Chimney Rocks site of planned learning project

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Planning Commission members Thursday approved an agreement with Penn State University to conduct a service learning project at Chimney Rocks.

The Chimney Rocks Trail Stabilization Feasibility Study is an academic-community partnership project made possible via a three-year grant received by Penn State Altoona’s Center for Community-Based Studies, which established a “community of practice” between the Sustainable Communities Collaborative and five commonwealth campuses of Penn State including Altoona, said Tom Shaffer, coordinator of Community-Based Studies at Penn State Altoona.

“This new relationship focuses on engaging Penn State undergraduates in impactful, real-world projects that help community organizations — in this case, the Blair Planning Office — move forward to achieve their objectives. This project assists BPO in its efforts to expand and/or maintain a local ‘active living/lifestyle infrastructure’ and to find ways to minimize problems associated with stormwater runoff,” Shaffer said.

Chimney Rocks Park showcases panoramic views of the area, as well as limestone rock formations shaped like spires. The entrance to the park is well maintained by the borough of Hollidaysburg and offers picnic areas and one very accessible overlook.

To access other overlooks and the Chimney Rocks, park visitors must use a short trail, which is quite steep in some sections and which has led to issues with erosion. The trail has become very uneven in some stretches because of channels that have been created by runoff.

In addition, it is common for the trail to be unusable in the winter and spring due to mud, according to the project description, written by Megan Marshall, associate teaching professor, agricultural and biological engineering.

The goal is to develop a detailed site plan, including recommended best management practices, to minimize erosion and stabilize the trail, allowing three-season access to the overlook. As a first step, the problem should be quantified, including run­off rates and trail slopes and dimensions. The existing trail (dirt/gravel) could be improved but not replaced with a paved trail. With implementation of the site plan, the hope is that the trail could be easily maintained rather than in need of significant repairs after large runoff events, Marshall wrote.

“This ties in with our stormwater and public health initiatives. It is a tangible project in the community,” said David McFarland, Blair County planning director.

The study will be undertaken by a team of senior-level undergraduate students studying natural resource engineering at Penn State University Park over the course of the 2018-19 academic year. It is a two-semester project, Shaffer said.

The $500 funding provided will help defray costs associated with the first phase of a study to identify best management practices for the trail and park, Shaffer said.

“It is a feasibility study only; it does not commit the borough, township or county to any action. Further, as a student project, any findings and all recommendations would require professional review and revision, were any party to want pursue the project further,” Shaffer said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.