Sports & Outdoors

Jennings Environmental Education Center

Among the many delightful, ecologically interesting places to visit within a short distance from Pittsburgh is the Jennings Environmental Education Center. This gorgeous destination along Route 8 is about 12 miles north of Butler, across from the historic Old Stone House. It is a wonderful place for a quick hike or for exploring five miles …

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The art of contrition

There once was a “golden age” in sport, the glorious time of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey and all the rest. Today, we are in the Mea Culpa Age, in which frolicsome, rich athletes turn to passionate, broad-spectrum apologies, seeking forgiveness for such foibles as juicing, gun-toting, wife-beating and the like. Great penitents such as …

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Wintering in Pittsburgh

It may be funny to think of Pittsburgh in the same geographic thought as, say, Miami, but for dark-eyed juncos, which spend many months to our north, we’re all sand and sunsets. Juncos “fly south to winter in our north, so making a sort of Florida of our best blizzards,” wrote Robert Francis, disciple of …

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Nature’s shape shifter

Pennsylvania stands near the center center of an intriguing and complex natural phenomenon. Across the recent span of roughly three decades, coyotes have exploited every available habitat here, from remote woods of the Allegheny National Forest to Pittsburgh’s urban fringe, while carving out a still-evolving ecological niche. All but unheard-of before 1980, coyotes now live …

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Dutch Hill Forest

One of the many beautiful areas in western Pennsylvania for hiking or paddling is the Clarion River. Designated a wild and scenic river, the middle Clarion runs along the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest and is bordered by many other protected lands—state park land, state forest, game lands and privately conserved areas. The …

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The old college try

Every year at this time, as college football arrives, I’m reminded of an old movie that pops up on the classic channels now and then—“The Male Animal.” The tale deals with the two principal functions of the American college: education and football. In that order. Usually. The movie, from the 1940s, is based on a …

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Red-bellied woodpecker

A tree is a house. it’s not just an isolated organism, but also a host to forms of life from mammals to birds to insects to fungi. A tree is one element of a larger ecosystem and simultaneously a microcosm of it. And you can tell a lot about a neighborhood ecosystem based on its …

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Soaring majesty

It’s only recently that bald eagles have been able to call Pittsburgh home. For 200 years, obstacles such as habitat loss, pollution, persecution and pesticides have kept them away, but as the region’s environment improved, so did the chance of bald eagles successfully roosting here once again. Though a pair of bald eagles has nested …

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McConnells Mill State Park

In southwestern PA, it is a challenge to find remote and scenic hikes. But one is only about an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, just off of Rt. 422 in eastern Lawrence County, in McConnells Mill State Park. The focus of this park is Slippery Rock Creek and its 400-foot-deep gorge. While you can stop …

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The Greatest Sport?

As far as I’m concerned, the summer of 2013 was a bust. It was supposed to be the summer of the 17-year cicada, humming with a biblical infestation of the things. But there wasn’t so much as a chirp or whirr, and not one gawking husk on a fence post. And I waited 17 years …

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The house finch

It’s no surprise that a city defined by former immigrant neighborhoods would be the gateway for yet another group of newcomers forced to gain a foothold in unfamiliar terrain. Such is the case with Carpodacus mexicanus—the house finch—which was often called the California linnet and the Hollywood finch before it was smuggled to the eastern …

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Opening Day, Minus One

Dunbar creek runs into the Youghiogheny River just north of South Connellsville in Fayette County. Vestiges of the interurban streetcar lines are all over. A massive stone arch that was once part of a bridge crossing the Dunbar Creek valley stands like an ancient Roman aqueduct by the coke oven complex near Wheeler. I grew …

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Exploring the Fort Necessity area

One of the most interesting historical sites in the Laurel Highlands is the Fort Necessity National Battlefield. And a new destination for hiking and exploring in the region is a property currently owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and about to be added to Forbes State Forest, adjacent to the national battlefield property. Forbes State …

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Bring on March Madness

The swell thing about working nights for an “ayem” (morning paper) is you can be having your first coffee and catch the early games, still in your jammies. And with that, you’re on your way to the greatest show on Earth: Opening Day of a three-week national fixation:  the Big Dance; March Madness; the NCAA …

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The wood duck

Changing habitat has complex consequences for birds. Some species prefer deep, old growth forests. Others thrive around patchwork clearcuts. Some require grasslands to breed, while others reproduce in swampy bottomlands. Some of our notorious losses—the ivory-billed woodpecker and Carolina parakeet—needed relatively narrow bands of Southern wetland so much that when the trees there were felled, …

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Taking full flight

Pittsburgh’s once-endangered National Aviary wrapped up 2013 as the most successful year in its 60-year history and capped a dramatic six-year expansion. With record visitors and record numbers of new birds joining its collection (many living two to three times their life expectancy), the North Side institution has come a long way since the days …

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French Creek Watershed

When we in Pittsburgh look out on the Allegheny River, it can remind us that the water flowing past has its origins in some faraway places worth visiting and exploring. One of these is the broad valley of the west branch of French Creek in Erie County. Three miles northwest of the town of Wattsburg …

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Lay your money down

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve never really caught on to the gambling culture of pro football. Not that I’m totally clueless. I understand the over-under and a pick not covering. But when it comes to teasers, props and such, they might as well be speaking calculus. This is not the case in Britain, …

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Wintering in Pittsburgh

With winter’s chill approaching, most birds long ago migrated south. Migration actually begins in August and continues through the milder months of September and October. Birds wing their way to more abundant food sources, with some of Pittsburgh’s species heading deep into South America to tropical climes. A few hearty species winter in western Pennsylvania, …

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Louis vs. Lewis

Joe Louis was the man. Everyone in the country knew his name. He was heavyweight champion of the world when the title was the most prized crown in all of sports and carried more prestige than the biggest Hollywood star. The light-heavyweight championship, on the other hand, had all of the stature of the winner …

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Oil Creek State Park

Western Pennsylvania has an abundance of extraordinary places to hike. A few of these, such as Oil Creek State Park in northern Venango County, provide substantial regional history along with a scenic landscape. This 7,300-acre forested park along the 12-mile stream valley of Oil Creek contains 52 miles of trails. Some are rugged routes of …

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Remember the Tartans

They ruined a perfectly good trophy case. It used to sit there, self-consciously, in Carnegie Mellon University’s Skibo Gymnasium. The items in that case were pretty much the only tangible stuff that remained of the glory days of football, back when the school was Carnegie Tech. The main trophies were some old footballs from the …

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