Zumba, great blue herons, and hikes among local park winter attractions

Great Horned Owls nesting, outdoor Zumba dance and fitness classes, and trail rides are just some of the winter offerings at North Park and Hartwood Acres.

As more people flock to county parks in record numbers in search of refuge from the pandemic, they continue to visit in the colder months, said Andy Grobe, deputy deputy director of recreation for Allegheny County Parks.

Due to the public interest, the parks of Allegheny County are increasing their offer of activities. “We’ve been busier than ever,” said Grobe. “We encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy nature during the day when we are open. “

By far the most popular activities are walking, running and cycling. Parks staff clear snow and icy roads and walkways and close some North Park roads in snowy weather, including the loop around athletic fields and much of North Ridge Drive.

“People love that we close some roads because they don’t have to worry about cars,” said Grobe.

Many events are on hold at Hartwood as the area around the mansion is closed for the installation of a sculpture garden. The work should be completed in the spring.

For something a little different, an outdoor Zumba dance and fitness class will be offered at North Park.

Hiking and mountain biking are all-season activities on 48 miles of trails in North Park and 14.5 miles in Hartwood. An Allegheny County Parks trails app is available for free download to help walkers explore the entire park.

Nature programs including guided hikes, owl walkers and more are offered by park rangers in North Park and Hartwood as well as the Latodami Nature Center in North Park.

Winter is a great time of year to see a wide variety of wildlife, said Chris Kubiak, director of education at the Western Audubon Society Pennsylvania. Audubon offers winter programs at its Fox Chapel headquarters as well as at Succop Nature Park in Penn Township in Butler and Buffalo Creek Nature Park in Buffalo Township.

Kubiak grew up in Franklin Park near Big Sewickley Creek, where he learned to bird watch.

“People have this misconception that once winter comes, there is nothing interesting to experience in nature,” he said. “But from a bird’s point of view, there is a lot of interesting things to discover.”

North Park has such great wildlife habitats, Kubiak said. “A diversity of habitats is what you want to give yourself more options,” he said. Eastern bluebirds fly in open grasslands with a variety of hawks. The lakes attract great blue herons, waterfowl and bald eagles.

Bald eagles can be found in the North Hills near streams. The great horned owl, the largest nocturnal bird of prey, is the first breeding bird to begin courtship displays in December and January, Kubiak noted. “In the North Hills, I guarantee people have it in their backyards,” Kubiak said. Listen to their distinctive hoots during courtship as they establish their breeding territory to prepare for the next generation.

To get around better in snowy weather, snowshoe rentals will be available in the county’s nine parks for $ 10 for visitors 11 and over, and $ 5 for those 10 and under.

Indoor dog training classes are offered, as well as outdoor flag football in North Park.

Some free and paid ice hockey programs are available at North Park, which offers the program with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mary Ann Thomas is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .