In late 2021 Sara Khalil came to us wanting to teach women, girls, and people…
By: Beth Pedone
I have always loved living in Pittsburgh. Our city in the Allegheny foothills has many attractive attributes: beautiful topography, friendly people, and small-town charm in a medium-sized city. After living away for six years, upon my return to Pittsburgh I discovered a city experiencing a rebirth and sought to join the vibrant scene. I joined the newly-formed Western Pennsylvania Field Institute and enrolled in their trip leader program. The WPFI was pretty small at that point — only a couple hundred people — but it was an exciting time to meet friends who were also interested in getting outdoors.
Venture Outdoors… For Real
Heading up leisurely excursions offered me a break from my stressful advertising art director job, but I was soon able to find a way to merge my interests with my skills. WPFI founder Mike Schiller contacted me about developing a visual identity for the inaugural Venture Outdoors Festival — which resulted in what would eventually become the official organization logo. (After the success of the festival it was decided that VENTURE OUTDOORS would be the new name of the organization, and my newly-minted visual would be the logo.)
The breakdown of the visual is as follows: I wanted to convey a sense of movement and freedom anchored with stability. The figure (Jo) is loosely based on Robert Crumb’s “Keep On Truckin’” visual, but instead of swaggering across a flat landscape, Jo is meant to be striding (leaping?) gleefully over our Allegheny foothills.
Tyke Hikes: Visually and Literally Growing
I married and became a mom and soon afterward I discovered I wasn’t able to participate in many of the activities I used to enjoy now that I had a kiddo in tow. Fortunately Michael Sobkowiak, another key member of Venture Outdoors, had started the Tyke Hikes program with his own kids and was seeking others leaders to help the program grow larger. Tyke Hikes were stroller-friendly and encouraged the kiddos to look and touch, all while learning about nature and the Bridle hiking trail in Schenley Park. Soon another member, Lindsay Rethage (nee. Marler), and I partnered with Michael to lead the Tyke Hikes program. Lindsay had kids my own kids’ age, and we were able to lead the stroller set on short hikes in Schenley Park on a weekly basis — with snacks afterward in the Schenley café. We talked about trees and leaves and rocks and our trail had a really exciting point of interest: a natural beehive!
As Michael’s kids grew older he bowed out which allowed Lindsay and I take over the reins of the program. Our goal was now to grow our membership and widen our hike locations to more of the city’s parks.
We began to rotate our hikes to other city and county parks — Frick Park, Highland Park, South Park, and several others. Each park offered its own advantages/disadvantages, and we tried to include parks in the far corners of the county as well as those in the central area. We had some memorable unsuccessful experiments: trying to hike on narrow trails with strollers (nope!), had some of our trails washed away by spring flooding (whoops!) and once we were unable to FIND the trailhead by car in Boyce Park because the maps were so outdated. Some of our more successful and memorable outcomes were the rock climbing wall outings at the Southside REI store, finding a “beach” of thousands of stones at Squaw Valley Park, and our annual Halloween party/season wrap-up.
Unfortunately, the years of one’s kids being toddlers move fast, and before I realized it my kids had grown older and were uninterested in doing stroller outings… because once they were out of the stroller, they were running away from me! So I phased myself out of the program, hoping that other young parents would step up and continue a great program. I’m pleased to see that it’s still a popular program with Venture Outdoors!
Venture Outdoors’ Tyke Hikes will always hold a special place in my heart because I created the visual image for the organization and was part of the development of the programs from the beginning. I’m proud to be affiliated with Venture Outdoors and its membership, and hope to go on trips more frequently moving forward!