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Community development group seeks citizens' ideas for improving Blairsville

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Blairsville Community Development Authority volunteers created this collage of photos illustrating the authority's new office on West Market Street and various community programs and resources with which the authority is engaged.

This coming Thursday, Blairsville citizens will have an opportunity to share their ideas for improving the town while learning about various community projects they can take part in as volunteers.

The topics will be explored during a community roundtable discussion set for 7 p.m. at the Blairsville Community Center. The event is being held by the Blairsville Community Development Authority, a group formed by Blairsville Borough to assist with town revitalization efforts.

The authority has organized a series of committees to harness the abilities of residents for the betterment of Blairsville, but more volunteers are needed to contribute their time, talent and ideas.

“It's your town. Let's hear your voice!” is one of the taglines being used to publicize the roundtable meeting.

“That line encompasses what we hope to accomplish at that meeting,” said Leann Chaney, executive director of the BCDA. “First and foremost, we want to hear what the people who live in this town want to see happen in this town.”

She said residents are being encouraged to then “help us make it happen.”

Chaney and Carol Persichetti, a BCDA board member who has taken on the role of volunteer coordinator, mentioned some of the group's projects, both new and established, that are being planned and likely will be touched upon at the roundtable meeting.

In each case, they're hoping to have a group of volunteers in place to help carry out the project.

Just ahead is a community-wide Cleanup Day, set for the morning of April 27. Persichetti explained students from the nearby WyoTech automotive school are expected to join volunteers from the town in picking up litter in areas that need attention throughout the borough. She said the event will be held in conjunction with the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful campaign; gloves, trash bags and safety vests will be supplied for volunteers.

Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the BCDA office, 130 W Market St., Blairsville. The first 100 volunteers who sign up will receive an event T-shirt.

BCDA also has an Adopt-a-Street program that enlists volunteers to pick up litter on a more frequent basis — every seven to 10 days or as needed — along a portion of the borough streets to which they've been assigned. For this smaller-scale effort, volunteers are asked to provide bags and to dispose of the collected litter themselves. If they encounter drug paraphernalia, they're instructed to report it to 911 as a non-emergency item needing the attention of borough police and are not to attempt to pick it up.

According to coordinator Georgiann Palek, streets are still available for adoption in the program that began last spring.

In other efforts to create and enhance green spaces in the borough, the BCDA has established landscaped areas and planters in the Market Street business district that need ongoing tending. Chaney said the group also wants to establish a community garden in a new location since a previous garden was displaced as part of demolition for the proposed Riverfront Village housing development on West Market Street.

Knotweed Festival eyed

Maintaining and celebrating one of Blairsville's newest green spaces is part of the impetus behind a proposed new summer event that has been dubbed the Knotweed Festival.

According to  Chaney, the one-day festival, scheduled for Aug. 17, will feature activities centered on the Conemaugh River that skirts the southern end of the town and on the adjacent Blairsville Riverfront Trail hiking and biking path.

Indiana County Parks and Trails is responsible for major maintenance of the trail, which opened to the public last year after more than a decade of planning. But the BCDA has taken the lead in organizing volunteers to tackle the ongoing tasks of picking up litter and controlling Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant that grows along the trail.

According to Chaney, the festival is part of the BCDA's efforts to enhance Blairsville's image and identity, increase local pride and attract visitors. Persichetti indicated kayaking, fishing, a trail hike, a 5K run and a duck race are among potential activities being discussed for the event, which would also provide an opportunity for local vendors to sell food.

“The festival will also include an educational component in regard to controlling knotweed,” Chaney said.

According to Chaney, the festival was planned for Aug. 17 because it is the date associated with Diamond Days, a community festival that had become an annual weekend affair in Blairsville. That popular event was discontinued several years ago due to a combination of factors including dwindling finances.

“The Knotweed Festival is not intended to replace or eliminate Diamond Days,” Chaney stressed. “If there is enough interest, funding and committed volunteers to get Diamond Days going again, we could plan and market the events together.”

Also in the early planning stages are proposed “Blairsville Rocks” activities that would include the creation of public art through a rock-painting program and a rock-stacking event.

The BCDA additionally is proposing to offer a free movie night and to work with business owners to develop downtown promotions. The BCDA is open to partnering with other community organizations, Chaney noted.

Established projects for which the BCDA would welcome volunteer help include Blairsville's holiday season Light-up Night, during which the authority conducts a luminary display, and annual fundraising events — a summer golf outing held in cooperation with Blairsville's fire department and recreation department, and the Comedy Night Live dining and entertainment event held in late winter. Volunteers also are needed to assist with tasks at the BCDA office.

The BCDA additionally is in the process of forming an historic preservation committee to take over functions that had been handled by a separate borough board.

Chaney explained the new committee will have a mission similar to the previous board's. That includes spotlighting the community's cultural and natural heritage assets.

A recent borough historic preservation plan, completed with the assistance of federal Preserve America funding, identified several themes for focusing preservation efforts: Blairsville's historic downtown; transportation and pathways; railroad and industrial heritage; the Underground Railroad; and Native American history.

Groups that are already active in local historic preservation include the Historical Society of the Blairsville Area and the Blairsville Underground Railroad historical group.

For more information about the BCDA and its activities, call 724-459-8588.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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