‘Get out!’ for Great Outdoors Week

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‘Get out!’ for Great Outdoors Week

For a complete list of activities and more information on opportunities, visit www.greatoutdoorsweek.org.

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Thursday, May 17, 2007

On a clear morning, there’s no place in the Pittsburgh area more relaxing to Jonathan Mayes than paddling along the Allegheny River in a kayak.

He wishes more people knew about it.

“There’s nothing like being out on the clear, cool water, catching sight of Pittsburgh’s beautiful skyline,” said Mayes, 26, of the North Side. “There’s just hardly anyone else out there. I wish more people would see and experience the breathtaking beauty of Pittsburgh’s rivers.”

People can explore those opportunities for the next nine days. Great Outdoors Week — which begins Friday and runs through May 27 — highlights regional outdoor events and activities.

“The idea is to just take a week to really showcase and concentrate on what’s happening around the city,” said Kim Adams, spokeswoman for Sustainable Pittsburgh, one of 11 partners in the project. “We don’t promote our outdoor amenities nearly enough. This is such an inclusive opportunity.”

Although many Great Outdoors Week activities are designed to showcase recreational opportunities, beautifying the area is a big part of the program. “Tireless Friday” offers an opportunity to clean up Pittsburgh’s rivers. Several gardening programs throughout the week will add a splash of colorful flowers to neighborhoods throughout Allegheny County.

Trails and rivers will be stars of Great Outdoors Week. The week kicks off with National Bike to Work Day tomorrow, sponsored by Bike Pittsburgh. Thousands of people already bike to school or work each day, said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh.

Bricker said biking instead of driving benefits the entire community — and not just because of decreased pollution. Bikers don’t take up as much space in traffic and don’t use parking spaces, which are usually at a premium Downtown.

But biking can offer more personal benefits, Bricker said.

“For one, you’re getting exercise in the morning and feel very refreshed when you get to work,” said Bricker, who bikes from his Friendship home to the South Side nearly every day. “And by biking, you can be waving to people, getting to see them on a more human level. Biking is much more friendly.”

That is a huge draw for Caitlin Lenahan, who started riding a bike into town while attending the University of Pittsburgh. She rides into work, on the North Shore, several mornings each week.

“Riding really wakes me up,” said Lenahan, 26, of Regent Square. “Getting into work after cruising through traffic gives me a great start. It feels really great, and at the end of the day, you look forward to doing the whole thing all over again.”

Although Lenahan and Bricker enjoy biking early in the morning, outdoors enthusiasts such as Mayes prefer to spend mornings on the water. On Wednesday, Kayak Pittsburgh will sponsor the Wednesday Wake Up Paddle, an hour-long, moderately paced sunrise paddle.

Kayaking isn’t the only on-the-water opportunity offered during Great Outdoors Week. Three Rivers Rowing and Venture Outdoors will sponsor several dragon boating, paddling and rowing workshops during the week, starting with The Venture Outdoors Festival on Saturday at the Great Lawn outside Heinz Field, North Shore.

Dragon boating workshops — where 20 people row a 43-foot-long boat to the beat of a drum — are popular, filling up quickly and exposing 200 or more people to the sport within a few hours, said Richard Butler, executive director of Three Rivers Rowing.

“It’s like canoeing on steroids,” Butler said. “Everyone has a blast with the dragon boats.”

That’s the point of Great Outdoors Week — getting people to enjoy outdoor opportunities Allegheny County has to offer, whether it’s rowing, paddling, biking or hiking.

“It would be wonderful if everyone in the city realized what they can do here, and took advantage of it,” Mayes said. “I just don’t think people realize just how lucky they are to have this all right here in their backyard.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz can be reached at dkurutz@tribweb.com or 412-380-5627.

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