by Lora Hutelmyer, Youth Program Manager
“Archery practice and salamander searching? What kind of work conference was this?” a confused friend asked as I told him about my previous Friday at work. On October 28, I participated in the Get Outdoors PA Regional Summit held at the Fern Hollow Nature Center. This summit brought together over 30 attendees to network, brainstorm and hear from six speakers representing a number of outdoor organizations across Southwestern Pennsylvania. This conference was certainly not your typical conference – it was interactive, fun, and so well organized.
As my coworker, also named Lora, and I pulled into the parking lot of Fern Hollow Nature Center, I was immediately in awe of the scenery. Two cozy buildings sit atop a hill overlooking fields that seem to go on for miles. The weather was chilly, but the sun started to come out early in the afternoon and stayed out all day for us.
The morning kicked off with bagels, coffee and an introduction by Emily Gates and Nicole Faraguna from Get Outdoors PA. Caren Glotfelty, Executive Director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, spoke about innovative programs that attracted audiences across all ages, particularly senior citizens. I then had the privilege of speaking with Heather Sage from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (a recently featured “Game Changer” in Pittsburgh Magazine – she’s famous!). Together, we highlighted our organizations’ programs that work with children outdoors and connect communities to the abundance of green space throughout the city.
To shake things up a bit and give us a break from presentations, many interactive components were included in the morning’s agenda. A fun educational lesson was presented by Jessica Kester with the Allegheny Land Trust. She introduced a large stuffed fish and puppet owl before setting us out into the fields to collect samples of soil (that’s the “scientific” term for dirt!), animals, and plants. Before lunch, we practiced archery with Sarah Sandin from Washington County Parks & Recreation Department. I practiced archery in a distant past (and I do at least 20 girl push-ups a day, c’mon), but I was shocked to feel how much strength is needed to pull back the bow!
A delicious buffet meal was served right outside on the picnic tables where we had a chance to meet and network with other attendees. Yes, I spoke to complete strangers about their Halloween costume plans AND found out what their favorite outdoor activity is.
The conference ended on a fantastic note. April Claus of the Fern Hollow Nature Center introduced us to her 10-year accidental journey of rescuing salamanders from a nearby sewage treatment plant. Just a few miles away down the road we were able to visit the wetlands that April and her staff and students have been building and maintaining as a home for the Jefferson salamanders to reproduce and grow.
This summit was particularly meaningful for Venture Outdoors, one of the many partners of Get Outdoors PA (GoPA). Ten years ago, we were an inaugural partner in their initial phase of developing a state-wide outdoor recreation resource site. Their website, GetOutdoorsPA.org, has grown significantly over the years and is a great home base to connect to other outdoor groups and share resources. We’ve been funded with matching grants in 2015 and 2016 by GoPA for adaptive recreation and Trip Leader paddling equipment.
It was an enjoyable fall day and I was glad to have learned so much from such a great group of people. Any conferences in my future sure will have a lot to live up to.