Like many of his neighbors with an interest in recreation, Jim Craft of Upper Yoder was disturbed over talk of selling The Ridge park and the playground at the former Stutzman School.

But Craft felt he had a more important reason to be upset. As longtime chairman of the Westmont Hilltop Recreation Authority, he had responsibility for both properties under state law.

“We have the care, custody and control of the propery,” authority member Lee Williamson of Westmont said.

The authority is a separate organization from the soon-to-be-defunct Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission, Craft explained at the authority’s meeting on Monday. It has been in existence for more than 30 years, but only meets about once a year because it is primarily a vehicle for participating municipalities to obtain grant funding for recreation.

Herbert Ewald of Southmont is the third member of the authority board.

Its members are appointed by Westmont and Southmont boroughs and Upper Yoder Township. Westmont Hilltop School District does not have a seat on the authority, but it had a seat on the commission.

The Ridge is jointly owned by Southmont, Westmont, Upper Yoder and the school district, but it has received about $60,000 in state grants obtained by the authority. Those grants encumber the property, a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources official said in letter to Southmont Borough.

As grantee, the authority is “required to maintain those improvements for their useful life,” and “the land must remain in recreation and park use,” Stephen J. Squibb, DCNR acquisition project manager, said in the letter.

Southmont proposed selling the Ridge after the rec commission’s breakup. At least two appraisals have been obtained.

The authority also obtained grants for the Stutzman playground and the Grove, Craft added. Both properties are owned by Westmont Borough, which has proposed selling the playground and relocating it to make way for a CVS Pharmacy.

“I don’t know a lot about it, but they can’t do it without the three of us,” Craft said.

DCNR can set requirements for the sale and reuse of encumbered property, but the conditions could include establishing another recreation option or return of the grant money, with interest.

That is decided on a case-by-case basis, said DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak. The proposal would have to come from the authority, she said.

“We would look to working with the authority as the official grantee,” she said.

At last week’s authority meeting, there was no discussion of proposals to sell the two properties. In fact, the group voted to schedule meetings every two months and explore what grants might be available today.

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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