Latodami Nature Center of North Park Celebrates 50th AnniversaryAug 29, 2019 09:50AM ● By Kathleen Ganster
The large dairy barn located on Brown Road is a familiar sight to thousands who drive by North Park every day. But even after 50 years, there are still many who don’t know about the Latodami Nature Center of North Park.
“We have people who come here every day who said they never knew about us,” said Interpretive Naturalist Meg Scanlon.
Latodami Nature Center opened in 1969 when Allegheny County purchased the dairy farm—complete with the 1914 barn that serves as the site of numerous programs and events. Under the direction of the late Joe Grom, the first naturalist at the center, its first program was a weekly nature hike that still takes place today. The hikes take place on Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. year-round.
Scanlon is only the second naturalist at the center, first working with Grom and then replacing him when he retired. In addition to Assistant Naturalist Ken Knapp, there are two other seasonal employees including Debra Rudolph, who conducts off-site programming, and Katie Stanley. They also have occasional interns.
During its 50-year history, Knapp estimates that more than 16,000 yearly visitors, or more than 800,000 people total, have been served through programming and events held at the center.
In addition to the nature hike, other programs that Grom started that are still being held include maple tree tapping in late winter, a children’s nature camp, and programming with numerous Scouting, school and homeschool groups and other organizations.
New programs have been added along the way as well. Knapp promotes the Citizen Science Program, which is an opportunity for community members to become involved in projects at the park, including assisting with bee and bird watches and counts, and adopting areas and projects at the park.
“We recently had a program for the Chimney Swift towers where people could adopt a tower to help us track the birds. All of the towers were adopted,” Knapp said.
They also recently upgraded and cleaned more than 200 existing bluebird boxes, with 75 additional boxes to be deployed this fall—another project that Grom created.
“Joe started the Nest Box program, and they focused on bluebirds because the nesting boxes were quick and easy for volunteers to make,” Scanlon said.
The naturalist team has also worked hard to grow the Friends of Latodami, a group of volunteers who assist with projects associated with the barn and the adjacent 250 acres of land considered part of the center. Projects include trail clearing and maintenance, erosion control, and maintaining the gardens, pond and other areas.
A major focus of the center is education, both on and off-site. In addition to the school programming that Rudolph does, they also work with numerous organizations and groups, some of which come to the center. They also hold several monthly programs for the public.
Knapp recently started a “Friends First” program, where Friends volunteers are rewarded with the opportunity to sign up for programming first.
“We want to reward our hard-working volunteers,” he said.
The area itself serves as a natural wildlife setting and has been deemed as an Important Mammal Area. “That means that Latodami and the surrounding area is valuable to mammals for various reasons including education and habitat,” Scanlon said.
While Scanlon and Knapp estimate that more than 1 million people have been served through Latodami’s programming and events, including those who enjoy the area who don’t appear in official counts, there are still many who should become familiar with this hidden gem.
“This is just such a great place for wildlife viewing and relaxing, and anyone is welcome,” Knapp said.
Latodami is open every day from dawn to dusk.
In honor of its 50th anniversary, the Latodami Nature Center of North Park will host an Open House on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be history presentations, nature walks and other festivities along with tables featuring the center’s partners, such as the Northern Area Environmental Center and others. For more information, follow the Friends of Latodami on Facebook at www.facebook.com/latodami.