BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Lavish balls have become informal picnics. Strolls of the grounds have become nature walks. A dip in a fountain has become a splash in a water park.
A lot of things in Lebanon have changed since 1936. But something that hasn’t is the importance of recreation.
Coleman Memorial Park is a living, breathing testament to the fact that Lebanon County residents have always known how to work hard, and play hard. More than recreation springing from history, Coleman Memorial Park is simply the continuation of Lebanon tradition, with modern tweaks and twists.
Some 78 years ago, Coleman Memorial Park was formed from 99 acres donated to the city of Lebanon by the affluent Coleman and Brock families. Two of the most influential and industrial families in the history of Lebanon County, the Colemans and Brocks maintained luxurious estates on the ground that is now Coleman Memorial Park.
Their visions for outdoor activities lives on today.
“I think the reason it’s important is because, first of all, the origin,” said Gene Long, a member of the Coleman Memorial Park Board of Trustees. “It’s come from Lebanon County’s history. Lebanon County has a lot of ties to early American history. It originated that way, and it can always be an important part of Lebanon County history, in many ways.
“It’s a city park,” added Long. “But once you’re in the park, you have no idea you’re in the city. It’s a lot of woodland, pretty much undisturbed. There are many different varieties of birds here, and there are people who do watch birds in the park. I’m a casual observer. I’ve also seen red fox, deer and every once in a while a bear has been seen roaming around.”
Coleman Memorial Park is located at 1400 Maple Street, in the northwest corner of the city of Lebanon – an area known as ‘Mount Lebanon’ in days of the Colemans and Brocks. It is one of the most visited parks in Lebanon County, though activity at Coleman Memorial has waned a bit over the years.
“There are assets of the park that are appreciated by many,” said Long. “It’s here for people to enjoy. Our pavilions host a lot of picnics and people come here just to enjoy lunch sometimes, or read, rest and collect their thoughts. It’s also a place of quiet and solitude. People bring their dogs and walk their dogs here. There are some people you can count on seeing on a daily basis.
“No, honestly I don’t (know how many people visit annually),” continued Long. “I don’t think any type of study has ever been performed. I couldn’t give you a guess. I do see a lot of visitors. But one person walking through the park doesn’t see everything in the park, everything going on in the park. What I know is that this is a beautiful park. And sometimes the local community doesn’t appreciate what they have.”
Coleman Memorial Park plays host to one of the few remaining public swimming pools in Lebanon County, now called ‘The Lauther Water Complex’. It is also home to three immaculately manicured baseball diamonds, the largest of which currently serves as the home of the Lebanon High School baseball program.
In addition, Coleman Park houses Veterans’ Memorial Amphitheater, which conducts the wildly popular ‘Summer in the Park’ music series, every Sunday evening at 7 p.m. during the months of June, July and August.
“I, in no way, want to infer anything negative, but as a board, we’re never satisfied with the participation, because there’s always room for improvement,” said Long. “Just the number of people playing baseball over the years has diminished. And I’d have to say the same thing about family reunions. The picnic activities, to a great degree, have diminished. But they need to be offered to the community, and I think the board is trying to do that.
“We have a master plan in place and it looks at all aspects of the park that needs to be improved,” Long added. “We know the park can be improved. It’s going to take a long time, public participation and money. Board members are trying to help out, and The Friends of Coleman Park’ is community minded.”
Coleman Memorial Park is also Lebanon County’s destination for the locale’s most elaborate July 4 fireworks display, as well as a walking trail maintained by the Lebanon Hiking Club. There exists a handful of gardens within the park, one of which has the capabilities of hosting formal outdoor events like weddings.
As of yet, Coleman Memorial Park has yet to fully realize the potential of its Homestead Cafe and Mini-Golf, geographically situated between the facility’s entrance and exit. It also offers the requisite numbers of playground equipment, open areas and tennis courts.
“The ball fields, that’s what keeps me here,” said Long. “The thing I like about the park is it does offer so many things to the local community. Whether they like it or not, whether they appreciate it or not, it’s here. It’s an asset that could be divided up and disposed of. This is an asset that belongs to the community. It is their facility. It’s here and will remain to be here. It could be utilized in many different new ways.
“I’m speaking as an individual who’s been involved with the park since 1993,” Long continued. “What I know is that the park has drastically improved. The financial support for the park has been minimal. There was a period of time when we had to leave helpers go because we couldn’t fund their wages. The need for increased funding has to do with inflation. The board members are trying to do the best we possibly can with the resources available.”
The maintenance and upkeep of Coleman Memorial Park falls under the auspices of the City of Lebanon’s Parks and Recreation Department. It is also supported by the non-profit Friends of Coleman Memorial Park.
“I enjoy good health, and I really think one of the reasons is because I remain mobile and active physically,” said the sixty-something Long. “If your’e physically active while you’re able, it’s going to keep you active. And it’s going to help you mentally. If you enjoy that physical activity with family, it’s going to enhance those relationships. It just brightens your spirit. It can only help you. It can’t hurt you.
“There are different aspects of maintenance and improvement that are part of the master plan,” continued Long. “Right now, I believe the most important thing the park must do is, bit by bit, work on the infra-structure, the things people don’t see. We’re now living with facilities that are 60 to 70 years old that are about to fail. The first step is to take care of the parts you don’t see. They’re things you don’t like to spend a lot of money on, but when they break, you have to. I’d like to see a concerted effort made to look at the master plan and peck away at Steps One and Two. It’s going to take years of activity by interested people.”
“I don’t have that crystal ball,” said Long. “The years I’ve been here, we’re always looking for helpers, interested people. That process has been bountiful, but sometimes painful. We continue to look for helpers. I believe there will always be people who have Coleman Park in their mind. Youth is what’s going to keep Coleman Park going. They’re going to have memories of Coleman Park, and hopefully they’re fond memories. I see no reason for this park to wither away.
“Lebanon County is another world,” Long added. “Fifty years ago it was full of dutchmen. Lebanon County is not that place any more. We have a variety of people now. This was a farm community. That’s not the case any more.
“Coleman Park is part of Lebanon County. It’s not just a city park. There’s many reasons why Lebanon Countians are drawn into the park. It’s not just city folk. It’s a city park that county residents can be proud of. It’s a big responsibility, with limited resources. But we try to take care of issues that pop up.”