BY JEFF FALK
NORTH LEBANON – Officials and laborers from North Lebanon township should be commended for building themselves quite a quaint and cozy park. But it’s what wasn’t done at Lenni Lenape Park that makes it special.
Complete with playground apparatus, a modern pavillion facility and fresh air, Lenni Lenape possesses all of the requirements of a 21st century park. But it also has features which make it unique – things like breath-taking views to the south, rolling hills of meadows and woods and Lebanon County’s fastest growing pastime.
“Half of the acres are in a naturalized state,” said Sheila Wartluft, who’s the assistant manager at North Lebanon township. “A lot of it is left intact from the original farm. Only a few acres have been disturbed and developed. It’s almost like the property, which was half farmed, and there are some steep parts. It’s also very woody. We tried to work with the lay of the land.
“In 2002, the property went up for public auction,” continued Wartluft. “It used to be the old Moyer farm. If you break up North Lebanon township into three different districts, on the east side we didn’t have a park for people. We bid on it and we were lucky enough to purchase the property. We sent out questionnaires and asked, ‘What would you like to see at the park?’ That’s when we found out that people wanted us to let it be.”
Situated at 723 Narrows Drive in the township, about a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of Narrows and Weavertown Road, Lenni Lenape was officially opened in April. The park’s 28 acres, most of which are situated on the top of a hill, was developed by – and is maintained by – North Lebanon township.
“We’ve really been trying to get the word out about it,” said Wartluft. “I don’t know. It really is tough to find. It’s tucked away. It’s not something you usually drive past. We built it, and we want people to use it. It’s a great little park.
“I don’t think we’re trying to keep it a secret,” Wartluft continued. “You just can’t see it from the road. It might be hard for people to visualize. It’s got a neat diversity. I think it’s a really neat site.”
Lenni Lenape’s playground is completely handicap accessible. The multi-picnic table pavilion provides all the modern amenities. And it offers various walking/hiking trails, some which are paved and some which are dirt, but all of which include changes in elevation.
“We do have some walking trails in wooded areas,” said Wartluft. “Some of them are steep. We have bird boxes and bat boxes. There’s some people who are doing some bird watching. It’s a good number of picnic tables, and we have complete restroom facilities.
“The newer things are all ADA (Americans with Disability Act) accessible,” Wartluft added. “Disc golf meanders throughout most of the park. There’s even sledding when there’s snow. It’s a nice open space. Some people go there for viewing. It’s a really pretty park.”
Lenni Lenape is also home to Lebanon County’s third public disc golf course. Not unlike the park itself, the 18-hole course utilizes open-air fields and wooded areas, nearly evenly.
“I really like the disc golf course,” said Wartluft. “People really seem to like it. It’s great exercise. I’m favoring the disc golf course. I like the way it winds its way through the whole property.
“I’m a golfer, but I’m not a disc golfer,” added Wartluft. “I tried it. It’s really fun. It’s an all-age activity.”
Wartluft characterized the final price tag for the park as ‘well over $600,000′. But she emphasized that most of it was funded through grants and matching funds, with taxpayers footing very little of the bill.
“A lot of it didn’t come from taxpayers,” said Wartluft. “A lot of it was grant money, and some was match money which came from developers. We are looking for sponsors for our disc golf holes. I’d like to invite people to come and use the park. We’re proud of it.
“When we examined this, we looked at so many different things,” continued Wartluft. “Parks help keep crime rates down. They help keep people in shape. Generally people who live in townships with parks are healthier and happier. A lot of people on the east side of the township didn’t have a place like that. We wanted a place for people to get some exercise, to get away from TV and computers. Our goal was to have recreation for everyone in the township. All of our parks are a little different.”
When North Lebanon township first acquired the land for the park more than a decade ago, it conducted a contest to name it. A then-fifth grader from nearby Union Canal elementary school came up with Lenni Lenape – Native-Americans indigenous to the east coast – and the park board went with it.
“I’m an outdoor person, and I sit in front of a computer all day,” said Wartluft. “I think it (physical activity) helps your physical state. I think it helps your mental state. It’s nice to see kids running around, and it’s a safe place to be. The current phase is finished. There’s enough land left for more phases. But there’s not anything we’re planning right now
“When we talked about doing this park we did extensive research on what would work well,” concluded Wartluft. “A recreational field on the northern part of the site is part of the master plan. We never have enough ball fields. Frankly, money is an issue right now. That would be a good addition to the park. But I like the park right now. I think the land not being fully utilized is fine. It may be a little bit of a well-kept secret.”
Now the secret is out.