Grassroots moves to transform the area surrounding one of the city’s biggest tourist draws, the Inclined Plane, have turned into a more than 90-acre hillside recreational tourism effort that local leaders called a “linchpin” for the region’s future Thursday.
As work continues to expand hiking and mountain biking opportunities on a growing stretch of the hillside, efforts are progressing to begin work on “Sliver Park” along the Stonycreek River below, revamp the Inclined Plane and address a high-profile mine drainage discharge nearby, Johnstown agencies, environmental groups and economic development officials said.
And in a move that could give life to a years-in-the-making concept, city officials plan to seek a private firm to develop a zip-line “adventure” park on the Inclined Plane hillside as well, Conemaugh Valley Conservancy Project Manager Brad Clemenson said.
It’s part of a network of efforts aimed at redefining the community through the resources that make Greater Johnstown special, according to Community Foundation for the Alleghenies President Mike Kane.
“This is all about community and economic development through placemaking – aligned with responsible use of our natural resources – by creating quality of life amenities and attractions,” Kane said.
“This isn’t just about attracting tourism. It’s about making our area more attractive for economic development,” he added. “It’s about making our community what we want it to be.”
Through a virtual presentation that attracted more than 50 people, Kane’s organization was joined by project partners from the city, Cambria County Transit Authority, Vision Together 2025, the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority, and state and regional environmental organizations, including PennDOT, and the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources, among others.
Among the efforts highlighted Thursday:
Sliver Park progress
A $225,000 Department of Conservation and Natural resources grant was already awarded toward construction of the initial phase of what local leaders have called Sliver Park.
As envisioned, the park would reconnect people in the city to the river. Efforts have been underway the past few years to acquire the necessary permits to add a ramp and other upgrades alongside the historic funicular and bridge.
Clemenson said Thursday an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp and walkway from the hillside to the river could be under construction late this year, while design work gets underway for the second phase: a Stonycreek boat ramp and fishing dock.
That project is not likely to begin until late 2022 or 2023, he said, while a boardwalk is also envisioned.
“Trying to put docks and boardwalks into (a flood-prone area) is a little challenging. But we’re confident we can get through it,” Clemenson said.
Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds Executive Director John Dawes praised the effort for blending economic development and quality of life efforts with an environmental focus.
“This project provides a centerpiece for Johnstown’s transitional economy, which supports recreational endeavors underway, in keeping with the mountain town concept,” Dawes added.
If all goes well, efforts to add a zipline and similar outdoor draws would be interwoven through the same space as the hillside park.
Clemenson said the goal is to reach out to investment groups about leveraging their private funds toward adding the amenities.
He described the broader project, on pace to occur while the Inclined Plane itself is being rejuvenated, as a “transformational development” that will redefine the city as a recreation hub.
Friends of the Incline Trails have already spearheaded efforts to open seven hiking, biking and downhill racing trails, enabling cyclists to load their bikes onto the Inclined Plane and ride back onto the top of the hill to ride again.
A recent land donation is enabling project partners to expand that effort this year.
Nearby, there are plans to add a new trailhead near UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and, through the Johnstown Urban Interconnectivity Plan, link those trails to the rest of the downtown and growing the September 11th National Memorial Trail, Vision Together’s Ryan Kieta said.
Inclined Plane upgrades
More than $11 million in funds have been raised – more than $600,000 through the 1889 Foundation and Community Foundation for the Alleghenies – to complete the Inclined Plane’s first significant rehabilitation project since 1983, CamTran Director Rose Lucey-Noll said.
And that work will begin in the coming year.
Efforts are already moving forward to get bids to rehab the hillside system’s cars, Lucey-Noll said.
While some of the work will involve updating or replacing vital mechanical parts behind the scenes, the project will also add new track lighting to give the attraction color-changing lights.
Rehab work to the Incline car’s suspension system and the replacement of wooden ties and track wheels are expected to occur over the next two years, she said.
Mine discharge removal
Area leaders have tried for years to eliminate a foul-smelling mine leak near the base of the Incline.
Visible from across the river at what is now Sargent’s Stadium and even overhead GIS maps, it was at one point deemed impossible to address.
Thanks to $231,000 through DEP’s Growing Greener Initiative, a study will get underway this year to identify options that would enable the county to identify an optimal remediation plan to address the pollutant, Deputy Secretary for Active and Abandoned Mine Operations John Stefanko said.
The community’s broad list of recreational and environmental projects make addressing the issue even more vital, brownfield consultant Joe Senita said.
“If you’re rafting, you can see it,” he said. “If you’re kayaking, you can see it.”
It’s part of a larger effort to bring more aquatic life back to the Little Conemaugh River and reestablish it as a high-quality trout fishery, local leaders added.
“Waterways are connectors, too,” said Senita, pointing to the Stonycreek River’s successes as a draw for fishing, boating and river tube floating.
“We believe outdoor recreation is one of our greatest assets,” said Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce President Amy Bradley, noting its a key part of their recruitment tool to lure remote workers to the region. “If you can work from anywhere, why not pick a place with wonderful outdoor recreation just steps from your front door?”