A plan for increased recreational opportunities for the residents of the Central Carbon County region (Weissport, Lehighton, Franklin, East Penn and Mahoning townships) over the next 10 years is under way.

Steve Landes of Landes Recreation and Parks Solution met with members of the Central Carbon County Regional Comprehensive Plan Parks and Recreation committee to come up with recommendations that will provide recreation facilities, trails and recreation programs well into the future. They also discussed ways to provide for the administration, maintenance, funding and public relations of the proposed plan.

Committee members attending the meeting were Wayne Wentz, Rod Mann, Tom Zellner and Dave Hawk, all of Franklin Township; Frank Ruch, Mahoning Township; attorney William Schwab, East Penn Township; and Lehighton School District Superintendent James Kraky.

Landes took the group through a draft that set goals and provided strategies.

Landes said that the first strategy was to rehabilitate the existing park areas and recreation facilities to the fullest extent, with safety concerns a first priority.

Nine local park facilities were mentioned: Ashfield Playground, Marvin Gardens Park and Riverview Park in East Penn Township; Franklin Bunker Hill and Phifer Ice Dam Park, Franklin Township; Baer Memorial Park, Jacob Weiss Park, Lehighton Community Grove, Sixth Street Baseball Field, Skyline Park, in Lehighton; Weissport Community Park and Franklin Street Playground, in Weissport; and the Lehigh Canal Park, Lehigh Canal and Recreation Commission.

Landes said that by improving and enhancing the present facilities the parks will better meet the citizen's recreation needs.

As part of Landes recommendation, he suggested that to meet federal recreational recommended guidelines that the communities should add an additional 94 to 112 acres of parkland to serve future recreational needs.

After some discussion, Landes agreed that may be a lofty goal. The group discussed the added recreational opportunities that are available through the National Heritage Corridor Commission at the Lehigh Canal Park need to be added into the equation, and noted that a 30 to 50-acre parcel might be feasible for the local cash-strapped communities to plan for in the next 10 years.

The board also noted it will recommend to the Carbon County Commissioners that they should include some recreational facilities at the proposed redevelopment of the Packerton Rail Yards.

Attorney Schwab, East Penn Township's representative, noted that asking his township to support the building of a dog park might cause some friction.

Other recommendations include to add self-directed recreation opportunities such as fishing, in-line skating and mountain biking, a skatepark, added walking and biking paths, expanded river access areas for fishing, handicapped fishing, boats, kayaks and rafts.

Another recommendation Landes gave was to link parks to downtown revitalization and economic development, especially along the Lehigh River.

They also discussed adding activities near the Appalachian Trail Corridor, Beltzville State Park and Lehigh River and to designate ecological greenway corridors along the Lizard Creek, Mahoning Creek, Mahoning Mountain and Mauch Chunk Ridge.

Another suggestion was to continue improvements to the Delaware and Lehigh Trail through the region.

He then suggested that community recreation programs should be supported as well as more outdoor recreation activities and events should be held to encourage the local community's involvement in recreation, such as a triathlon, bike events or a river festival.

"Each municipality should plan at least one program activity each year at a municipal park," he suggested.

Another proposal was to develop a fee-based summer day camp for the region's children at a park area such as at the Lehighton Grove or Phifer Ice Dam Park.

Landes said the school district should have school children visit the Lehigh Canal Park and there should be more family recreational opportunities.

Kraky said that with the high cost of fuel, the school district is looking into planning more localized field trips, such as the Lehigh Canal Park.

"There should be a committee formed to plan events," said Landes. The present committee said that it may continue to work together to plan recreational activities after the comprehensive plan is adopted.

He also noted that a fundraising committee should be formed to raise money for ongoing maintenance and programs. He said that the best way is to form a nonprofit organization.

Another recommendation was to adopt uniform rules for local parks and to establish standardized safety inspections.

Landes said that the group needs to consider applying for grants for acquiring more land for recreation use and suggested that a local guide be published to include a map of park and trail locations. He also suggested that there should be increased information on the Internet about the region's recreation opportunities.