Photo by Mary Pegher.

Photographer Mary Pegher spent years taking pictures for Downtown corporations such as PPG Industries, Highmark and Mellon.

In retirement, she set out to capture the beauty of North Park, Allegheny County’s largest recreational area. Some of her favorite locations include the Gold Star Shelter, golf course, Latodami Nature Center and the Boathouse.

Pegher prefers to snap pictures at sunrise.

Photo by Mary Pegher.

“The light is really special at that time of day and the animals are still wandering,” she says. “I follow the sun and make that the focus of my pictures.”

Photos she’s taken throughout the 3,075-acre green space have been featured in a gallery show, a book titled “The Dogs of North Park” and on the Friends of North Park – Allegheny County Facebook page.

Nancy Furbee runs the social media group, which was launched several years ago and now has more than 12,000 members.

Since Covid struck, there’s been a spike in the number of people asking to join the page. Even if they can’t make it out to the park — which stretches across parts of Hampton, McCandless and Pine townships — seeing beautiful images is a nice distraction from a grim reality.

There’s even a member in Japan who uses the site as a cure for homesickness.

Photo by Mary Pegher.

In addition to photos, the Facebook page is a great place to get information. Recent posts include news about “Sweet Girl,” the Netflix movie starring Jason Momoa filmed at the park last year. Members also post events, such as the Wolf Moon 15K scheduled for Jan. 28.

On Halloween, a coven of witches ditched their brooms for stand-up paddleboards and cruised around the lake. Of course, Pegher was there to capture some haunting images.

Photo by Mary Pegher.

Folks also flock to the Facebook page to discuss improvement projects taking place throughout North Park.

Currently, the tennis field house is being restored to its original exterior design, including its cupola.

According to Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County’s chief marketing officer, the building will have heated restrooms with flush toilets open year-round, as well as snack and drink vending machines. The facility will also serve as a ranger contact station for park visitors. It’s expected completion date is Jan. 31, 2021.

Last fall, the county began work on Wildwood Meadow. The eight-acre area, which originally served as a dumpsite for a 1987 lake dredging project, was fenced off for more than 30 years. The goal is to convert mowed turf or marginal fields into diverse native grass and wildflower meadows that provide will high-quality wildlife habitat, trails and scenic beauty.

The viewing mound at Wildwood Meadow is approximately 25 feet tall and features sandstone boulder climbing stairs. Edgeworth-based sculptor Dan Peluso built the stone feature and the three benches that sit atop the mound. The parks department has developed a management plan to control invasive weeds, such as Canada thistle and poison hemlock, and it will be overseeding the site in spring 2021. Evanto says with better growing conditions and ongoing adaptive management, Wildwood Meadow promises to become a proper gateway for North Park.

Photo by Mary Pegher.

Seeing projects like this come to fruition is important to people like Furbee, a Sewickley resident who grew up in the area and has been visiting North Park for most of her life. Accompanied by her dog Bindi Lou, she explores the area on foot and kayak.

While the five-mile loop around the 65-acre lake is usually teeming with visitors, she says there are plenty of places off the beaten path to find solitude.

“You can head into the woods to go trail running or horseback riding and maybe you’ll come across five people,” she says. “With so much land, it’s not hard to disappear.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.