thanks to a packet that we received which reiterated these points, I can put into words all of this knowledge that I gained.

Schumacher emphasized five main keys to identifying trees in the summer including (1) leaf shape; (2) opposite versus alternate branching; (3) bark; (4) the buds, twigs, and leaf scars; and (5) growth form (silhouettes). By looking for the patterns in the leaf, one can identify if it is a simple or compound leaf. The alternate and opposite branching can be difficult to distinguish because twigs and branches are constantly being pulled or fall off. They can best be explained as the opposite branches being directly across from each other while alternate branches alternate from one branch to another but not directly across each other. Examples of species with opposite branching include Maples, Ashes, Dogwoods, and Horse Chestnuts (remember the word MADHORSE to remember the species), while some alternate branching species include White Oak, Red Oak, Black Locust, Tulip Poplar, Black Cherry, and Black Walnut.

As for the bark, there are four different characteristics species can have including being (1) smooth or furrowed; (2) flaky, cracked, tight, or peeling; (3) light or dark colored; and (4) thick or thin. I learned how the bud is where the leaves grow from and the leaf scar is where the leaf was attached to the twig in a previous season. Because species of trees do not have a set shape, they largely depend on environmental factors but do have a general shape. These typical growth forms (silhouettes) include the (1) elm (vase shape), (2) white oak (wide-spreading), and (3) tulip poplar (tall and narrow). Based on these concepts we were given a list of 12 common species that correlate to specific key identifications and were asked throughout the trip to identify the species around us.

Through no fault of the program, it seems the only negative aspects of the lesson were the lack of young adults my age to socialize with and the frequent interruptions of the bicyclists, joggers, owners walking their dogs, and even a guy on a lawnmower making a couple of big and loud circles near us before we entered the trails. It seems as though everyone was taking advantage of the sunny Saturday morning to enjoy a day at the park and its trails. It was at these periods that I became distracted by the beautiful scenery enough to want to take pictures of the flowers and trees around us.

I found the program to be easier to learn for novices like myself than I had initially anticipated. The lesson was kept at a slow and steady pace for easy learning and keeping up. At this point in time, I don’t think I could go out on my own and identify species, unless of course I had the packet of information on hand that I received from Schumacher. This program was a good first step to learning to identify species of trees and hopefully will be a stepping stone to future instruction. Overall, I found that the easygoing pace of this program was a great way to start my experience at Venture Outdoors and I am looking forward to attending more programs in the future.

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  • The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!

    March 20, 2018

    By: Josh Doty of Foto-Foraging

    Spring is here. If you have been hiding from the snow and cold temperatures, it is now time to venture outdoors again. There is so much to see, even if you only have a chance to go to your local park or even your own backyard.

    The Nature Treasure Hunt

    The Nature Treasure Hunt is a quest to explore, discover, document, learn and share (Instagram #naturetreasurehunt, #ventureoutdoors) nature with others. It is a year-long activity that will provide exercise, fresh air, strong family/friend bonding moments, opportunities to discover and learn,

     » Read more about: The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!  »

  • Winter Tree ID

    March 13, 2018

    By: Iris Marzolf

    My favorite Venture Outdoors program I’ve attended thus far is the Winter Tree ID hike in January at Frick Park.

    It was an educational hike, so participants got a two-for-one deal—exercising while learning how to identify trees without leaves. Winter tree identification is a lot easier and more engaging than one would think. My opinion of trees in winter is generally negative; they look like dull brown skeletons. They’re all the same. Ugly.

    BUT ACTUALLY trees are like people; certain types look the same, and they all have unique characteristics depending on how they grew up.

     » Read more about: Winter Tree ID  »

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid

    March 6, 2018

    By: Maggie Zangara

    On November 20, 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in an interesting training hosted by Venture Outdoors. The name of the training was Youth Mental Health First Aid, and it took place at Venture Outdoors through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. A fun fact is that Lady GaGa, who is a first aider herself and an advocate of the program, has set a goal of getting 150,000 people trained this year.

    Youth Mental Health First Aid ActivityThe intent of the training was to teach family members, teachers, school staff, health and human services workers and other caring citizens how to help adolescents who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

     » Read more about: Youth Mental Health First Aid  »

  • Rachel Carson Trails

    February 27, 2018

    By: Amy Nelson, Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, Member and Volunteer 

    In 2015, three friends and I did the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge  for the first time. We were avid road runners, bored with the monotony of pavement.  A 34-mile trek through the woods seemed like a great way to mix things up. Cut to the day of the event. Twenty miles into it, we experienced a torrential downpour which caused mud slides on some of the steepest hills. Mother Nature can be cruel.  By the time the last five miles rolled around our spirits were broken and we prayed for it to be over.

     » Read more about: Rachel Carson Trails  »

  • Leaving No Trace

    February 20, 2018

    By: Sara Cardamone

    At the Annual Volunteer Meeting, I had the opportunity to attend the Leave No Trace breakout session. Led by Joel Johnston, the interactive gathering was focused on educating participants on what Leave No Trace is truly about. Here are some of the things that I learned!

    Leave No Trace was launched when attendance at parks started to increase, so much so that it was taking a toll on the environment. The mission of the organization is to “protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly”. This comes in the form of seven principles that one should keep in mind when enjoying the outdoors.

     » Read more about: Leaving No Trace  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Sunset Paddle

Thank you for another great season!
We’ll see you on the water in 2018!


Featured Outing


About Boating Safely
Saturday, March 24
9 AM – 5 PM

Join Venture Outdoors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for About Boating Safely. This course gives participants the knowledge needed to obtain a boat license or safety certification in Pennsylvania.