BY JEFF FALK
CLEONA – Within the confines of any recreational park worth a darn, the hub of activity revolves around its playground. Cleona Community Park is worth a lot more than a ‘darn’.
And not simply because there’s nothing quite like the sound of giddy children frolicking on swings, sliding boards and merry-go-rounds.
The heart of Cleona Community Park is dedicated to an updated and extensive play area. And the lively playground draws small children and young families to the park, from within the borough as well as from outside of it.
Yet Cleona Community Park is also home to some unique features not offered at other municipal parks across Lebanon County.
“There are a lot of things to do there,” said George Schultz, who’s been the Cleona Recreation Board’s president over each of the past six years. “But the playground is the main focus. On an average day in the summer, that’s the main attraction. What I see is a lot of families, and they’ll pack a picnic lunch and then let the kids go wild and play. I’ve witnessed things like games of hide-and-seek, and kids just being kids.
“We’re constantly putting feelers out, ‘What else would you like to see there?’” continued Schultz. “I think people in the area love that park. They take advantage of it as much as they can. I think people in the area know they have a great park.”
There are exactly four features which distinguish Cleona Community Park from its local brethren. The park is home to a short miniature golf course, an understated butterfly garden, a scenic walking path along the Quittapahilla Creek and a covered sliding board which carries riders down some steep terrain.
“My favorite part has got to be the miniature golf course,” said Schultz. “I haven’t seen anything like it. That’s a unique feature. It’s pretty cool. And the covered slide on the hill is also one of my favorites.
“The park is well-used. It’s loved by the community,” added Schultz. “There’s also some winter activities. That hill is used heavily for sledding. The pavillion with a kitchen is a high point for renters all summer long. And the walking trail is a high point as well.”
Situated directly south of Cleona Elementary school and bordering the Quitty Creek, there’s a lot of recreation packed into the five acres that makes up Cleona Community Park. The park has evolved immeasurably since its founding in 1965.
“I think people see it as an asset,” said Schultz. “They’re very supportive of what we’re trying to do. Every once in a while, I’ll run into people from outside the borough there, and they love it too.
“Right now, we’re in a bit of a building phase,” Schultz continued. “The rec board has some things we’re trying to improve. The goal is to bring in some new equipment. We just want to improve the all-around quality of the park.”
For the sports enthusiasts, Cleona Community Park offers three baseball fields and an area for soccer. Although the basketball and tennis courts are a bit rundown, plans do exist to renovate them.
“Obviously our immediate plans are to go through the grant process and refurbish and resurface the basketball court and the tennis court, and add another pavilion.” said Schultz. “We want to add handicap-accessible bathrooms. We want to make it more accessible for people to take advantage of it. We want to maintain it, and see what the community wants next.
“I think in an age of instant entertainment, people want to find reasons not to go outside,” continued Schultz. “But parents are trying to find things to do outside. That’s the reason there’s a push to be more active. There’s just so many things to do outside. It’s hard for kids not to find something to do outside.”
Next year, Cleona Community Park will celebrate its 50th year at its current location. Schultz and the rest of the recreation board have been charged with the task of forming the park’s future over the next 50 years.
“One of the things we’d like to do is construct a covered, indoor recreation area, a place where boy scouts, girl scouts and other groups could meet,” said Schultz. “With that, we could bring more people to the park. We’d like to make a really nice walking path. We’d also like a giant recreation, climbing area that connects, or a giant exploring area for kids.
“We have a great group of guys on the board,” concluded Schultz. “We understand we’re doing it for the community.”