The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has been in the spotlight since the pandemic sparked people’s renewed interest in outdoor recreation. Now the parks are literally going to shine on Friday, Oct. 1, and Saturday, Oct 2, as part of the Conservancy’s silver anniversary celebration.

“Make Your Parks Shine” is a free event with live music, food vendors, family-friendly activities — and tons of lights.

The parties will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday at the Walled Garden in Mellon Park, the Patricia Rooney Memorial Fountain in Allegheny Commons Park and Schenley Plaza, and on Saturday at August Wilson Park, McKinley Park and the Frick Environmental Center

The lighting installations, which will be on each night, were created by Pittsburgh event and creative services agency, LUXE Creative. 

In its 25 years, the Parks Conservancy has helped to transform the city’s parks but it has been transformed itself with new leadership and the challenges of the pandemic.

Catherine Qureshi. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Former chief operating officer, Catherine Qureshi, took over as president and CEO of the nonprofit in June after Jayne Miller stepped down in October, citing family reasons. Qureshi has been with the organization since 2014 and is dedicated to engaging the community in its parks, a process that seems to have accelerated.

Quershi says they have seen increased park usage during the pandemic. “And we absolutely encourage people to continue that. … It’s good for your mental health, physical health, emotional health”

With 165 parks in the city, Qureshi says one of the best things about urban parks is that they are accessible. 

Over the seven years that she has been with the Parks Conservancy, the focus has become expanding throughout the city beyond the so-called premier parks. ”We want to take the great work we’ve done and push it out.”

That mission is easier now that people are reinvested in the city parks and making them a priority.

A ballot referendum passed in November 2019 to collect about $50 on every $100,000 of assessed property value for the parks. The city has begun collecting the tax but the council has not decided how the funds will be allocated and the Parks Conservancy has yet to receive any money. 

Still, the fact that residents supported a dedicated funding stream shows the importance that they place on the park system.

“And I really think the Parks Conservancy has helped contribute to that” with programs that involve children in the parks and environmental education, Qureshi says.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

That outreach is continuing with an upcoming podcast series.

“For the Love of Parks” was created by the Parks Conservancy to commemorate its 25th anniversary. The 12-episode series will feature stories from residents, civic leaders, and Conservancy staff about their experiences and connections to Pittsburgh’s parks. 

The first episode “Imagine There’s No Parks Conservancy” will be available on Oct. 4.

But Qureshi would rather imagine there’s an even more expansive Parks Conservancy.

“It’s important to us that we are serving all citizens of the city of Pittsburgh,” she says. “What I would like is to have that Parks Conservancy touch in all areas of the city of Pittsburgh, but, that can’t happen overnight.

“We want to hear what it is the community wants and needs too. So it will take time, but that’s where my head and my heart is, that this is something that is citywide.”