A Multigenerational Place to Play
Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority's Destination Park project
By Stacy St. Clair
It's hard to say which is more impressive: The Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority's new park or its moxie.
Five years ago, the regional recreation and park agency in Lewisburg, Pa., didn't even exist. Now, it boasts one of the country's first multigenerational destination parks. The remarkable achievement reflects the authority's commitment, its director's vision and a local recreation company's generosity. Without these three things, the $2.5 million project never could have happened.
Director Greg A. Weitzel was the county's first recreation and park professional and was hired to develop the new agency to improve the quality of life in his central Pennsylvania community. He knew his state held claim to the nation's worst "brain drain" rates, meaning a significant number of young people were moving to different states after completing their education. He envisioned a recreation and park system that would offer them a reason to stay and raise their families.
He first developed a range of programs for all age groups and then set his sights on a 22-acre park site and began raising funds to renovate the community pool and outdoor ice skating rink. Playworld Systems, a recreation equipment company headquartered in Lewisburg, took notice, and the two soon began making plans for a world-class park unlike any other. When finished, the complex would house a skatepark, climbing boulders, multiple playgrounds, tennis courts, an updated outdoor ice rink, basketball court, and a leisure and competitive community pool with water slides and other fun features.
Amid the discussions, a major manufacturer adjacent to the park left town. The departure made the renovation a critical economic development initiative for the area. Officials now viewed the complex as a community beautification project that would attract companies, new residents and tourists.
"This park is a great example of the health, tourism and economic development benefits recreation and parks can bring to a community," Weitzel says.
Playworld Systems helped make the project a reality by donating roughly $500,000 in equipment, as well as money to help repair roofs and fix drainage problems at the park. The company's gift sparked a flurry of other contributions.
"We spared no expense to renovate the outdated park," says Dale Miller, CEO of Playworld Systems. "The community has been very good to us over the years, and the Playworld family was happy to contribute to building a world-class, multigenerational destination park right in our backyard."
Four local landscaping companies also put aside competition and worked together to donate $25,000 of free labor to the park and pool. Three area construction companies each donated more than $5,000 in materials and labor. A fourth construction company has offered to build a pavilion, while two local engineering firms contributed more than $30,000 in free services.
Weitzel, for his part, worked tirelessly to obtain state funding, even pitching Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell on the project. He secured a $500,000 matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which also provided technical assistance on the project. Weitzel also spent the last four years working with board and community members to raise more than $1 million for the community pool and ice-rink renovations.
"All of us benefit from enriching recreational opportunities for the community; the decision on where families and businesses may eventually settle relies heavily upon the quality of life in the surrounding area—in turn, with growth in any community, comes a broader tax base and enhanced values of our land, businesses and homes." Weitzel says. "When Playworld Systems stepped up with a donation of this magnitude, it was amazing to see how many people wanted to help."
Even more amazing was the resulting park and pool. The complex, which boasts top-of-the line equipment, reflects a deep understanding of where the industry and field is headed.
"The number-one job of a recreation and park department should be helping people of all ages and abilities become more active," Weitzel says. "Often times, for many reasons, we lose focus as to why we're here."
Among the park's most impressive features is a walking path with seven wellness stations. The stations—which were developed in collaboration with gerontology, kinesiology and recreation experts from Penn State University—turn a daily walk into a complete fitness program for active older adults. The workout provides age-appropriate physical activity to maintain endurance, flexibility, strength and balance.
The trail was a key element for Weitzel, who recognizes the growing need for recreation opportunities for older adults. Pennsylvania already is home to the country's second-largest senior population, a subset that will only grow larger as the Baby Boomer population reaches retirement age.
"Older adults often get missed," Weitzel says. "We really need to focus on this group of residents".
The authority is working with Evangelical Hospital, its local health-care provider, on plans to start a "Lifetrail Club," which will promote the benefits of exercise to seniors. Through their free memberships, participants will have access to health lectures and orientation sessions on the trail. For a minimal fee, they also will be able to have private training sessions with exercise specialists, who will chart their progress.
"We've taken an exercise trail one step beyond just putting equipment in a park," Weitzel says.
Grownups aren't the only ones enjoying the park. The complex is a children's paradise with a playground featuring some of the more unique structures in the industry. For those between the ages of 5 and 12, a playground features a series of towers, slides and ladders. The design encourages children to develop social skills, as well as build aerobic fitness, balance and strength.
An adjacent playground was added to create developmentally and age-specific activities for children under 5. The section features lower steps and smaller handholds, as well as activities that offer young users physical and mental challenges. All the playgrounds are filled with rubberized safety surfacing and surrounded by a variety of landscaping, flowers and perennials.
"The diverse and challenging array of playground equipment provides another added benefit," Weitzel says. "Children are getting an education through problem-solving skills and working together with other children on how to maneuver through the equipment."
The authority hasn't forgotten those who want a high-energy workout, either. With a skatepark designed by Woodward Ramps & Rails, the complex provides skateboarders, BMX bikers and inline enthusiasts with a high-quality, low-maintenance and extremely ridable venue.
The park also offers climbing boulders in five different sizes. They look and feel like real rock, while rounded edges and stone-like textures provide excellent hand and footholds.
Future plans at the site include developing an environmental education component, complete with nature walks and a hands-on wetland discovery area, adding interpretative signage and other educational components.
Most importantly, in just over one month of opening, the multigenerational approach has proven successful. On nice weekends, the complex averages 1,000 people a day and draws patrons from a 100-mile radius.
Simply put, the big vision has netted even bigger results.
"The public," Weitzel says, "has never seen anything like this."