If anyone is interested...North Park has a voice, and that voice has a name: The Friends of North Park.
The Friends of North Park is a dedicated group of citizens who volunteer in the park as much as they use the park, and this weekend, they are inviting others to do the same at this year's annual Stewardship Volunteer Workday, on May 7.
The Friends of North Park is part of Allegheny County's Council of Friends, which was enacted in 2002 to create a citizen group for each of the nine county parks to work with existing groups in the county's park system and help with fundraising, programming, volunteerism and partnerships.
"We have local people that really see things and can communicate what's needed and be a part of the solution," said Andrew Baechle, director of allegheny county parks. "The big picture is they're a group that's there to watch over the park, and they're priceless."
The Friends of North Park was created shortly after the county council passed the ordinance to create the Council of Friends, but has picked up steam in recent years.
In the past three years, the Friends of North Park members have developed a mission statement, organized informative presentations for its monthly meetings, helped to raise money and awareness for park projects and established volunteer opportunities to benefit the park.
"We have some momentum and the momentum is building because we've had good meetings and because the word's getting out," said Gary Rigdon, Friends of North Park chairman. "I'm convinced as people learn about the Friends of North Park group we'll have more people."
This year's annual spring cleaning will be one of the largest planned with a total of seven job sites throughout North Park for people to volunteer their time.
Work includes removing litter and other dumped items along Irwin Road, Lakeshore Drive, Brown Road and Reynolds Road; removing invasive species in the Irwin Run Valley and around the North Carolina shelter; light landscaping around the Boathouse and constructing a boardwalk in the newly restored wetlands near the skating rink.
"We wanted to offer something for everyone," Rigdon said, adding that volunteers can choose what they are comfortable doing.
In the past, about 25 people have showed up for the Stewardship Days, but Rigdon hopes to double that this weekend.
The success of the Friends of North Park's projects has attracted the attention of the Allegheny County Council which recognized Rigdon, earlier this month, for his hard work with the Friends of North Park.
"I was very honored," Rigdon said. "It made all this work I've been doing worthwhile."
Rigdon and the Friends of North Park are responsible for helping to obtain funding to construct the Pfundstein Memorial Trail, in memory of a local mountain biker; and establishing a partnership with the North Area Environmental Council and Allegheny Land Trust to purchase the Irwin Run Conservation Area and preserve the Irwin Run valley.
The Friends of North Park also works closely with the Allegheny County Parks Foundation which was created as the nonprofit arm to improve, conserve and maintain the county parks.
"We'll work together to mobilize volunteers and leverage support for the park," said Christine Fulton, executive director of the Parks Foundation. "Our parks are — not only North Park but all nine parks — are regional treasures. We as a county and region are lucky to have over 12,000 acres of green space in our county parks."
The foundation currently is working to create a boardwalk around North Park lake and network of trails, separated from the road, for recreational use, and it is one of the partnering organizations that is sponsoring the Stewardship Day.
Fulton said a "strong volunteer core," such as those involved in the Friends of North Park can help address a wider range of needed park improvements. Rigdon would like to expand the Friends of North Park services to provide more than man-power and strengthen the partnership with the county, Parks Foundation and other community groups.
"In the future, I see helping to identify and prioritize projects for the park and helping to raise funds for those projects," Rigdon said.
The Friends of North Park is working to restore the Irwin Run marsh to improve the condition and function of the ecosystem as well as restore a section of the Rachel Carson Trail near the marsh.
"We want to make sure it's (the park) taken care of for the people who enjoy it today and for generations to come," Ridgon said. "We want to stand up for what's right for the park in terms of the decisions that are made by the county for the park."
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