Ester Allen figure in Pa conservation

Esther Gatewood Allen

1918 - June 27, 2011

Esther Allen was born in 1918 to famous Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood (see below). Raised on a farm in Ohio, Esther’s love of the outdoors was natural and fostered by her mother. Relocating to Pittsburgh, PA in 1939, Esther went on to become one of the area’s most beloved naturalists, mentoring those who had a love for wildflowers and a passion to learn. She loved to teach (as evidence in this photograph by naturalist Chuck Tague) using her own wildflower photographs and was a major contributor to the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania’s book, Wildflowers of Pennsylvania. (

For over 35 years, Esther led nature hikes and programs for numerous organizations, including The Botanical Society, Wissahickon Nature Club, garden clubs, community colleges and environmental groups. She took after her mother in many ways, always being seen leading hikes and tending to her personal garden sanctuary. She even has a hiking trail named in her honor at Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve.

Esther pre-dated the “native plant movement” by decades, teaching others how planting with native plants can turn a rundown garden into a low-maintenance and beautiful one. In 2000, the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania presented her with the W.E. Clyde Todd Award for her dedicated teaching about Pennsylvania’s native plants. Before Esther’s death in June 2011, she had begun restoration on an arboretum in Pittsburgh’s North Park that had grown wild, and hoped to see it completed and eventually expanded.