A late autumn chill lingered in the air on a recent morning in Harrisburg’s Reservoir Park, but the small crowd gathered around Rebirth Fountain didn’t appear concerned about getting wet from the spray.
In fact, some might even welcome it.
It was Nov. 14, the first time the landmark fountain had worked properly in 15 years, thanks to a restoration project coordinated by the Harrisburg Parks Foundation.
To get the 23-year-old city fixture up and running, the volunteer foundation partnered with the Special Projects Committee of the Greater Harrisburg Area, which helped raise funds. The foundation acted as a “coordinator” between all parties involved with the project, which included the city, said foundation member Scott Shepler.
Folks gathered on that day, including Mayor Eric Papenfuse, seemed very pleased with the result.
“This is a clear example of what we can accomplish if we unite the public and private sectors in beautifying our city,” Papenfuse told the crowd.
Foundation chair Jeb Stuart later added his own words of encouragement.
“Our whole thing is to improve the city one way or the other,” he said. “It’s a marriage of historic preservation and restoring and enhancing our parks.”
Many of Harrisburg’s parks took shape or were improved during the City Beautiful movement of more than a century ago. At that time, Harrisburg’s community and business leaders joined forces to improve sanitation services, clean up toxic waterways and restore natural elements to the city’s dense urban landscape.
Today, the city is recommitting to its parks and green spaces, and the Parks Foundation is playing an increasingly critical role in that effort.
The foundation, which operates under the auspices of the nonprofit Foundation for Enhancing Communities, has a layered mission, Stuart said.
Primarily, it supports Harrisburg’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Enrichment to help preserve, maintain and develop the city’s parks and playgrounds. But it also works to improve recreational opportunities in Harrisburg generally.
Besides the city itself, it operates in tandem with several other local organizations, including Dauphin County Parks and Recreation, Capital Region Water, Capital Area Greenbelt and Historic Harrisburg Association.
The foundation, just three years old, already has taken on several high-profile projects.
Besides the fountain restoration, it raised $8,000 in 2015 to purchase a new swing set for a city playground on Vernon Street in Allison Hill. In 2016, members accepted a $15,000 check from PPL Utilities for renovating the pavilion at the 4th and Emerald Street playground. The foundation also played a role in creating the Reservoir Park master plan, which was released earlier this year.
In addition to grants from various organizations, the foundation raises money from the annual Jack Crago Memorial Golf Outing, held each summer, which is its principal fundraising event.
Environmental education is another focus for the foundation.
This past October, it began sponsoring a free environmental film series, which takes place at the Civic Club of Harrisburg.
The next film in the series, “Water Blues, Green Solution,” will screen on March 22. That movie tells the story of communities that create green solutions for water “blues” like flooding, pollution and scarcity.
“Cities of Trees” follows on April 22, a tale of how a nonprofit worked to reduce poverty in Washington, D.C., by offering jobs to the unemployed while improving parks. “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change” is also on the docket for 2018.
The film screenings were inspired by the foundation’s previous presentation, “Hometown Habitat” at the Appalachian Brewing Co. in Harrisburg. Upwards of 100 people came to see the environmental film by the Meadow Project and Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council.
Admission to all films is free and open to the public, courtesy of the foundation.
For such a young organization, the foundation has made quite an impact, which is even more impressive as its principals are very busy people.
For example, Shepler is known for his work with the Capital Area Greenbelt Association. He’s also a founder of the nonprofit Trips for Kids, which organizes bike trips for area youth, and was involved with the Reservoir Park master plan.
All in all, Shepler’s civic duties don’t leave him with much spare time on his hands.
“It’s a good thing I don’t have a job,” he quipped, referring to his “retirement” a few years ago.
Harrisburg Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Sanders sits on the parks foundation’s 15-member committee, offering suggestions about potential city projects.
“From our standpoint, we try to provide projects that the city might need help with,” he explained. “We try to guide certain things.”
Stuart, a long-time city activist, historian and preservationist, added that the foundation’s mission ultimately is to help the city progress.
“We’ve already had a lot of successes,” he said. “We’re up and operational and have all our pieces together.”
For more information about the Harrisburg Parks Foundation, visit www.harrisburgparksfoundation.org.