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State pledges $26.5 million to help outdoor projects across Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:51 p.m.

The proposed Sports and Athletics Complex at Montour Junction is among about 200 park, trail and other outdoor projects statewide that are sharing a $26.5 million boost from the state.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is awarding the money as grants under the Community Conservation Partnerships Program to revitalize communities, establish recreational opportunities and conserve natural resources, the agency said.

“We are making an effort to encourage sustainable practices through our grant program,” said agency spokeswoman Christina Novak, who said the grants will be paid as reimbursements for costs assumed by project administrators.

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County will receive $300,000 to help develop the Montour Junction project, planned for 78 acres of former railroad property in Coraopolis, Moon and Robinson.

In 2008, the Sports Legacy Foundation deeded the land to the authority for $1, requiring it be used to build fields for nontraditional sports such as rugby, soccer, lacrosse and Gaelic football, according to Dennis Davin, director of Allegheny County Economic Development.

The state grant will help pay for the development of the first field by the end of June, Davin said. The project will eventually include the cleanup of Montour Run, a stocked trout stream, and an extension of the Montour Trail, which is about one mile south of the complex, Davin said.

At some point, the complex will be deeded to the county as a park, Davin said.

“It won't be a typical county park, but we think we can raise the money to build some of the fields ... through private donations,” he said

So far, about $2 million in state, federal and foundation money has been raised for the project, which will cost between $10 million and $15 million, Davin said.

Collier received a $149,000 grant to help rehabilitate and further develop Hilltop Park, a 55-acre property that used to have an active landfill, township Manager Salvatore Sirabella said.

During the past year, the township has closed the 2-acre landfill, done some environmental remediation, added 14 trees along Hilltop Road and 14 trees in the park, and put a parking lot on top of the closed landfill, Sirabella said.

The park includes a 5-acre green space, with a playground and pavilion, and the parks and recreation board is looking at different uses for the remaining 50 acres, he said.

Hilltop is one of four existing regional parks in Collier, which is developing a fifth regional park, Kelly Steen Hollow Park, and a flagship park, Collier Township Park, on 72 acres at a former Nike missile-defense site.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, based in Pittsburgh, is using its $550,000 state grant as a reimbursement for some of the $2.4 million it spent in May to buy about 977 acres along Wharton Furnace Road in Wharton, Fayette County, said Shaun Fenlon, vice president of land conservation.

The conservancy bought the land from a subsidiary of a timber management company to be conserved for public use, he said.

Big Sandy Creek flows through the property, which has wetlands and rare plants, he said.

“So it certainly has ecological values,” Fenlon said.

It is open for public hiking, hunting and fishing, he said.

The land is between Fort Necessity National Battlefield, which is owned by the National Park Service, and the Forbes State Forest, which is managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Both agencies have shown interest in expanding their public lands, so the conservancy might convey the property to one of them, Fenlon said.

The funding for the state's grant program came from five sources, including the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, which is generated from a portion of real estate transfer tax, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is federal money, the agency said.

All the grant recipients were required to match the grants they received, Novak said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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