Venturing Outdoors: How I Learned to Appreciate Nature by Working at Kayak Pittsburgh

By: Alexander Downing

Since August 2014 I’ve worked as an attendant at Kayak Pittsburgh’s North Park location. This means I’m one of the smiling faces in the green shirts pushing boats into the water and handing out PFDs and paddles. It also means I get to look out on the beautiful North Park Lake for hours on end. As it turns out, that’s been the most memorable part of the job and the catalyst for a change in how I view nature.

As a kid, the primary role nature played in my life was as the location for sports. The outdoors was where I went to play Little League baseball, shoot hoops, and start pickup football games. It was defined by baseball fields and asphalt courts – manmade additions to the natural surroundings. There may have been woods and streams and hills all around, but for the first decade and a half of my outdoor activities these were out of bounds, both literally and figuratively.

As much as my father – an avid hiker and outdoorsman – tried to get me interested in real nature, I was more concerned with the monuments of organized athletics. While I don’t regret my passion for sports and the influence they’ve had on my life, I wish I had realized sooner that the great outdoors has so much more to offer than the diamonds and rectangles I was so used to.

One instance stands out in my memory as a prime example of my ignorance towards nature’s beauty. I was dragged on a hiking trip in the Pocono Mountains with my family. It followed a path that began in the woods with very little to see besides trees and an occasional bird or deer. Complaining the entire time, I dragged my feet and stared at the ground in the most juvenile manner possible before we emerged upon a stream with roaring rapids and a waterfall. I was so concerned with making sure everyone knew I’d rather be throwing or hitting a ball that I never expected to be blown away by the end of this journey. (Of course, I couldn’t admit this at the time. After all, it’s just some water and rocks, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m so bored. Can we go home now?)

Which brings me to the lake.

By the time I started working at North Park, I was finishing up my very last season of baseball and all those pickup games and blacktop shootarounds were being replaced by college applications and study sessions. I spent most of my time on the docks playing games on my phone, bored senseless just like on that Pocono trail.

But over the next few summers I began to look around at the lake and the woods. I opened my eyes to the innate beauty of it all, the curved shoreline replacing straight basepaths, the fish and herons replacing hoops and balls. I didn’t lose my love for all things sports – I still hope to work in marketing or PR for a sports team or agency someday – but I gained an understanding that they aren’t all that nature has to offer. I took kayaks and paddleboards out by myself to enjoy my surroundings in all their splendor. I no longer loathed the idea of walking through nature when a car would be faster or more efficient. I even went on a few short hikes during vacations in Iceland and Ohio.

I still struggle to go out of my way to take in the beauty of nature – whether by avoiding a hike because it seems like too much work or choosing a Pirates game over a paddle on the river – but I can say with confidence that I recognize that beauty better than I did before my days on the docks. As this summer comes to a close and I leave the lake again, likely for the last time as an attendant, I find that this evolution may have been the most valuable product of my years working for Venture Outdoors, and for that I am grateful.

Posted in Uncategorized

OUTDOOR News

  • MY FIRST PROGRAM EXPERIENCE WITH VENTURE OUTDOORS

    September 19, 2017

    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..

     » Read more about: MY FIRST PROGRAM EXPERIENCE WITH VENTURE OUTDOORS  »

  • Venturing Outdoors: How I Learned to Appreciate Nature by Working at Kayak Pittsburgh

    September 12, 2017

    By: Alexander Downing

    Since August 2014 I’ve worked as an attendant at Kayak Pittsburgh’s North Park location. This means I’m one of the smiling faces in the green shirts pushing boats into the water and handing out PFDs and paddles. It also means I get to look out on the beautiful North Park Lake for hours on end. As it turns out, that’s been the most memorable part of the job and the catalyst for a change in how I view nature.

    As a kid, the primary role nature played in my life was as the location for sports.

     » Read more about: Venturing Outdoors: How I Learned to Appreciate Nature by Working at Kayak Pittsburgh  »

  • Biking– It’s A Family Thing

    September 5, 2017

    By: Kenna Gubler

    To grow up in a family where everyone has the same love for the outdoors is something that can be hard to find these days. Luckily, my family loves everything that the outdoors has to offer. My parents constantly had my brothers and me outside starting at a very young age. We were first introduced to the outdoors through participating in a variety of sports that most of the other kids I knew played as well. As we got older, my brothers and I would push ourselves to try newer and more exciting things involving the outdoors.

     » Read more about: Biking– It’s A Family Thing  »

  • Meet the Fisherlady, LeeAnne Conway

    August 29, 2017

    By: Jacob Tumminello

    The 2017 summer season has been extremely successful for Venture Outdoors thanks to the help of hard working staff members, volunteers, and college interns. One of those interns who is also responsible for taking pictures and capturing memorable moments during outings is LeeAnne Conway.

    LeeAnne is currently studying Environmental Science and Photography at Robert Morris University and decided to take advantage of the various internship opportunities provided by Venture Outdoors. LeeAnne works double time as a photography and fishing intern for various outings. Although she enjoys taking pictures of many different types of outings,

     » Read more about: Meet the Fisherlady, LeeAnne Conway  »

  • Hiking With Your Tyke

    August 22, 2017

    By: Jacob Tumminello

    Venture Outdoors firmly believes that everyone belongs outdoors including young adventurers. To create a program specifically designed for children, Venture Outdoors introduced Tyke Hikes, nature walks for children up to age five and their caregivers. These walks create a relaxed learning environment and include activities, snacks, and interesting facts about the location.
    Venture Outdoors categorizes activities based on difficulty, and Tyke Hike programs are considered relaxed – a category requiring no prior experience. Trail locations are mapped out ahead of time to ensure an easy walk for children. Most of these locations are scheduled within Pittsburgh and Allegheny County parks.

     » Read more about: Hiking With Your Tyke  »

Featured Outing

Beginner Paddle – North Shore
Multiple Dates
6:00 – 8:30 PM

We’ll start with instruction and practice, and then head onto the Allegheny River to see just how easy it is to paddle. Bedazzled by the gorgeous Pittsburgh skyline, you won’t even realize that you’re suddenly paddling like a pro! Equipment, guides and instruction are provided. Solo kayaks are highly recommended for this outing.


SIGN UP HERE!