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North Hills Monthly

Northern Parks Undergoing Numerous Improvements

Mar 01, 2017 08:26AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

North Park Lake

Parks are an essential part of cities and neighborhoods. In addition to providing a space for kids and adults to get physical activity while breathing fresh air, they add beauty to communities while promoting tourism and economic development.

In recent years, local townships have made park improvements or created new facilities for all to enjoy.

Last year, Cranberry Township completed a $1.7 million upgrade to the Cranberry Township Water Park, transforming the space from a community pool to an authentic water park, said Peter Geis, Parks and Recreation director.

“We put in a separate baby pool, made three different bodies of water, added amenities like a dump bucket and a new surface to the pool, all with a phenomenal filtration system that includes UV protection,” he said.

Last fall, with the help of the Cranberry Community Chest, the township not only resurfaced the Miracle League field but built an accessible playground that encircles it, complete with a pirate ship. 

“We’ve also completed the Brush Creek Connection Trail,” said Geis. The trail runs from Powell Road to the Marshall Township line.

Geis said that the township is planning Phase 2 of Graham Park improvements this year in the nature of a ‘court-plex.’ “We are adding several pickleball courts, and courts for basketball, tennis, bocce and horseshoes,” he said, adding that the township anticipates holding a ribbon cutting by October.

Of the nine Allegheny County Parks covering a total of 12,000 acres, North Park is the largest, with 3,200 bucolic acres, a seemingly endless array of amenities, and a new and improved lake that was dredged five years ago to remove silt and other habitat toxins. 

“Now, not only is it unbelievably crowded throughout the summer months with kayakers and fishers, but the trail around it—the five-mile loop for joggers and bikers—has been improved,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, adding that ruts and potholes in the biking and jogging lanes encircling the lake have also been repaired.

Newer amenities designed to draw in more users include pickleball courts and the Go Ape Zip Line and Tree Top Adventure, a rollicking experience that has kids of all ages in full swing.

Other improvements to the park are human-related: new park rangers are patrolling the park for safety reasons and to serve as ambassadors of the park space. “They do a lot of work with school groups and talk about the park’s ecological diversity so that young people can appreciate not just the beauty but the stewardship of keeping the parks in good shape,” said Fitzgerald.

The county is also exploring private partnerships to help restore the North Park water tower.

Hartwood Acres Park in Hampton and Indiana Townships spans over 600 acres. On Sunday evenings in the summer months, the stage at Hartwood pulsates with free concerts, drawing nationally known acts and local favorites such as Rusted Root and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

“We’ve made improvements around the sound system, the amphitheater and the stage; we’ve been setting attendance records every year,” said Fitzgerald.

The crown jewel of Hartwood Acres is the mansion, which in addition to public tours, is often used as a wedding venue. “We’ve restored the beautiful organ, there is a new bridal room, and we’ve built a wedding shelter in Hemlock Court,” said Fitzgerald.

Deer Lakes Park in Fraser and West Deer townships sits on 1,100 acres of parkland. Money derived exclusively from fracking went into improving this underappreciated park, including improvements to the lake, which has been cleared of lily pads, improved pavilions, benches, new fishing pedestals and the addition of new restrooms, both at the lake and at the Wagman Observatory. Children love the new spray park as well as the new playground at the entrance to the park, while adults appreciate the new exercise equipment.

One of the smallest northern parks and perhaps the most picturesque, Harrison Hills Park covers approximately 500 acres in Harrison Township. The county has added a new environmental boardwalk overlooking the park, as well as exercise equipment by the playground.

An element common to all Allegheny Parks is the introduction of the chimney swift, a bird that is beneficial to ecosystems by consuming such flying pesky insects as mosquitoes; both Graham and North Boundary parks have chimney swifts as part of local Eagle Scout projects. 

Parks are an essential component of quality of life in a region. Fitzgerald says that to grow economically, cities need to attract talent, but in a digital world, people can choose to live anywhere—that is why amenities such as parks equate to quality of life.

“People want to go to the parks with families, to bike, ice skate, fish. We have a lot of different programs like yoga in the park and soccer leagues; people want to have that,” Fitzgerald explained. “I think for us to be able to succeed and compete with other regions of the country, having great assets is not only something we want to have, but we want to improve them, to make them even more attractive.”

To this end, Fitzgerald cited various groups that are stewards of the parks, such as the Hartwood Acres Garden Club and Friends of North Park, who contribute to the parks’ success.

“We want to continue to have these amenities if we are going to succeed economically as a region,” he added.