Dozens make their way around Deer Lakes Park with map, compass
Kimmo Berg learned the hard way how steep the hills of Western Pennsylvania are.
One of about 100 people to partake in an orienteering event at Deer Lakes Park on Sunday, Berg quickly found out that the topography here is vastly different than that of his native Finland.
“It is much steeper here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. “It's something I'm not used to for orienteering.”
Orienteering is a blend of sports that challenges participants' navigation skills with a series of checkpoints they find along a course using a map and a compass. Its origins date back to 19th century Sweden, where it blossomed from a military exercise into a popular recreational activity.
The sport's popularity has grown in America with each passing decade since the implementation in 1971 of a national governing body for it.
The sport made it to the Alle-Kiski Valley with an open event hosted in Deer Lakes Park by the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club. It featured four courses ranging in difficulty and length, the shortest coming out to about a mile and the longest about four.
The easier courses set checkpoints against trails and other distinguishable landmarks, while the others drew participants to heavily wooded areas.
Some participants leisurely strolled from one checkpoint to another. Others, like Berg, set out for their best times. His on the four-mile course was just more than an hour.
“I've been doing this for a long time,” said Berg, who moved to Pittsburgh in May to study at Carnegie Mellon University. “It is much bigger in Finland than it is here.”
Judy McIntire of West Deer and Rick Pounds of Leechburg orienteered for the first time. The two went for the beginner course and took their time marking each checkpoint, McIntire said.
“It was tough to get the hang of it at first,” she said, “but then, it got to be a lot of fun. It (was) just a beautiful day to be outside and enjoying the park.”
The event marked one of about a dozen that the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club hosts each year from Cambria to Washington counties. According to Jim Wolfe, the club's president and co-founder, the number of participants grows every year.
“It's caught on here,” he said. “Many of the people who sign up are newcomers to it. There are a lot of groups like (the Army) ROTC that still use orienteering as a training tool, but there's something about it that people are definitely drawn to.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673. or firstname.lastname@example.org.