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.

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  • Lakeside and Treetops

    November 14, 2017

    By: Chrissy Ludwikowski

    As the days become shorter (and the work days seemingly longer), it can be hard for families to make time to be together, and one’s mind doesn’t normally put colder days hand-in-hand with outdoor activities. Fortunately, we live in a city that has opportunities available year-round to invoke our sense of adventure, even during our daily grind (and don’t worry, these adventures will get your blood pumping to keep you mighty warm)!

    Thanks to Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh, my family has adopted a love for everything that the outdoors has to offer,

     » Read more about: Lakeside and Treetops  »

  • Women In Nature

    November 7, 2017

    By: Sheila Stagnitta

    Women In Nature Hike

    Women in Nature (WIN) hikes are by women for women – all the leaders and participants come together and bond as only women can. The October WIN hike started off with a bit of adventure – the road to the starting point was closed for a charity run. Just by luck, three of the leaders arrived at the same time. Quick change to the plan – Sara started calling everyone to give them a nearby meeting point. Pauline stood at the corner before the closed road to flag down our participants. I walked to the meeting location and rounded up three people who were already there.

     » Read more about: Women In Nature  »

  • Searching For Fall – Photos by Nanci Goldberg

    November 1, 2017

    The start of fall this year was less colorful (and much warmer) than usual. Earlier last month Volunteer Trip Leader, Nanci Goldberg, drove up to Linn Run State Park in search of SOMETHING that looked and felt like fall. Below are some images Nanci would love to share with Venture Outdoors blog readers in the hopes that this makes everyone’s fall a little more colorful!


    Fall Photo 1 - Nanci GoldbergFall Photos 2 - Nanci GoldbergFall Photos 3 - Nanci GoldbergFall Photos 4 - Nanci Goldberg

     » Read more about: Searching For Fall – Photos by Nanci Goldberg  »

  • Hiking Toward A Haunting: Ghost Hunting

    October 31, 2017

    By: Ken Sikora

    H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. Have you ever been alone in a quiet room and heard someone whisper your name? Maybe you were on a late-night walk through the woods, you see what could be a human-like figure standing still, looking back at you.  It’s probably nothing you tell yourself. Then it moves. Perhaps your mind is just playing tricks on you, or maybe these are experiences of the paranormal.

     » Read more about: Hiking Toward A Haunting: Ghost Hunting  »


    October 24, 2017

    Dog Hike

    By: Samantha Sektnan

    If you are an outdoor enthusiast and dog owner like myself, then you too may have considered ways to include your furry canine in your outdoor activities. A hiking trip is a great way to get some exercise, explore the world around us, and bond with your dog too. In order to bring your dog on a hiking or backpacking trip, here is a guide on everything that you need to bring and complete in order to prepare your dog for the trip.

    It is important that your dog has proper obedience training in order to handle the possibility of seeing other people and animals on the trip and to follow your commands and stay with you if you are able and willing to let your dog off-leash.


Kayak Pittsburgh

Sunset Paddle

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


Featured Outing

Cedar Creek Walk

Cedar Creek Walk
Sunday, November 26
1 – 3 PM

Cedar Creek Park is the perfect fall destination. Located along the Youghiogheny River in Westmoreland County, the park trails follow Cedar Creek and include two suspension bridges. We’ll cover 2 to 3 miles at an easy pace.