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Parks action plan targets maintenance[]

May 22, 2008, By Mary Carney

County executive Dan Onorato asked county residents Saturday what they wanted in improvements to South Park, the county recreational facility straddling South Park and Bethel Park.

Most of the 125 who turned up for the town hall session in the park's fairgrounds museum wanted assurances the park land or facilities would not be sold to private investors and that better maintenance would be a priority.

Others asked for updates on plans for the tennis courts on Corrigan Drive, the park's main road, and for the status of a proposed sports complex, projected to include soccer, football and baseball fields.

Saturday's was the eighth such session held by Mr. Onorato and his staff to discuss his County Parks Action Plan, unveiled last year. At the sessions, officials have been asking for public input on how to improve the parks, which have suffered from about two decades of deferred maintenance.

The action plan established the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, an independent, nonprofit that will raise private funds for park improvements and public private partnerships to operate some of the parks' attractions.

Mr. Onorato has started a fund with $1 million dollars from the county capital fund and set aside $10 million from the capital budget to match what the foundation is able to raise.

County Director of Parks Andrew Baechle said that six tennis courts will be built by 2009 and the current ones will be torn down. Private operators will be sought to manage the courts in South Park and in the other parks.

Also, the county will allow Jupiter Golf Clinic to invest in South Park golf course and charge market rates.

Ed Lanetz, president of South Park Youth Football, asked about the proposal from a firm that has coal rights to land at the south end of the fairgrounds and wants to mine the coal with the promise to reclaim it with a Sports Complex to include four soccer fields, three baseball fields and two football fields.

Mr. Onorato said the county is reviewing that proposal.

When asked if some of the land would be sold, Onorato said the county "will not sell our parks or sell our assets. We are getting investors to manage."

He pointed out the county recently added 14.5 acres to South Park, purchased from the Malli Family. The county also put in a blade, board, and bike facility with money from the Regional Asset District.

South Park is the second-largest of the county-operated system, established in the 1920s.

Saturday's South Park meeting also touched on field areas, the fairgrounds, horse stables, ice rink, and maintenance of the old homes in the park, which were sold to the park many years ago by pioneer families that farmed there. The Oliver Miller Homestead, housed in the Stone Manse, is the centerpiece of the park and stands out as a historic gem in the county.

Other concerns came from groups who use the park's facilities for sports related activities, martial arts, bicycling and the nationally recognized BMX track.

Each of the parks has unique qualities and possibilities, Mr. Onorato pointed out.

"South Park is known for its fairgrounds, North Park, the boat house, Hartwood, the stables and Boyce Park, its skiing and tubing area.

"Round Hill Park is a working farm and Settler's Cabin will soon be known for its botanical gardens. The nine regional parks have the potential to be the best parks in the country, he said. The remaining parks are Harrison Hills, which has a scenic overlook, Deer Lakes Park, home of Wagman Observatory and White Oak Park, where there is a rabbit farm.

The county parks span more than 12,000 acres and offer an array of sporting, leisure, cultural and entertainment opportunities.

The final in the town hall series will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 10 at Round Hill Park Visitor Center, 651 Round Hill Road, Elizabeth.

For more, visit http://www.alleghenycounty.us