BY JEFF FALK
JONESTOWN – They say that the community that plays together, stays together. Well if that is indeed the case, then the community of Jonestown is one big happy family.
Jonestown’s George H. Kauffman Community Park is a great place for residents of the northern Lebanon County borough to relax, play and simply let their collective hair down. The facility is clean and well maintained and when one goes there he or she can truly sense a feeling of local pride and ownership about the park.
Situated on 56 acres just south of Market Street, between Mill Street and King Street, George H. Kauffman Community Park is a hub of activity, probably because there’s always something to do, for kids of all ages. The heart of the energy is the park’s extensive half-acre playground area – complete with swings, sliding boards, ziplines, monkey bars and even a tire dragon – and emanates evenly throughout the rest of the recreational area.
“My favorite thing about the park is doing events and entertainment,” said Tyler Longenecker, Jonestown borough’s vibrant mayor. “I really like the bandshell. It takes some doing (organizing events), but when you can pull it off, it’s really nice. I’m really partial to the events and activities. And the athletic fields have the capabilities of hosting tournaments. I like to see a crowd of people there having a good time.
“The park can handle a lot,” added Longenecker. “It’s situated use. Is it used enough? It’s used quite a bit, but it could be used more. People could always be a little more active.”
Founded 44 years ago, Jonestown Community Park is a tribute to the foresight of Dick Houser and the vision of Longenecker’s predecessor, former mayor George Kauffman. But Longenecker, the borough and Jonestown residents have followed their leads, and they have really taken the ball and ran with it.
“When I was a kid, we used the Jonestown elementary school facilities a lot more,” said Longenecker. “I’m 35 years old. When I was between 12 and 16, we were playing basketball at the elementary school, but the park grounds were getting run down. What George (Kauffman) did was turned the basketball courts into tennis courts and created whole new basketball courts. That was key in the development of the athletic facilities. When I came home from college it was like ‘Wow!’. This is a whole new place.’
“I think you have a little bit of a generation gap in the borough,” Longenecker continued. “The older population looks at parks and recreation as less important than things like streets. But younger people might move here because of the park. It’s an integral part of the community. If you talk to different people you’re going to get different opinions.”
In addition to the playground, George H. Kauffman Park is home to three baseball fields – the Jonestown Junior Legion field, a midget field and a T-ball field, basketball, beach volleyball and tennis/pickle ball courts, a soccer field, a walking trail, the Northern Lebanon Rotary Pavilion and a rocking bandshell. Obviously local residents know how to play as hard as they work.
“The playground is the main feature of the park,” said Longenecker. “It’s fairly large in size and it’s being used on a consistent basis. People come out to walk their dogs and for just general recreation. Picnics are popular and you can rent a pavilion. We also have a lot of different events. Baseball is a common theme, but we also have full court basketball, and the soccer field is a newer addition.
“From a mental health standpoint, recreation is very important,” continued Longenecker. “Our park is sitting there, waiting for anyone. They can choose to use it. They can choose not to use it. But it’s there. Jonestown promotes full family health.”
Special events at George H. Kauffman Park truly are special.
Just recently, the park hosted Jonestown’s first-ever National Night Out and the event drew between 2,000 and 2,500 visitors. Jonestown Community Park also attracts between 400 and 500 spectators to its weekly ‘Movie Night’ series in the summer.
“We’re always feeling blessed when a group comes in and does an activity,” said Longenecker. “A lot of resources go into it, so you want to see it used. Sometimes with the kids on the playground, and all the activity and laughing, it sounds like an amusement park. It makes you think about the foresight George had in putting this together.
“On a weekday, you’re going to have 40-50 people who are going to use the park,” added Longenecker. “That park is an integral part of this community. We would always like to see certain things used more. But things like the baseball fields and tennis courts are used on a regular basis.”
Jonestown’s George H. Kauffman Community Park has come a long way since its inception. But there’s always room for improvement – to the advantage of the borough’s residents.
“Lights on the two main ball fields would benefit the teams and allow them to host weekend tournaments,” said Longenecker. “The park would benefit, but so would businesses as well, and the local economy.
“I see a big project in hiking and walking for the future,” continued Longenecker. “We’re going to make a big effort to connect to (Lebanon Valley) rails-to-trails that’s coming through. The rails-to-trails is used quite a bit. To connect to that, you’re going to see a geographical broadening of what the park is. We just want to give people more place to roam.”