BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The reports are conclusive, and the results are damning.
We as a society don’t exercise enough. We are overweight. We are unhealthy.
But people have taken notice, and that culture is starting to change. We are beginning to turn ourselves in a different direction.
That’s why recreational parks, and their futures, are so important.
In Myerstown, or Jackson Township to be precise, things are beginning to change twice as fast, with double the recreational parks. In one eastern portion of the township, there exists twin parks so close to one another that the boundary between them is blurred.
Yes, nowhere in Lebanon County are two recreational parks as geographically connected as Jackson Township Recreational Park and Fairlane Avenue Park. One could literally throw a football, a baseball or a softball, or kick a soccer ball, over Fairlane Avenue, from one park to the other.
“Physical activity keeps you in shape,” said Jason Hill, chairman of the Jackson Township Recreation Board which oversees the twin parks. “It keeps you physically fit. It keeps you mentally fit. You get to connect with nature, just playing a little bit. It’s like, ‘Let’s play!’
“The number of people visiting the parks is changing,” continued Hill. “It seems more and more, all the time. It just exploded this year. I would guess hundreds of visitors annually, but that might not even do it justice. You see more and more people out there. You see them walking. You see them running.”
Jackson Recreational Park and Fairlane Avenue Park aren’t as much twins as they are older and younger siblings, though neither have yet to emerge from their adolescence stage.
At about a decade old, Jackson Recreational Park is the mature, more developed brother. And when the township was afforded an opportunity to acquire 28 acres to the east, across the quiet side street from it, Fairlane Avenue Park was born – officially christened May 31st of this year.
“When I came on board, Jackson Recreational Park was being maintained by the township,” said Hill. “Then we acquired land along Fairlane Avenue. They are separated by Fairlane Avenue, but you can walk the whole way around both parks. They’re kind of connected by the walking areas across Fairlane Avenue.
“It is a very unique situation,” continued Hill. “What it boils down to is the needs of the community. We’ve got a lot of recreation in that area. None of that ever goes unused. There’s a lot going on there. We do have a lot of recreation for our municipality.'”
More than anything Fairlane Avenue Park and Jackson Recreational Park are about sports, especially the organized kind. The Elco high school boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, the Elco youth baseball league, the Elco youth softball league, the Elco youth soccer leagues, the midget football cheerleaders and the Myerstown Panthers midget football team all either practice or play at either Jackson Recreational Park or Fairlane Avenue Park.
In the fall, the Myerstown Panthers will play their first home football games at the recently anointed Rager Field, Fairlane Avenue’s centerpiece.
“What I like about the parks is that they give kids a place to play, whether it be organized or unorganized sports,” said Hill. “They get to go out and play. We help provide that place. And to be honest, it’s a place for adults to go as well. I think it’s great. I like being outside. I think it’s a good thing.
“Yes, they were built because there were needs,” added Hill. “We needed a place for our kids to play and practice. But not just for that. They’re full recreational parks. There is some green areas there. There are organized sports there, but it’s not just about playing sports.”
But Jackson Recreational Park and Fairlane Avenue Park are more than just three lighted soccer fields, a lighted baseball field, neat pavilions and immaculate bathrooms and concession stands. They are also home to Lebanon County’s first public disc golf course, the Tulpehocken Creek and the historical Union Canal lock and miles of paved walking paths.
“I think they’re perceived very positively by the community,” said Hill. “We’re constantly getting kudos from people. ‘It was really nice. There were bleachers. There were trash cans. There were clean restrooms.’ There are a lot of lesser areas around. They appreciated it, and it gets back to us. They like having a nice place.
“We want people to use the parks,” Hill continued. “That’s why we’re trying to help youth sports. We encourage people to go out and use the parks and enjoy them.”
During its short life, Jackson Recreational Park has evolved and changed a lot. In many ways, it is blazing a trail for Fairlane Avenue Park to follow.
“We put in a set of dugouts for the baseball field, and it is newly lit,” said Hill of the 35-acre Jackson Recreational Park’s diamond. “Just the maturity of the grounds and the way it’s being maintained. Things there are looking better now. The disc golf course was an add-on. That’s another big change.
“There are some things I’d like to see, like a playground area,” continued Hill. “Also some more things for our senior community, like a bocce ball court and shuffleboard. The Elco youth baseball program is growing, so I’d like to see another baseball field added. What’s ahead is for the parks to be maintained, just keep them being used. I think there’s going to be an option for a growing phase at Fairlane Avenue Park. There’s some room for growth.”