Little did Irish settler Michael McGuire know when he came to the Allegheny Mountains and started a settlement in what is now Loretto well over 200 years ago that his name would one day be immortalized with a park designed to enrich lives.
Ground was broken Thursday for the Captain Michael McGuire Memorial Park, an initiative between Loretto Borough and St. Francis University.
In the planning stages for a number of years, the park is being developed on a five-acre tract located near the community ballfields in Allegheny Township, said Father Gabriel Zeis, St. Francis president.
“It’s going to be a significant size and it’s going to be very nice,” he said. “At some point we hope for a connection to the Ghost Town Trail.”
The university owns the land, which is located at the border between Loretto and Allegheny Township, Loretto Borough Council President Wayne Harrington said.
“We asked Allegheny Township and they said they have no problem with the borough leasing the land,” Harrington said of the deal hammered out between the university and the borough.
While in the planning stages for some time, funding, which was slow coming in, got a boost with the recent announcement of a $174,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The remainder of the anticipated $300,000 project has come from a number of sources, including the McGuire family, St. Francis student government association, the Allegheny Ridge Corp., a number of businesses and an anonymous donor, school officials said.
The goal is make the park much more than play equipment and barbecue grills, Zeis said.
While play equipment and grills are planned, the park will also be a multiuse community facility that will promote health and fitness while celebrating the historical and cultural heritage of the area, he said.
Designed by the university and involving a number of groups, the park includes a long-range plan for a wetlands conservation project.
Part of the land is in wetlands, and the designers hope one day to build boardwalks stretching out over the area that cannot be developed, Zeis said.
Also planned are bird blinds and walking trails with hopes that schoolchildren from throughout the region will be brought to the park, he said.
Stations explaining local habitat and the history of the Loretto area also will be installed.
McGuire is believed to be the first white settler in this part of Cambria County. A Revolutionary War captain, McGuire established the McGuire Settlement, which the Russian Prince Demetrius Gallitzin later developed into Loretto.
Work on what is hoped will be the first phase of McGuire Park will be completed by late summer 2014.
“Our hope is that it will be something the community will use,” Zeis said. “We think it will enhance the relationship between the community and the university.”
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