North Park is known for its lake, trails, pool and picnic shelters, However, a lesser-known section of the park allows for a quiet examination of nature and provides a variety of outdoor and environmental education programs. The Latodami Nature Center covers 250 acres, including fields, woodlands, a pond and wetlands in the northwestern portion of North Park.
Like much of North Park, which has been timbered over multiple times and farmed for generations, Latodami is a testament to the area’s agricultural past. Pittsburgh lawyer J.D. Brown developed the property in the early 1900s. He was known as a “gentleman farmer” because he hired farmhands to run the operation.
The Horning family are direct descendants of Brown and named Latodami Farm after their four children: Orlando (LA), Antoinette (TO), Davia (DA) and Michelle (MI).
In 1969, as part of the broader environmental movement and in partnership with the North Area Environmental Council, Allegheny County acquired the property to develop a nature center.
Many of the original outbuildings — including a chicken house, pigsty, turkey pens, milk house and horse stable — were removed. The main house (now three apartments), foreman’s house (naturalist office), Latodami barn and storage barn remain.
The open-air Latodami barn, which was built in 1914 for milking dairy cattle and storing feed and equipment, serves as a nature center with local plant and animal displays. It also contains a small, heated classroom.
Naturalists Meg Scanlon and Katrina Stanley are two of the four full-time staff members at Latodami.
“It’s a nice quiet side of North Park, a place to get into the solitude of nature and escape all the craziness of the suburbs,” Stanley says.
Latodami is a particularly kid-friendly space, as the trails are short and easy to moderate, and there are plenty of educational opportunities.
The center conducts programs for all ages and during all seasons, including maple syrup-making, Tuesday Night Hikes, litter pickups, meditative walks, and Owl Prowls.
“We’re trying to get owls to fly into us or talk to us,” Stanley says. “Typically we’re seeing Eastern Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls.”
North Park encompasses more than 3,000 acres, making it home to a number of microhabitats and a plethora of flora and fauna.
“Despite the deer and invasive plants, we have an extremely unique variety of wildflowers and a huge population of native trees,” Scanlon says. “We can find trillium or orchids, and over 270 species of birds coming and going. We’re very fortunate because of the quality of the soils and the habitats that we have such huge diversity.”
The center also manages all of the mature meadows that exist in North Park. These meadows, which were once cropland, are home to wildflowers and woodcock.
Remnant apple orchards also remain on the property, and the center is working on planting new orchards.
“We’re the only true apple orchards that are managed in North Park,” Stanley says.
“We’re trying to get people to appreciate and love the outdoors — the plants, animals, weather and insects. Getting them to experience it enough that they don’t have fears for it and that they can learn to appreciate the big and the little things,” Stanley says.
“We can try to get that everyday person that maybe has no interest in nature connected to the land and planting that one seed of interest that sparks them.”
Know before you go
While the barn is only open for scheduled programming, the grounds are open to hikers from dawn until dusk. Trail maps are available outside the barn.
The Latodami Nature Center is located at 575 Brown Road in Wexford. Parking is limited.
Blue Trail (Crow’s Trail)
Look and listen for crows, barred owls and screech owls on this 1.2-mile, moderate loop.
Great for kids, this short 0.25-mile loop is close to the nature center and takes hikers around the pond.
Remnants of the pigsty and turkey pen are on this easy 0.23-mile loop. This was one of the first trails constructed at Latodami Nature Center.
Named because the hike feels like walking up into the sky, this easy 0.38 trail has an observation deck where you can view the remains of the windmill and cistern used by the original farm to pump and store water.