An action plan for recreational opportunities in central Carbon County has been under discussion, and officials are hoping that the momentum continues in order to benefit local residents.
Steve Landes, of Landes Recreation and Parks Solution, told members of the Central Carbon County Regional Comprehensive Plan Parks and Recreation committee Thursday that the biggest roadblock to implementing the plan will be funding. Communities will need to organize fundraising groups to see progress and results.
Landes, who has visited recreation areas, parks and playgrounds in Weissport, Lehighton, Franklin, East Penn and Mahoning townships to see what actions can be taken, said that for progress to continue, there needs to be an active committee to implement the plan. He also listed actions that can be taken over the next two years, as well as offering longer range plans.
An initial strategy is to rehabilitate existing park areas and recreation facilities and to address any safety concerns. Some involve simple maintenance, such as painting.
After discussing the issues, Attorney William Schwab, who represents East Penn Township, said many areas have a historical background and questioned whether historical markers telling the story of the area might be included in the plan.
That idea came to light because Landes listed replacing an interpretive sign that is missing at the Franklin memorial statue in Weissport.
The committee also looked at other historical and recreational areas where interpretive signs should be added, such as the Phifer Ice Dam Park, which has a rich local history.
Landes noted that the first goal of the plan is to enhance and make the best use of existing park areas and recreation facilities and plan for future parkland acquisition and development.
His second strategy was to meet the National Recreational and Park Association parkland acreage standard of providing 10-1/2 acres for every 1,000 people regionwide, rather than for individual municipalities, through acquisition of park land and the development of new facilities as a region.
That would mean that in the next 10 to 20 years, the area should acquire 106 to 131 acres of land for recreation. He suggested that a 30 to 50 acre site should be acquired in the next five years for public use.
Another issue Landes suggested Carbon County Commissioners consider is the addition of a buffer zone near the riverfront to allow for hiking and fishing adjacent to the Lehigh River. Landes said he was disappointed to find that the planned lots allow no access to the riverfront once it is developed.
His third strategy was to add recreation facilities within the existing parks to enhance the recreation opportunities available to residents. The list includes a dog park, more fishing areas, a skate park, increasing the number of mountain biking trails, soccer fields, walking and biking paths, and expanding the number of river access areas for fishing, handicapped fishing, boats, canoes, kayaks and rafts.
In his second goal, Landes outlined the need to connect residential areas, schools, parks, recreational facilities and other community destinations through the acquisition and development of trails and greenways and preserve and protect conservation areas, open space and important natural resources.
To meet that goal, he suggested that regional planning should begin, and that local government support the plan by adopting laws preserving open space and to develop activities along existing rivers and corridors.
His third goal is to expand and coordinate recreation program opportunities for all ages at municipally-owned parks and school district recreation facilities.
While the area does offer opportunities for youth, he suggested advertising youth sports and community group-sponsored recreation programs in municipalities, and that schools should be listed on district newsletters and websites.
He said each municipal park and recreation board or community should plan one activity program each year at municipal park areas, and that programs should be planned for younger participants so they will be life-long participants.
His fourth goal was to improve communication between communities and the school district by working together and establishing regional network or program providers. He suggested that the Beltzville State Park manager and a representative of the Delaware and Lehigh Corridor Commission be invited to sit on the committee.
He also suggested that a nonprofit "friends" organization should form to support municipal parks.
The fifth goal is maintenance. This goal was added to ensure that park and recreation facilities are well-maintained and meet current safety standards. This includes park rules and regulations and conducting safety inspections.
He also suggested that a regional park committee be formed to oversee the parks in the area.
The sixth goal is funding the costs of maintaining existing parks, trails and greenways, and acquiring and developing additional park areas and recreation facilities. To meet the costs, the committee said they would apply for grants, ask municipalities for more funding, ask for business and individual donations and possibility develop a fee schedule for users.
The seventh goal is to build community awareness by promoting the recreational opportunities in the area through the media, school district newsletter and websites, and in community websites and newsletters.
The final draft of the Central Carbon County Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan will be presented to the public in the next few months during a joint meeting of all four planning commissions at the same time the Central Carbon County Comprehensive Plan will be presented.
Of the five communities involved in the plan, all except Weissport have a planning commission.