Fun for all generations
Local parks are supposed to serve all residents of a community, but, in many cases, all age groups rarely convene in parks at the same time. In Lewisburg, PA., older adults typically left parks by the time school bells rang to make way for younger residents, and teenagers had their own hangout spots separate from adults and young children. Lewisburg officials sought to change that by designing a multi-generational park that community members of all ages and life stages visit at the same time.
Five years ago, Greg Weitzel, the former director of the Lewisburg Area Recreational Authority (LARA) wanted to improve park maintenance and management in the community. The agency determined the area needed more programs for seniors and a way to repair its fragmented system of youth programs.
Soon after, Pennsylvania House, a major furniture manufacturer adjacent to a 1960s-era park in Lewisburg, left town. More than 400 jobs were lost, and the site became a brownfield. Weitzel envisioned a park revitalization project that would encourage use by all community members and signal to prospective Pennsylvania House redevelopers that the town was a good place to invest. “[We wanted to] create a park that adapts to the challenges and changing trends in our community, draws funding and community support, is multi-generational and is an attractive destination,” Weitzel says.
Designed by LARA, with the help of locally based recreation equipment manufacturer Playworld Systems, the 22-acre park, known as the Lewisburg Area Recreation Park, opened in August 2005. It houses a skate park, climbing boulders, multiple playgrounds, tennis courts, an outdoor ice rink, basketball court, and a leisure and competition community pool with water slides. A trail includes a series of physical activity stations, called LifeTrail, for older adults. Toddlers can bang on drums and crawl through a mini fire truck. The park also features climbing walls, a web sphere to test balance; horseshoe pits and swings for all ages. A pavilion is available for parties, family reunions and day camps.
Last summer, thousands of residents and visitors enjoyed the park, which also is used for special events, including triathlons for adults and kids; national night-out events; and corporate and community picnics. “I get so excited when I think about our park complex,” says Angela Zimmerman, LARA executive director. “There is something for everyone. No matter what your age, ability or interest is, you will find an enjoyable outdoor recreation experience.”
To complete the park, four local landscaping companies donated their services, and a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided technical assistance for stormwater management, trail development, road crossings, landscaping, facility renovation and restrooms. Weitzel, with the help of board and community members, also raised more than $1 million to renovate the pool and ice rink.
Lewisburg’s park, in addition to attracting developers to the brownfield across the street, is bringing all residents together. Zimmerman says that the park is fulfilling its initial purpose as hundreds of residents of all generations gather in the park each day. “The area is so appreciative that they have [a park] of that caliber that they can enjoy,” she says.
Weitzel agrees. “This park is a great example of the health, tourism and economic development benefits recreation and parks can bring to a community,” Weitzel says.
Geoffrey Godbey is the professor emeritus for Recreation Park and Tourism Management at Pennsylvania State University.