ATV trails, stream access cited as rec needs

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 12:14 p.m.

BLAIRSVILLE--Participants at an initial public meeting for an Indiana County recreation and parks study suggested some top priorities over the next decade: partnering with private landowners to access local streams, forming a parks advisory council and designating areas where all-terrain vehicles are welcome.

A number of other topics were addressed as a recreational wish list was assembled by the dozen citizens in attendance at the Wyotech student union.

Some want to see better use of existing county-owned park facilities, which will be the focus of the comprehensive study by the county's consultant, Pashek Associates of Pittsburgh.

In addition to three major parks--Blue Spruce near Ernest, Pine Ridge east of Blairsville and Hemlock Lake northwest of Glenn Campbell--the county parks department operates the Ghost Town and Hoodlebug rail trails, Memorial Park in Indiana, Tunnelview Historic Site near the Conemaugh Dam and the Blacklick Valley and Buttermilk Falls natural areas in the county's southeastern corner.

Duree Scribe of the Blairs-ville Recreation department suggested the parks host concerts and arts festivals while adding such features as butterfly and hummingbird gardens. "We have beautiful parks, we just don't utilize them fully," she said.

Arlene Barker of Homer City would like to see more horse trails, additional benches along walking trails and vandal-proof rest rooms.

Nick Pinizzotto of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy suggested interpretive signs along county trails to identify tree species and other points of interest.

He also suggested developing scenic driving routes, noting, "Not everybody can hike a trail."

Several people called for improved advertising to make people aware of county park sites and what they have to offer.

West Wheatfield Township Supervisor Sam Boring and resident Jo Anne Ferraro said improved signs are needed to direct visitors to Buttermilk Falls. The existing sign is small and "sits up on a telephone pole," Ferraro noted.

Indiana planner and grant consultant Leann Chaney called for better access to the parks for those who don't drive. She encouraged local schools to plan activities for students on county trails and suggested forming a trail organization under the county's auspices, supplementing efforts of the private, non-profit Cambria and Indiana Trail Council.

Chaney also suggested that PennDOT scale back the height of its median barriers, which block motorists' view of roadside scenery.

While Blairsville Borough has received funding to create a skate park, Chaney would like to see a similar county-owned site. That was one of several suggestions for facilities which would appeal to teens and young adults.

Other expansions of recreational and park facilities were advocated.

Boring suggested historic lime kiln remnants off Rt. 259 north of Robinson be incorporated into a trail system linking that village with Blairsville and the Hoodlebug Trail.

Blairsville's Tom Lawton called for a revival of plans to develop a regional swimming pool and physical therapy center in southern Indiana County. That idea, formed in the wake of Blairsville's municipal pool closure several years ago, hit a stumbling block with the death of local developer Martin Bearer.

Planners had hoped to place the facility on property provided by Bearer.

Lawton noted the project could be a "stepping stone" toward suggested regionalization of local recreation departments.

Fellow Blairsville resident Linda Gwinn pointed out a regional approach could help in obtaining funding for area recreation projects.

Gwinn said she would like to see Blairsville's now vacant National Guard armory transformed into a "tourist orientation hub." The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gwinn also advocated improved access to federal flood control lands for fishing and boating and development of sites for overnight camping and RVs.

She suggested local recreational groups make use of IUP students as interns.

Chief County Planner Bret Baronak would like to see better promotion of healthy lifestyles, with companies encouraging employees to walk or bike to work.

He called for identification and preservation of the county's open spaces and suggested county staff expand its role in providing technical assistance to local communities pursuing recreation projects.

Several people had suggestions for supplementing funding available for parks and recreation.

Lawton noted a large chunk of Blairsville's recreation budget is needed to operate a community health and fitness center. He said financial assistance from the county would free up borough funding for other recreational needs.

Chaney called for increased funding of the county's park maintenance budget. Gwinn suggested using a portion of proceeds from a county hotel tax, which is earmarked for tourism, to maintain trails.

Scribe suggested seeking out corporate sponsors for benches and other park amenities.

Two other sessions are planned in an initial round of public input meetings for the county recreation and parks study: Tuesday at Blue Spruce Park's Lakeside Center and June 24 at the Marion Center Community Building. Both begin at 7 p.m.

Pashek said his firm also will complete an inventory of the county parks and of local municipal and school recreational facilities. Other input will be obtained through monthly meetings with a 15-member steering committee, a random survey of about 3,000 citizens and meetings with focus groups representing recreation consumers and providers.

Following review by the steering committee, a draft of the consultant's recommended county recreation plan will be presented at another round of public meetings.

Baronak noted the recreation study will dovetail with an ongoing county comprehensive plan.

He said, "We want to make sure land use recommendations in the comprehensive plan coincide with our recreation plan."

For more information, contact Baronak at 724-465-3870.

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