Whether you’re headed over the bridge from Schenley Plaza to go for a run, play some frisbee or relax in the grass, the first thing you’ll see when you cross looks like an imposing glass castle.
The building is Phipps Conservatory — a vast greenhouse filled with local and tropical plants. The conservatory acts as the closest entrance to one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and most expansive parks: Schenley Park.
Heiress and philanthropist Mary Schenley first donated the land that would later become Schenley Park in 1889. The 456-acre park lies adjacent to Pitt’s campus and has become one of the most accessible and attractive spots for Pitt students to spend free time, get exercise and simply relax.
The park hosts a steady flow of events, leagues and activities for Pitt students to participate in, especially during the summer. There is an online event calendar on pittsburghparks.org that details everything going on in the park throughout the year.
Scott Roller, the senior manager of communications and creative for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, laid out some of the summer activities in Schenley that students may be most interested in.
“There are a good number of things happening in June,” Roller said. “Yoga and Tai Chi in the park are open to students. Yoga is on Saturdays and Tai Chi is on Sunday mornings and those continue throughout the whole summer.”
Roller also made note of one of Schenley’s more recent additions for the summer — cinema in the park, which started several years ago and will continue this year.
“The city is going to be doing free outdoor movies on Sundays right around dusk,” Roller said. “They haven’t announced the movies yet, but those will be coming in the next couple weeks here.”
Once the movies are announced for the summer screenings, the schedule and titles can be found at pittsburghpa.gov under the Citiparks page. Some of the films from last year’s showings at Flagstaff Hill include “Ant-Man,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Me Earl and the Dying Girl.”
For those looking for more entertainment, Schenley Park also hosts several concerts throughout the summer. Schenley will host the 20th annual WYEP Summer Music Festival on June 24 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. There will also be two concerts on the final Fridays of July and August going from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. All summer concerts have free admission.
When there aren’t events going on, Schenley still has plenty to offer. The park contains a full scale golf course, a disc golf course starting at the Schenley park overlook, seven tennis courts and nine miles of trails for biking, running and hiking.
Megha Patel and Tori Blake, sophomore Pitt pharmacy students, think one of the park’s best features is how big the park is and how easy it is to immerse yourself in it.
“There’s so many paths, I get lost pretty often,” Blake joked. “I love the woods, the bridges, the tunnels.”
“The scenery is really pretty,” Patel added. “On a nice day, you can just walk forever.”
This summer, Schenley Park offers even more to visitors. “There is a new swimming pool that is under construction,” Roller said. “As far as I know, that will be ready to go this summer.” The new outdoor pool will be open from 1 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. during weekends.
One of the most popular attractions in Schenley Park is Phipps Conservatory. According to Jenna Bodnar, communications coordinator at Phipps, there were “over 13,000 visits by Pitt students during the 2016-2017 school year.”
Bodnar went on to explain that Phipps connects to the University in a number of ways, offering class tours.
“We do have Pitt classes come through for tours sometimes. Our science education department is happy to provide out-of-the-classroom learning experiences for students and coordinate specialized tours and educational programs with Pitt,” Bodnar said.
One of the biggest perks Phipps offers Pitt students is the ability to visit the Conservatory for free during the school year. The discount is considerable — a standard adult ticket costs $17.95. This benefit, Bodnar says, is great for more than just educational reasons.
“During the stress and chaos of the school year, Phipps offers a tropical oasis to students — a place to connect with nature and unwind,” Bodnar said.
Bodnar explained that the Conservatory offers something for everybody. “Art lovers will enjoy our changing art displays, glass art collection, historic sculptures and more. Those interested in sustainability can learn about how the [Center for Sustainable Landscapes] recycles all of its water on-site and generates all of the energy that it uses in a year,” Bodnar said. “Foodies can savor a delicious meal from Cafe Phipps and visit the Rooftop Edible Garden and Tropical Fruit and Spice Room to see how food is grown.”
The conservatory also features flower shows throughout the year, including the current show running through November 6 with the theme “supernatural.” For upperclassmen, Phipps even offers a night out. “Every first Friday from September through November, students can also enjoy Party in the Tropics, a 21 and older event in our Tropical Forest Conservatory where we bring in a DJ and have food and drinks available for purchase,” Bodnar said.
Some Pitt students like Luke Jennings, a fifth year senior in Pitt’s pharmacy program, recognize and appreciate the benefit that a place like Schenley Park can be to a student. “I use Schenley to run and the pool is so cool in the summer,” Jennings said. “Students here don’t realize that you can get a family pass and you get four pool tags with it. So it’s basically fifteen dollars a person to use any public, City of Pittsburgh pool.”
Students don’t even need to use all of the amenities that Schenley offers. Sometimes, it can just be a place to get some relaxation.
“I just go on walks with friends and take in the amazing views, and to get away from campus for a little bit,” Jennings said.