Joey-Linn Ulrich
Joey-Linn Ulrich. Photo courtesy of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation.

To Joey-Linn Ulrich, parks and green spaces are living gifts that need to be nurtured. As the new executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, she’ll do just that — and encourage others to utilize the county’s nine parks and preserve them for future generations.

“I’m elated,” says Ulrich, one month into the job. “My parents took me to the parks; I’m taking my kids, and my kids love being in the parks.”

Ulrich, of Overbrook, grew up in Allentown and has fond childhood memories of exploring
South Park, hiking and biking in summer months and ice skating and sledding in winter. Her husband Ed works for CitiParks, so their children — Emily, 23, Grace, 18, and Edward, 12 — have learned to love the outdoors as well.

Ulrich is the foundation’s third director, following the retirement of Caren Glotfelty, who spent eight years with the organization and helped the foundation raise more than $5 million for projects in the county parks. That will be the biggest part of Ulrich’s job, too, selling people on the idea of donating time and money to help maintain the 12,000 acres of nature and recreational facilities.

Chip Babst, who chairs the foundation’s board of directors, says the board is “confident that her values, experience and love of the outdoors will enable the Parks Foundation to continue its key role of working with the county to implement meaningful projects.”

Chief among those projects is the estimated $1 million renovation of North Park’s Observation Tower, the main project for 2023 now that the Sculpture Garden at Hartwood Acres is completed, says Ulrich. The tower, she says, “gives beautiful panoramic views. On a clear day, I’ve been told, you can see all the way into Downtown Pittsburgh, so we want to make that happen again for people.”

Buchart Horn Architects won the $108,000 contract for the tower’s structural assessment and construction drawings, and the county is seeking construction bids from contractors.

Ulrich brings unique experience to the position of leading the foundation’s staff of seven. She most recently was chief operating officer for the Mon Valley Initiative and, before that, the executive director of Economic Development South, where she spearheaded efforts to address healthy food access through the Produce Marketplace, a nonprofit grocery store in Clairton.

She also was executive director of Venture Outdoors, working in tandem with
Allegheny County Parks Director Andy Baechle, and spent six years with the Girl Scouts in the Sierra Nevada — the only time she has lived outside the Pittsburgh area.

“I always wanted that boomerang of going away and coming back,” she says. “You appreciate your home that much more.”

View from the North Park Water Tower. Photo courtesy of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation.

Despite hardships for many people brought on by inflation, Ulrich doesn’t anticipate real difficulty in convincing donors to continue giving to the parks.

“Our region has a lot of beautiful green spaces in close proximity to neighborhoods,” she says. “And when you ask people about their experiences in the parks, and what they love about the parks, the ask becomes so personal. Many people have that memory — it could be from childhood, or a memory with family as an adult, or with their grandchildren — and so they have a connection to [the parks]. The ask to support something for the continuation of these spaces is so important.”

The Parks Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 2007, works with Baechle’s department to determine projects that need to be done and to set fundraising goals. The foundation raised roughly $2 million in each of 2018 and 2019, according to its latest financial disclosures.

Fundraising “is really driven by need and opportunity,” says Ulrich. “We’re fortunate to have a wonderful board of directors that plays a role in helping us to raise those dollars, whether it’s through corporations, foundations or private donors.”

Ulrich counts herself lucky to be joining the foundation at this time, saying she can further the master plan laid out by Glotfelty.

“She created such a wonderful legacy that my work to continue and build upon what she did … is really what I’m looking to do,” she says. “She laid out a wonderful plan, and then we’ll look for those new opportunities that will present themselves, to be able to ensure that these spaces continue to be here for future generations. With the shift in our weather and how water runoff happens, there’s a lot to think about with the parks and making sure we can preserve them.

“Whatever we do to improve the parks, we’re thinking about that thoughtfully.”

Like her family, Ulrich believes most Pittsburghers cherish their parks, not just for outdoor
recreation but also for special events such as the holiday laser show at North Park — “It’s really fun and gets you into the holiday spirit, for sure,” she says.

“There’s such a wide variety of opportunities that you can do in them,” Ulrich says. “Going through the pandemic, I think people have grown even more appreciative of those green spaces and being able to experience them. Being able to share that with friends and family, to know that’s something we have here in the region, it’s really something to be proud of. They’re all unique, with their own personalities and amenities.”

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.