20 Year Anniversary for The Rachel Carson Trail Challenge
Do you love Pittsburgh’s growing active culture? At Summerset there are so many parks and trails a short drive away! Have you ever thought about taking your leisure walks and hikes to the next level? Well you can with the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, it is a lengthy but rewarding hike through Pennsylvania hills, parks, and forests. Michael Jehn of Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition wrote all about the hike and its exciting 20-year celebration here.
THE RACHEL CARSON TRAIL CHALLENGE CELEBRATES ITS TWENTIETH YEAR—AND YOU CAN TOO
By Michael Jehn
If you’ve been looking for an intense, well-organized, highly rewarding athletic event in the Pittsburgh area that differs somewhat from the many popular timed road races that take place each year, perhaps an experience rooted in a deeper connection with nature and unexpected variations in topography rather than a running tour of the city’s neighborhoods and landmarks, I recommend an endurance hike that pays tribute to one of the region’s well-known historical figures: the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge.
The event, now in its twentieth year, is a roughly 34-mile endurance hike that is traditionally scheduled for the Saturday closest to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. As the event’s website notes, the ultimate objective of the Challenge is completion rather than competition—and, as past participants and regulars will attest, finishing within the allotted sunrise-to-sunset time limit is no easy feat, a brag-worthy accomplishment in its own right. (This isn’t to say that many of us, myself included, don’t thoroughly enjoy barreling headlong down slippery slopes and jogging the easier parts as long as our bodies tolerate it, pushing for the best possible finish time.)
The Rachel Carson Trail, in map view with north pointing upward, traces like a wiggly, unsteady V with the west trailhead located in North Park (McCandless Township), east trailhead in Harrison Hills Park (Natrona Heights), and south-most point near the Allegheny River in Springdale. The Rachel Carson Homestead, on the National Register of Historic Places, sits close to the challenge’s midpoint as the trail route—at that point a quiet residential street—appropriately passes Carson’s birthplace.
Each year, the direction of the Challenge reverses, providing a welcome variation in the sequence of notable trail segments whose physical characteristics range dramatically from gravel access roads, pleasant wooded trails, residential yards and busy roadside berms to rocky stream crossings, loose dirt slides, and steep cliff climbs devoid of handholds.
Hikers, as well as trail, are subject to the weather’s whims on race day, the Challenge commencing stalwartly through steady dry spell or violent storms. The conditions that most of us hope for, if I dare speak for the majority of participants, are lightly overcast skies, dry breezy air, and solid soil underfoot. Those are not, of course, the conditions that we necessarily get—and some of the most memorable Challenges are those residing within the realm of extremes. In 2013, for example, the sunshine was oppressive, the unflinching heat cruel. Despite drinking what seemed like gallons of water and Gatorade throughout the day provided by the Challenge’s four lavishly stocked checkpoints, no amount seemed enough to stay adequately hydrated; by early afternoon, my body was dragging, my resolve weakening with tempting thoughts of collapsing in the shade. (I pushed through, as always.) Last year, the incessant June rains produced some of the most slippery, frustrating, dangerous trail conditions imaginable, feet soaked completely through within the first four miles due to deep stream crossings and clothes saturated by steady showers before noon. Several years ago, in the east-to-west direction, a massive thunderstorm struck shortly after I had completed the Challenge. The normally unsubstantial hop-scotch passage through a small wetland leading to the finish point next to North Park Lake became a deep, fast-moving torrent. I remember helping a number of other hikers throw logs into the muddy rapids to create some semblance of a bridge that drenched participants could safely traverse to their finish.
But this, of course, is what it’s all about. It’s the struggle, the variables and unknowns, the self-reflection and determination, the untold experiences and ever-changing terrain that draw us in. Then there are the friendships, the mid-hike conversations, encountering familiar faces, occasional wildlife sightings, and the fantastic barbecue at the end. 2016 will be my eleventh consecutive year participating in the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, and it isn’t hyperbole or melodrama to say that this event has become a part of who I am. It is the reason why, if I should ever leave Pittsburgh, I am determined to return every June, for years and decades to come. For now, I’m not going anywhere—and I can’t wait for this year’s Challenge.
Learn more about the event, including the shorter Homestead Challenge and 8-mile Friends & Family Challenge, by visiting www.rachelcarsontrails.org/rct/challenge
Pittsburgh Park Activities
Ones You Didn't Know About
So many Pittsburgh Parks are just minutes from the Summerset at Frick Park community! With all this nature in the heart of the city there are so many opportunities for family fun and recreational use. But other than hiking, playgrounds, and sport fields, how else can your family make use the Pittsburgh parks? Well, we put an exciting list together so your family can have fun exploring all year!
Find the Fairies in Frick
Through Frick Park trails (and other Pittsburgh Parks like Mellon Park, Allegheny Commons, and more) tiny doors hidden among the trees show where many fairies reside. Take a walk and try and find all the fairy homes. Hint: there are at the base of trees on the Tranquil Trail!
Bike ride on the new paved path in Schenley
Pocusset Street in Schenley Park has transitioned from an unsafe road, to a safe paved walk/bike-only path. The open paved trail links Squirrel Hill to Greenfield and features very sleek and safe lanes for bikes and a wide shoulder for walkers. Additionally, the path features LED street lighting, so you can take a family stroll at any time of day.
Sunsets at the Highland Park Reservoir
The Highland Park Reservoir, close to the Pittsburgh Zoo, is a great place to take a stroll at any point in the day. Situated on the top of a hill, it makes it a perfect spot to watch the sunset over the neighborhood below.
Gaze at stars in Riverview Park
The Allegheny Observatory opens its doors weekly to the public for free tours, lectures, and open houses. On clear nights during these events, the 100-year-old-and-older telescopes are generally open for use.
Latch a love lock and throw away the key
Just like the City of Love, Paris- Pittsburgh has its own love bridge in Schenley Park. Walk with your loved one to the bridge after a stop at Phipps Conservancy or the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral, write your names on the lock, hook it on, and throw away the key (or forget the combination)!
The Pittsburgh Marathon: Not Just For Runners
Earlier this week writer Kelsey Jackson released an article on Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition’s website. It tackles the Pittsburgh Marathon in a new way- “not just for runners”. Below are 9 ways you can join in on the marathon fun! Full article here.
Volunteer – Volunteers are the backbone of race weekend and more than 4,000 volunteers lend their time to help make it a success. From handing out water at fluid stations, distributing shirts at the Expo or giving medals to runners at the finish line, you can find a volunteer position perfect for you during race weekend. To see what positions are available and to sign up, visit www.thePittsburghMarathon.com/volunteering.
Rock the Run – Each year, more than 60 bands and musicians line the streets of Pittsburgh to keep runners moving and grooving. Pittsburgh’s best acts showcase their talent to tens of thousands of runners on race day and help runners ROCK their way to the finish line.
Recruit your group and cheer LOUD – The Runners of Steel want to hear your group’s cheers and enthusiasm on race day! Charitable organizations, church choirs, sports teams or even entire elementary schools are all welcome to be a part of one of the largest events in Pittsburgh – groups can even win prizes for being the loudest and proudest cheerathoners!
Register your pup for the Pittsburgh Pet Walk – Bring your favorite furry friend to the Pittsburgh Pet Walk in Point State Park during Saturday’s family friendly events. Attendees and their pets could win awards for cutest pet, pet/owner look-a-like and best costume.
Visit the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo – More than 100 vendors will be on hand, bringing Pittsburgh the latest fitness products, nutritional supplements and workout gear at the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Shop for shoes, socks, technical clothing and running accessories at the official DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon race weekend store. You can also get free samples and giveaways, as well as autographs and advice from some of the biggest names in running.
Run the UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5K Run – It’s not too late to start a 5K training plan and run the UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5K Run. Everyone who participates in the 3.1 mile race will receive a shirt and medal and the opportunity to cross the same finish line as Sunday’s marathoners.
Check out the Bike Spectator Course – Want to cheer runners at multiple locations along the course? Check out the Bike Spectator Course, which guides spectators around the course with multiple stops to see marathoners as they make their way to the finish line.
Support charity runners – Each year, charity runners raise more than $1.5 million for local and national charities. Check out this year’s participants who are making a difference at www.crowdrise.com/PittsburghMarathon2016 and consider making a donation to their cause.
Show off your Pittsburgh spirit – Crowd support was a big reason why the Pittsburgh Marathon was ranked the #8 marathon in the world by Active Times in 2014. Race weekend attracts runners from all 50 states and more than 20 countries. Show these out-of-towners the spirit of Pittsburgh!
Whether you are running, volunteering or cheering really loud, we hope to see you on race day!
For more information about the 2016 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon weekend of events, visit www.thePittsburghMarathon.com.