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South Side group sponsors wide range of activities outdoors

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By Thomas Olson

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Janet Frankert always had been curious about kayaking but never had put paddle to water — until Saturday.

“It's something you can pick up pretty easily, as long as you have some coordination,” said Frankert, 53, still in her life vest after taking a kayak out for a spin on the Allegheny River by Point State Park.

Frankert of Castle Shannon was among more than 8,000 people expected for an all-day celebration of recreation sponsored by Venture Outdoors Inc., a nonprofit group based in the South Side.

“This is meant to get people outside and familiar with all the activities in Western Pennsylvania, especially on the rivers,” said Alyson Walls, marketing coordinator for Venture Outdoors.

It has organized its annual Venture Outdoors Festival for 13 years.

Kayaking tends to be the most popular activity, usually pulling a couple of thousand people into the water each year. But the festival featured much more, including a climbing wall, biking, fishing (rods and bait included) and a host of games aimed at young children.

“It's a great day for this, just what we'd hoped for,” said Dave Johnston, director of marketing for the outdoor group of Dick's Sporting Goods Inc., regarding the sunny day in the 70s.

Based in Findlay, Dick's sponsored the event for the first time. The company also set up a “game zone” that featured horseshoes, croquet, bocce and other games.

Dick's was one of 66 vendors with activity or informational booths that ranged from yoga instruction to rivers preservation.

Ericha Geppert and family participated in an outdoor Treasure hunt known as “geocaching.” Players armed with smartphones containing GPS capability walk to about 10 destinations and try to answer a question about each site.

“It's walking and learning,” said Geppert, 23, of Friendship, who was joined by her mother, two sisters and brother, who purposefully parked in the Strip District to enjoy the walking trek to the festival at Point State Park.

The Howell family of Verona managed to take in two outside events: the Venture Outdoors Festival and earlier, the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community, a 5-kilometer walk on the North Shore.

“The mission today was to wear out the kids,” said Charles Howell, 39, with a broad smile as he stood with his wife and two young daughters.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or



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