District plans work on new park

NatureWorksPark will have gardens, boardwalk through wetlands

HOLLIDAYSBURG — For most organizations, wetlands and floodplains are a detriment to development.

For the Blair County Conservation District, they’re an asset.

On Thursday, officials from the district and a variety of other agencies celebrated the start of the district’s development of a park and eventually a new office building on a 15-acre tract where wetlands and floodplains — comprising 80 percent of the ground — will become teaching tools.

Phase 1, NatureWorks­Park, will include an already constructed boardwalk through wetlands, an amphitheater, patches of ground that will rotate between vegetable gardens, orchards, cover crop areas and other agricultural uses; a butterfly-shaped pollinator garden, rain gardens, an undeveloped access to the Beaverdam Branch of the Juniata River, riparian buffers along the river and two pavilions, said Conservation District Manager Donna Fisher.

Perhaps as late as 2020, after the district raises the money, workers will construct an energy-efficient office building, constructed largely with recycled materials, heavily insulated, possibly with a vegetative roof, solar panels, geothermal heating and a porous concrete parking lot, to replace the cramped office space in a building next to Dave’s Dream in Hollidaysburg that the district shares with other agencies.

The main virtue of the project on the former Louis Kline farm near the intersection of Bedford Street and Route 36 is its potential to demonstrate environmental conservation techniques, according to Fisher.

With its planned amenities, the tract will be an ideal site for lessons taught by education specialist Suzanne Black — lessons that deal with backyard enhancements, cleanliness of streams, native turtles, composting, winter wildlife and construction of rain gardens.

The effort to develop the tract has been going on for years.

A developer who wanted to create a residential village for seniors owned the property but eventually lost it through a sheriff’s sale, which enabled the district to buy it for $140,000.

The project makes sense, because the district has been growing in its responsibilities and will continue to grow, said board Chairman Harold Bailey.

“I think it will double in size the next 10 years,” Bailey said. ” Maybe (grow) three times (as big).”

“We’ve got to think ahead,” Bailey added.

The district is the “first line of defense” for the local environment, said State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair. “But it’s a friendly line,” he said.

Phase 1 will cost $540,000 — $250,000 from a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant, $4,000 from an Altoona Sunrise Rotary grant and the rest from district savings.

Those savings have accumulated since 2012 with the help of $55,000 in annual revenue from a program in which conservation districts are paid for their environmental work in connection with the natural gas extraction industry in Pennsylvania.

Phase 2 could cost $2 million — money the district would need to raise through grants and probably loans, Fisher said.

The old wood-pegged bank barn that served the farm will remain, to be used for storage and workshops.

There was never any doubt about that, Fisher indicated.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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