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Parks are precious; studying them will help communities: Editorial

Posted 12/4/19

One of the greatest assets a municipality can offer its residents is its parks.

That’s why we are interested to see the results that both the borough of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township …

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Parks are precious; studying them will help communities: Editorial

Posted

One of the greatest assets a municipality can offer its residents is its parks.

That’s why we are interested to see the results that both the borough of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township are gathering about their park systems. We think it’s a great idea that both are asking residents what they want to see accomplished with the parks.

Middletown residents are being asked to complete a Park Input Survey that can be done by going to middletownborough.com or the borough Facebook page. Residents have until spring 2020 to complete the survey.

Residents can also complete the survey on their smart phone, using a code at signs the borough has posted at all the parks.

Middletown has seven parks, the largest being 10-acre Hoffer Park at the end of Mill Street along Swatara Creek.

Hoffer Park is already slated for a big improvement: the Little Middletown playground that is to replace Kids Kastle at an estimated cost of nearly $925,000. The borough has applied for federal grant funds to help pay for the new playground.

Councilor Robert Reid has rightfully advocated that the borough not “forget” the six other parks in Middletown. They are Oak Hills, a six-acre facility along Spruce Street in the Oak Hills neighborhood; Frey Manor Park, also 6 acres behind Hoffer Street and Frey Avenue; 1.5-acre Colston Park on Russell Avenue between South Wood and Lawrence streets; Etnoyer’s Park, a 3-acre facility on South Wood at Susquehanna Street; Elner Overdeer Park, a half-acre facility across from the Municipal Building at West Emaus and Catherine streets; and 6-acre Susquehanna Street Park along Susquehanna Street.

The survey asks residents about which park they use the most, how often, and when; how they get there; and what features they use most at the park and which features they use least. The survey also asks what park residents go to outside of Middletown, and what activities they do at these other parks.

Survey results will be incorporated into grants the borough plans to apply for toward improvements at all the parks.

The borough’s 2020 general fund budget includes $100,000 to be used as matching funds for a grant that is to go toward upgrading the Oak Hills and Elner Overdeer parks.

That is no small amount of money to spend, but we support it.

Also, we want the survey information used properly and its goals carried out. We also expect the borough to go above and beyond in efforts to make the results of the survey available to the public and not just rely on the limited, controlled and most often divisive scope of social media. To that end we will strive to ensure that you, the residents and businesses of our town are provided that information.

Since September, Lower Swatara has been holding meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for its parks.

Meetings on Oct. 22 and 29 examined how Lower Swatara’s parks measured up against national standards. Also discussed was connectivity between the parks.

The township might hold a public meeting in early 2020 to get public feedback.

A study by the township’s contracted engineering firm, HRG, found that based on national standards, Lower Swatara has a surplus of playgrounds, basketball courts, baseball fields and soccer fields. It has the right number of tennis courts and softball fields, and a deficit of multipurpose fields, dog parks, tot lots, community gardens, multipurpose courts, and football fields.

While the national standards say one thing about softball fields, members of the Lower Swatara Township Athletic Association have advocated for more, saying that there aren’t enough fields, particularly for the older girls. That’s the type of important feedback the township needs to consider. Sometimes national standards don’t tell the entire story.

Another suggestion was for community gardens.

“I think we need something for the older folks and the people that like to garden and do things like that. They are in the township. You build it, I think they’ll come,” recreation board member James Kazacavage said at a recent meeting.

For connectivity, recommendations include bicycle and pedestrian facilities along road and bridges, over and under Route 283 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike; along Rosedale Avenue between the residences and the Linden Centre; near Penn State; along Fulling Mill Road and the business parks; and North Union Street, according to Staub.

Commissioner Chris DeHart advocated for more walking trails or ways to get between the parks, maybe using the township sewer right-of-ways.

There are some great ideas being discussed. We are excited to see what the end results will be. For now, Middletown and Lower Swatara are on the right track when it comes to its parks.