Beautification, park projects proposed at Blairsville roundtable meeting
Proposals for beautifying various areas of downtown Blairsville, for expanding amenities at its community center park and for building on the tourism potential of the town's Riverside Trail were among ideas that emerged during a recent community roundtable meeting.
About 17 people attended the second annual brainstorming and volunteer recruitment session organized April 3 at the community center by the Blairsville Community Development Authority.
The BCDA is looking for volunteers to help with its next major undertaking — its annual Clean-Up Day, set for April 26. Participants will sign up at 8:30 a.m. at the BCDA office, at 130 W. Market St., and fan out to pick up litter in various sections of the town.
Carol Persichetti, BCDA board member and volunteer coordinator, noted T-shirts will be available for the first 100 helpers who sign up, while Sheetz will donate food for participants. She said students of the local WyoTech automotive school have offered to clean up the Riverfront Trail, and a team from the Blairsville Elks club plans to clear litter from the Buchman Gardens along North Walnut Street.
Other groups who would like to their clean-up efforts in a particular area are asked to call the BCDA office in advance at 724-459-8588.
Some citizens who attended the roundtable session and others who submitted ideas before the meeting, cited several specific sites in town where they recommended more extensive efforts to add visual appeal: the railroad underpass on North Walnut Street; the Conemaugh River boat launch off Water Street; and the community center park.
While an Adopt-A-Street program has encouraged volunteers to regularly pick up litter along assigned streets in Blairsville, it was suggested that the town's alleys also are in need of attention.
Persichetti said she intends to launch a project on Facebook that will allow residents to post before and after photos of an improvement in their neighborhood while challenging others to do the same.
She also announced that the BCDA is looking for volunteers to work with a new Community Park committee that will be charged with coordinating ongoing clean-up work at the park.
She noted that volunteers “don't have to clean up trash every day.”
She suggested that park volunteers could schedule their work days on a six-day rotation — as has been done with volunteers who help water plantings and tidy up along Market Street, in cooperation with the authority's Downtown Landscaping committee.
Police Chief Michael Allman suggested adding amenities at the community park that could provide more outdoor activities for children.
He suggested Blairsville try a portable ice skating rink, costing a few thousand dollars, that could be set up during winter months.
“The kids, they can learn to play hockey,” he said, noting, “We had a perfect winter for it.”
It was noted that Blairsville Borough, which owns the park, would have to look into the impact the rink might have on liability coverage for the facility.
For warmer weather, Allman recommended “a little water park where things squirt up. Those aren't very expensive to build.”
He noted the water feature could provide youngsters a means of cooling off in the summer heat that has been missing for the many years that Blairsville has been without a community swimming pool.
BCDA Executive Director Leann Chaney said the authority plans to work with borough officials to reinstate a community garden program., where residents can sign up to plant and tend their own section.
A community garden site had been established on the west end of town, but it had to be moved, Chaney said: “It was in the way of demolition,” as the BCDA razed buildings in the vicinity of West Market and Liberty streets to make way for a proposed Riverfront Village housing development.
Chaney said a borough-owned or other public property would be best for reestablishing the garden. She suggested the borough-owned Boone Park, located off North Liberty, as a potential site. The former playground, though currently used for equipment storage, already has a feature that would be needed for the garden — a perimeter fence.
Board member Linda Gwinn noted the BCDA has lumber, purchased at a discount from Lowe's, that can be used to construct raised garden beds, as well as fencing donated by Penelec and large containers to serve as rain barrels for watering plants. Participants could donate their excess harvest to a local food bank.
A “Garden of the Month” contest was suggested to help inspire residents to beautify their properties with ornamental plantings.
Chaney noted BCDA is working with a Westmoreland County-based consultant, Allen Martello of Altris Inc., to redesign the authority website (blairsville-pa.net).
She's hoping within a month's time to add a directory of Blairsville businesses. Also planned is an interactive calendar that would allow various community organizations and churches to post their events online — supplementing a public bulletin board that is available near the Sheetz store on East Market Street.
BCDA volunteer Brenda Shutter stressed the importance of keeping the calendar listings updated to make it a valuable resource for online visitors: “Unless someone keeps it up, nobody will go back to it.”
Marna Conrad of the Blairsville Underground Railroad history group suggested such a calendar could be used to help organizations avoid scheduling conflicting events or, conversely, plan events that will complement each other.
Conrad noted that, when the Underground Railroad group staged its annual Showtime musical variety program on March 22, it cross-promoted the event with a fundraising dinner that was held earlier that day at Blairsville's First United Methodist Church. Another popular annual event the UGRR group offers is an historic tour of the Blairsville Cemetery, on the third Saturday in October.
According to Conrad, the group's High Noon walking tour of UGRR-related sites in the town, held in conjunction with the BCDA's inaugural Knotweed Festival last August, proved to be more popular than anticipated. She noted that some “people wanted to go on the tour, but they couldn't because they were working in the (festival) booths.”
Conrad said the UGRR tour once more will begin at noon on Aug. 16, the same date as this year's second annual Knotweed Festival. Since the tour will lead participants to the “Diamond” intersection of West Market and Liberty, where most festival activities take place, she wondered whether the start of the festival might be timed later, to coincide with the arrival of the tour.
Persichetti said festival details have yet to be determined, but she noted some initial planning already has begun. A few bands have been booked to perform, and a kayak fishing demonstration is planned on the river.
Recognizing the importance of the river, another suggestion presented at the meeting was removing obstructions that inhibit a scenic view of the river from Water Street.
Ab Dettorre, borough councilman and retired Blairsville High School faculty member, said he is working with Mike Funyak, the school's technology education teacher, to assemble a team of students to build bat boxes and place them in trees on either bank of the river. “Hopefully, we can establish a colony to eradicate some to the insects — particularly the mosquitoes — along the river.”
He said the students may also install boxes along the Riverfront Trail to create nesting places for small bird species.
Regional trail advocates are hoping to develop improved links between Blairsville's self-contained Riverfront Trail and other neighboring trail systems — the Hoodlebug Trail to the northeast and the West Penn Trail to the west.
Meanwhile, the BCDA is looking to establish a new Trail Town Assessment Committee to help strengthen the link between the Riverfront Trail, that arcs between Water Street and WyoTech Park, and downtown businesses and amenities.
While Blairsville's long-awaited Riverfront Trail has been well received among area residents, Gwinn noted the borough won't truly be able to realize its potential as a trail town until it has the features in place needed to attract trail tourism. Those features include adequate accommodations for tourists and promotion of the trail by the business community.
By taking full advantage of the trail, “You can increase business by 4 to 5 percent,” Gwinn said. “If people stay overnight, it ‘s even greater than that.”
Once the committee is in place, it will have a ready resource to guide its work — a copy of “Trail Towns, Capturing Trail-Based Tourism: A Guide for Communities in Pennsylvania,” issued in 2005 by the Allegheny Trail Alliance.
There has been some discussion about possibly extending the trail from its current western trailhead near Water and Brown streets toward Market Street, about a block away.
Ideally, the trail extension would past just below a wall that has been proposed to serve a dual function: a border between the Riverfront Village and the flood impoundment area and a memorial to all Blairsville area veterans.
Bill Orr, Blairsville Legion post commander, is chairing the memorial committee. He said the concept for the wall includes three inscribed plaques, one of which would display the names of local service members who gave their lives serving their country in various conflicts. While not yet counting his research complete, he said he has documented 77 Blairsville area service members who were killed in action or missing in action.
The other plaques are meant to recognize local men and women who served in all branches of the military during all eras — including in a number of police actions that too often are overlooked.
He noted that students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania are creating a 3-D model of the proposed memorial wall while high school students at the Indiana County Technology Center have been asked to prepare a sketch of the veterans' tribute.
Donations are being accepted toward the project.
There were suggestions at the meeting for adding new community events to those held annually in Blairsville.
Among the suggestions is launching a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5K run/walk, similar to an event that has become a popular tradition in nearby Latrobe. According to Persichetti, local fitness instructor Marcia Croce has offered to organize the event. As with other Blairsville races she has organized, participants would be able to designate proceeds from their entry fee to benefit their choice of several local charities.
Regarding another charity event, Dettorre said he hopes to have better publicity and planning in place for a New Year's Day Polar Plunge from the Conemaugh boat launch that took place for the first time this past Jan. 1, when advance notice was limited to word of mouth and Facebook postings. A $15 donation that earned participants an event T-shirt also raised money for the Karla J. Nease Foundation — a local nonprofit organization that helps families that have been touched by terminal illness make it through financial hardships.
Dettorre said he hopes to make the event an annual tradition, with a different charity benefiting each year.
BCDA has committed to organizing the Blairsville Farmers Market once again during the coming harvest season. The authority was checking to see if last season's location — a portion of the former BiLo parking lot at East Walnut and Morrow streets — would be available again, since improvements are planned in the lot in conjunction with the pending opening of a Central Tractor store in part of the former supermarket building.
Connie Constantino, who chairs the farmers market committee, is looking to book local visual artists or musicians to expand the appeal of the market, which is scheduled to be held 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays beginning June 6. While downtown Blairsville businesses and local nonprofit groups may continue to operate booths at the market at no charge, there will be a single upfront season fee of $15 for other vendors. More details will be forthcoming on the BCDA website.
Other returning events that are planned in Blairsville include:
A Car Cruise sponsored by Scoops with the participation of DJ Jerry B., May 30; the Second Annual British Car Cruise Night, July 25; the Blairsville Golf Day outing at Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort, Aug. 29.
Gwinn said BCDA also hopes to continue its major annual fundraiser — Comedy Night Live, an evening of stand-up comedy and a meal that is held on the last Saturday in February.
Persichetti noted volunteers are the backbone that made the BCDA's 2013 events and projects successful. Those who would like to volunteer for this year's efforts can stop in person at the BCDA office or call the office at 724-459-8588.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.