Rec pro­gram seeks to ex­pand, con­tinue 5 years

Re­gional ef­fort ob­tained $1.6M in grants over first 5 years

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

For the past five years, six area mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have im­proved their parks, out­lined trails and open space, bat­tled in­va­sive species and im­proved and ex­panded their ath­letic fields with the help of a pow­er­ful ally.

Now headed up by Michael Lane, the Pottstown Area Re­gional Recreation Co­or­di­na­tor Pro­gram has been that ally. And now ef­forts are un­der­way to en­sure that ally sticks around for an­other five years.

Be­gun by the state and funded through the con­tri­bu­tions from the Pottstown Area Health and Well­ness Foun­da­tion and the towns that ben­e­fit, the pro­gram has gar­nered more than $1.6 mil­lion in grants.

Con­sid­er­ing that is has sought $1.9 mil­lion over­all, that’s a pretty good bat­ting av­er­age.

It has been called “by far the most col­lab­o­ra­tive circuit rider pro­gram we’ve funded in over 20 years” by Lau­ren Im­grund, the deputy sec­re­tary for con­ser­va­tion at the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

That’s the state agency that pro­vided $162,500 in start-up

money over five years to help sup­port the ef­forts of first Justin Keller, and then Michael Lane — the two men who have held the po­si­tion — of­fi­cially called a “circuit rider.”

But now the state fund­ing has ex­pired and it won’t be com­ing back any time soon.

Nev­er­the­less, the re­gional recreation com­mit­tee — com­prised of of­fi­cials from the six par­tic­i­pat­ing towns — not only want to keep the pro­gram go­ing, but also wants to add the two other towns that com­prise the Pottstown Area Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mit­tee, which acts as the ap­pli­cant for all the grants.

Cur­rent pro­gram mem­bers in­clude Pottstown, West Potts­grove, Up­per Potts­grove, Lower Potts­grove, Dou­glass (Mont.) and North Coven­try.

As Lane and Craig Colis­tra, pro­gram of­fi­cer with the Pottstown Area Health and Well­ness Foun­da­tion, fin­ish the rounds of municipal meet­ings this month — aimed at giv­ing boards time enough to con­sider the re­quest be­fore bud­get sea­son starts — they have a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on adding New Hanover and East Coven­try town­ships to the ros­ter.

They have met lit­tle op­po­si­tion from town­ship of­fi­cials who have seen the ben­e­fits of the pro­gram. Wed­nes­day night, West Potts­grove Com­mis­sion­ers seemed ready to sign up right away.

Lane said he hopes to have won over East Coven­try su­per­vi­sors as the re­sult of re­cent presentation, but although Lane and Colis­tra were warmly re­ceived at Thurs­day’s su­per­vi­sors meet­ing, New Hanover su­per­vi­sors do not seem quite ready to com­mit.

Town­ship Man­ager Jamie Gwynn pointed out that New Hanover just hired a new full­time recreation di­rec­tor in March, has its own pool and recreation cen­ter, and is cur­rently en­gaged in putting to­gether a set of pri­or­i­ties for recreation and open space.

Gwynn, Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Charles Garner and Su­per­vi­sor Kurt Ze­br­woski all said the re­gional pro­gram is im­pres­sive, par­tic­u­larly in its prow­ess at ob­tain­ing grants.

And Ze­br­woski, who had pre­vi­ously been a skep­tic and wor­ried the re­gional pro­gram would try to over-step the town­ship’s pro­gram, said he now sees it is rather meant to com­pli­ment the town­ship’s ef­forts.

Lane said his ef­forts are tai­lored to each town­ship’s needs and he does as much or as lit­tle as they ask.

In North Coven­try, for ex­am­ple, the pro­gram helped get grants to de­velop play­ing fields on prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the Lowe’s shop­ping cen­ter off Route 100 that will even­tu­ally also house a new high­way depart­ment and per­haps even a new town­ship build­ing.

In Up­per Potts­grove, on the other hand, the town­ship had al­ready em­barked on its own ex­pan­sive open space pur­chas­ing reg­i­men, so although no grants were re­quested, Lane is help­ing the town de­velop its master plan for those spa­ces and the trails that will con­nect those pre­serves to the re­gional trail sys­tem he is also help­ing to fo­ment.

In West Potts­grove, his ef­forts helped de­velop Mur­gia Park off Manatawny Street, in­clud­ing get­ting a bridge over Goose Run in­stalled, whereas in Dou­glass, his ef­forts helped with master plans for two open space parcels and also as a match for county funds to re-build the crum­bling town­ship parking lot to bet­ter in­fil­trate stormwa­ter.

Re­gion-wide, the pro­gram has pushed plan­ning for an am­bi­tious re­gional trail net­work that will con­nect to the Schuylkill River Trail, and sup­ports ef­forts to bat­tle the in­va­sive in­sect species of the spot­ted lantern­fly and emer­ald ash borer.

In New Hanover, Lane said, it is his un­der­stand­ing there is a de­sire for more play­ing fields, some­thing he could help de­sign and for which grants could be sought.

Ob­vi­ously in­ter­ested, but yet ready to com­mit, Gwynn raised a ques­tion not pre­vi­ously broached — could New Hanover join for the last four years, taking the first year to con­tinue its ef­forts to or­ga­nize and pri­or­i­tize?

Colis­tra said he would take the ques­tion back to the com­mit­tee.

The foun­da­tion of con­tin­u­ing the pro­gram for the next five years is based on a pledge by the Pottstown Area Health and Well­ness Foun­da­tion — which has al­ready con­trib­uted $220,000 over the last five years — to pro­vide 50per­cent of the pro­gram’s fund­ing for the next five years.

That works out to an av­er­age of about $50,000 per year.

Also, as it did for the pre­vi­ous pe­riod, the Schuylkill River Her­itage Area has com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing of­fice space and ser­vices to Lane at no charge for the next five years.

For the par­tic­i­pat­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the an­nual cost would be­gin at $7,202 in the first year and rise to $7,881 in the fifth year. Those to­tals would be lower, how­ever, if di­vided up among eight mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in­stead of six.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

A cov­ered pic­nic pav­il­ion was added to River­front Park last year and a more re­cent ad­di­tion was two “pol­li­na­tor gar­dens” thanks to grants ob­tained through the re­gional recreation pro­gram.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

A $30,000 grant Michael Lane helped ob­tain from the Walt Dis­ney Co., the only one awarded in Penn­syl­va­nia, helped to pay for the first phase of im­prove­ments to play ar­eas in Pottstown’s Me­mo­rial Park.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Justin Keller, now Pottstown’s in­terim bor­ough man­ager, was the first re­gional recreation di­rec­tor who helped kick­start the re­gional trail study Michael Lane con­tin­ued.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Craig Colis­tra, stand­ing, pro­gram of­fi­cer with the Pottstown Area Health and Well­ness Foun­da­tion and Re­gional Recreation Di­rec­tor Michael Lane, seated, ad­dressed the West Potts­grove Com­mis­sion­ers about re­new­ing the re­gional recreation di­rec­tor po­si­tion for an­other five years.

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