Magical Sewickley-area park is not only about nature
Five years ago, as she daily cleaned out a garbage-strewn ravine, Natasha Green wondered whether the park she imagined could be a reality.
But she noticed a mother and two small daughters who also visited daily, even in bad weather. She wondered why. The mother's words kept her going.
The mom said: “Because the girls have told me that if they don't go down, the fairies won't have anyone to talk to them, and they'll fly away.”
“This really is a magical place,” Green says of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Nature Park, a novel place for children to learn about nature, and the life of the famous novelist — and perhaps, touch a fairy, too.
“It's a wonderful park and group of people — and every plant is indigenous to Pennsylvania,” says Barbara Mellet, principal of Osborne Elementary School, where the park's walk-in entrance is just to the right of the school parking lot. “Our kids are over there a lot, and take part in taking care of it, too.”
The park's story begins with Mary Roberts Rinehart, a prolific 1920s mystery novelist whose estate is part of the Quaker Valley School District and surrounding Glen Osborne neighborhood. Green often sat at the writing desk on her enclosed porch overlooking the ravine that, at one time, was a part of the novelist's estate, wondering about Rinehart's life.
Rinehart wrote more than 60 novels and screen plays. Called the “American Agatha Christie,” she was a suffragette and the first female war correspondent.
“She was considered one of the most famous female writers of the 20th century,” Green says, “But this generation didn't know her.”
Seven years ago, Green approached Glen Osborne Mayor Bill Boswell, and a group of citizens met with school-district officials in a construction trailer while the school was going through a renovation.
They talked about returning the dumping ground to its natural state.
“The school couldn't do it, but they greatly gave their support,” Boswell says. The district sold the three-acre ravine for $1 and the Osborne Trail & Park Association formed in 2006. Soon, the park had a gravel path with interconnecting trails from the construction company's donated materials and time.
“People have been so nice,” Green says. “They see the park. The get excited and they want to do something.”
A stone amphitheater was created by Eston Owens, an accountant, who maneuvered stones from a demolished bridge that had been abandoned on the site. Wood from invasive trees became benches around a fire pit or mulch.
“The cool thing is that we recycled everything,” Boswell says.
The nickname of “The Fairy Park” is carried out in the wrought-iron sign by Sewickley artist George Gaadt and his son. Gaadt credits the story of the mom and her two daughters for part of his inspiration. (Look closely. In certain lights, the wings are translucent.)
A cabinet maker created a display case for some of Rinehart's books, including “The Spiral Staircase” and “The Bat,” which some debate to be the inspiration for “Bat Man.”
Sewickley Academy kindergarten teacher Barbara Carrier combines nature lessons with imagination as part of the “Outdoor Experience” when classes visit parks and nature reserves every other week. Children had treasure hunts for plants, as well as fairies suspended in trees. One child confided to her that “there were no such thing as fairies,” Carrier says. “All of a sudden, he touched a fairy, and he said, “Now, I do believe in fairies.”
Sometimes, groups find treats hidden in the hollow base of a Sycamore tree at the end of the trail.
One of the park's goals is to showcase only Pennsylvania and Appalachian native species and provide education about native plants, trees and shrubs.
Its website catalogs plants in the park with photos and descriptions. Donors can choose to have a plant, shrub or tree planted as a memorial.
Since 2008, the park has hosted Shakespeare plays, concerts, festivals and seasonal events with storytellers.
The Mary Roberts Rinehart Chapter of “Sisters in Crime,” a national organization for mystery writers, came here for a meeting and to plant a tree.
The volunteer board extends an invitation to the communities beyond Sewickley to use the park.
“The guidelines are simple. Use the park, treat it well. If you make a mess, clean it up. And, stay on the path,” Boswell says. “And if the group is larger than 10, let us know ahead of time.”
Green likes to imagine that the author is pleased. When the leaves have fallen from the trees, she sits at her desk and watches colors flitting through the woods.
“The greatest gift,” she says, “is when the kids are down there and the hollow is filled with laughter.”
Jane Miller is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.