The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 28, 2014

West Hills getting in shape | Recreational opportunities to abound

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — West Hills is going to copy from the East Hills – recreationally speaking, that is.

East Hills Recreation Commission may be used as an operating model by the yet-to-be-approved West Hills Recreation Commission Ltd.

The West Hills organization will replace the Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission, which crumbled last year when Southmont Borough decided to withdraw its support.

But here’s where it gets a little confusing. Southmont is back in the fold, agreeing to work with Westmont Hilltop School District, Westmont Borough and Upper Yoder Township in the newly formed entity to bring recreational opportunities back to the West Hills.

“The former commission was a partnership between (the four governmental bodies), funded entirely by the taxpayers,” Robert Shahade, Upper Yoder’s solicitor, told our Randy Griffith. “Now the municipalities are giving the people the choice. That was the compromise to the dissolution of the commission.”

Instead of the participating governmental bodies appointing board members to the commission, it will be ruled by five volunteers.

We believe that is a good thing, because the volunteers wouldn’t necessarily be beholden to their governing municipality. In fact, the volunteers could come from anywhere.

The new commission will receive seed money from the current commission to get it on its feet, but it hopes to become financially independent through user fees, memberships and donations.

Westmont council President Don Hall II knows the new entity will face some challenges.

“It needs to be run like a business: You are paying for services and you are providing services,” he said. “I hope they are ready to start thinking like a business, as opposed to the situation they are getting out of now.”

Shahade believes the only way the new commission could fail is if the community does not rally behind it.

We hope it receives huge community support. The commission has two excellent venues – The Ridge in Upper Yoder Township and The Grove in Westmont – that offer a myriad of recreational opportunities. We would hate to see them sitting empty, gathering dust and growing weeds.

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And  next door, the Brownstown Recreation Commission has an infusion of money to play with.

A $25,000 grant from the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission will be paired with matching fundraiser dollars that will be spent on improvements and additions to Brownstown Recreation Park.

“People of any age and any gender will be able to find something to accommodate their likings,” commission secretary Bob Vamos said last week in a story by our Justin Dennis.

The commission is hoping that a new nature walking trail, volleyball court, driv-ing range for golfers and batting cages will entice more borough residents to use the park.

Average attendance at the park is between 600 to 800 people, and the commission hopes the improvements will lure twice as many visitors.

“This isn’t just good for Brownstown, this is good for the surrounding community,” county Commissioner Tom Chernisky said.

Between the upgrades in Brownstown and a new direction by the West Hills rec commission, the West Hills should be buzzing with recreational opportunities this year and, hopefully, for many years to come.