When Pittsburgh netted its most recent “America’s Most Livable City” rating, it was the region’s recreational opportunities that pushed it to the top of list of 379 metro areas.
For some, recreation simply means the Steelers. And the Penguins. And yes, the Pirates. Not to mention a welter of college sports. But in its 2007 ranking, the Places Rated Almanac also stressed the amenities beyond spectator sports, namely 5,000 acres of state parks, 43,000 acres of lakes and rivers, 142 golf courses and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
Building upon sustainability — both for the region, and the individuals who live here — is Venture Outdoors. Founded in 2001, the non-profit works to encourage folks of all ages and levels of fitness to take greater advantage of our natural assets and singular topography. Global publications touting the region’s transformation from smoky to sustainable often feature photos with Venture Outdoors’ kayaks as a bright-yellow counterpoint to the skyscraper skyline.
But the organization’s impact is about more than just good PR. Between 2006 and 2011 membership doubled, as newcomers to the city as well as life-long residents embrace more active lifestyles and appreciation for the environment.
“We offer a lot of beginner-friendly activities to encourage people to get out of the house and into the outdoors,” said Lora Woodward, Venture Outdoors public program director. “We have programs throughout the year, but winter in particular is a perfect time to showcase western Pennsylvania and the forest and parks that we’re so thankful to have.”
Tonight’s Winter Solstice Hike recognizes the longest night of the year with three- to four-mile trail around the North Side’s Riverview Park. A more fast-paced 5-6 mile hike hike on Thursday, Dec. 27, will burn up calories across bridges and through downtown. Hikes beginning on Jan. 1will traverse North, South and Schenley parks and several North Side neighborhoods, while other activities introduce snow shoeing. Dozens of activities continue throughout the winter throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, and in the Laurel Highlands — including cross-country skiing to dog-friendly walks, yoga and hikes that culminate in tastings of locally made soups, stews and beers. Learn more at Venture Outdoors’ website or blog, or via Twitter and Facebook.
One other thing: Venture Outdoors may be one of the city’s best-kept secrets for the single-and-looking. Most VO events that I’ve participated in have had a strikingly high number of female participants (not a few of whom were themselves striking numbers). My theory is that as girls we often tended to be less exposed to outdoorsy activities growing up, and appreciate the support of a group when we finally realize what we’ve been missing. In any event, if you’re looking for a place to meet individuals who are reasonably fit – or at least game enough to try something fun – in a friendly, not-creepy setting, this could be it.
A version of this post originally appeared on ImaginePittsburghNow.com in December 2011.