The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 2, 2014

Washington Township lands grant for rec facilities

LILLY — The third time appears to be the charm when it comes to one central Mainline community in its search for money to improve and further develop its outdoor recreation offerings.

Washington Township has received word that the state’s Commonwealth Financing Authority, a division of the Department of Community and Economic Development, has approved a grant for $237,000.

The money will be used for development of a walking trail, a dog park, playground, pavilions and site improvements to land at the Washington Township/Lilly Borough line, an area that once was an eyesore.

“This is a great group of guys who rallied together and did the right thing,” John Dubnansky, Cambria  County grants facilitator, said Friday. “It’s nice to see the state come through with this money.”

For more than six years, township supervisors and others have been beating the bushes for funding, banking on someone at the state level seeing the value of land  that once housed waste coal turned into recreational facilities.

“Persistence paid off, that’s for sure,” township Supervisor Jaime Hartland said. “Anyone from a small child to adults of all ages will be able to use these facilities.”

The money will be matched with 20 percent local in-kind effort with plans to build a mile-long walking  trail, a dog park, picnic pavilions and playground equipment for children, Hartland said.

As long as the money holds out, the community would like to develop a multipurposed regulation youth football/soccer field in the area, he said.

All will be on land once belonging to the Cooney Bros.  Coal Co. of Cresson, adjacent to the Lilly War Memorial Field.

The 12 acres of land, much of it topped in old coal bony, the refuse from coal mining in the area decades ago, was donated to the township about eight years ago.

Over the outcry of some neighbors, the bony was trucked from the massive site to the Colver Power Project plant in Cambria Township, where it was burned to generate electric power for resale.

Estimates were that more than 450,000 cubic yards were removed from the site adjacent to where the American Legion and AAABA Tournament games are played each year.

Shortly after the deal with Cooney was sealed, Hartline, Supervisor Ray Guzic and others began developing plans, and in 2008, with a master plan in hand, they approached the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The project failed to land any funding.

In 2009, the community went back to the state in the hopes of landing funds as part of a larger parks and recreation plan developed by Larry Custer, executive director of the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority.

Once again the project was rejected.

In retrospect, Guzic said, the applications may have been premature.

“We applied for the grants while the bony was still there,” he said. “We weren’t ready for the money.”

The walking trail is the first priority based on response from the community, Hartland said. But a large portion also will go toward what is now a hard-packed site into grassy areas.

About one-third of the total funding will go toward topsoil overlay and grass seeding, Dubnansky said.

The in-kind match will be in the form of township crews and equipment in construction of the trail and the topsoil work, and plans are in the works to capitalize on Cambria County’s prison work crews.

“It’s a great beginning,” Dubnansky said. “They want to move on it as soon as the snow melts.”

Meanwhile, Dubnansky said he is not done in his search for additional funds for the project.

“We may look for other grants to maximize the money we have,” he said.

Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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