A retired Westmont Borough businessman has donated nine acres of land that will enable a local nonprofit to continue expanding a park below the Johnstown Inclined Plane.
In part, the land will serve as a peaceful “buffer” on one side of the 103-acre park, which will likely see construction of a river park start in 2022 and business proposals sought for a zipline “adventure” course, said Conemaugh Valley Conservancy President Tim Messer.
“This is a very big addition for us, not just to preserve this land but also as we look to add more hiking and biking opportunities,” he said.
George Griffith, who operated the Flower Barn at Grandview Greenhouses on Millcreek Road for more than 50 years, donated nine acres of mostly hillside land to the conservancy, which is spearheading the park’s continued development.
“We greatly appreciate Mr. Griffith’s generosity in donating this land to the Conservancy,” said Messer.
Conservancy member Brad Clemenson said the donated land is just south of the former Flower Barn property. One end of the acreage borders Millcreek Road. From there, it extends toward existing park property that features nine trails that wind their way through woods near the Inclined Plane.
The acquisition will enable the group to add more single-track mountain biking and hiking paths and will also allow the conservancy to ensure the land is protected, Clemenson said. It’ll enable the conservation group to control and address erosion.
Design plans must still be completed for the nine-acre addition before any changes are made, Messer said. But several other components of the planned Inclined Plane Park are expected to move forward in 2022.
If all goes well, the first phase of a river park at the base of Yoder Hill will go out for bids by late spring, Clemenson said.
Project supporters have been fundraising for the effort for the past few years – and recently acquired $200,000 in funds generated from state-imposed gas well “impact fees” to carry the project toward development.
Clemenson said the first phase of the park would add a walkway from the Inclined Plane’s ticket booth to the Stonycreek River below. At the river’s bank, a primitive boat launch would be added to enable people to easily launch canoes and kayaks near the heart of the city.
A second phase would follow in the future to enhance and expand the park, adding trails to and from it, Clemenson said.
The hope is to complete the first phase of the project in 2022, Messer said.
‘A lot happening’
The conservancy is aiming to have the park transformed by early 2023, when a newly renovated Inclined Plane is scheduled to reopen to visitors, hikers and bikers. If all goes well, that would include a zipline “adventure park.”
Messer said they are working to get local stakeholders to sign off on a plan that would clear the way for the conservancy to seek formal proposals from businesses interested in developing and managing that portion of the park as a for-profit destination. As planned, it would enable the selection of a developer this summer.
Plans are also moving forward to start developing a September 11 National Memorial Trail loop from Yoder Hill to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Kernville, he said.
“We’d love to get all of this coordinated by the time the Inclined Plane opens in early 2023,” Messer said. “There’s a lot happening.”
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.