Rec program seeks to expand, continue 5 years
Regional effort obtained $1.6M in grants over first 5 years
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.
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.
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.
Justin Keller, now Pottstown’s interim borough manager, was the first regional recreation director who helped kickstart the regional trail study Michael Lane continued.
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.