On an average day, sprawling Reservoir Park is a rather quiet place.
A guy walks his dog, a car cuts through to Market Street, a handful of people visit the National Civil War Museum.
It’s a place that’s lightly used, which is great if you’re a squirrel or groundhog, but probably not what you want in the middle of a busy city.
Harrisburg now has taken a major step towards reviving public interest in the 87-acre park, unveiling a master plan that will help steer its future.
At a meeting last week, landscape architect Peter Simone, president of Norristown-based Simone Collins, offered a detailed presentation of a multi-year, $7.7 million plan to make improvements ranging from new lighting and restrooms to playgrounds and handball courts.
“The park has had less use in recent years,” Simone told a group of about 50 residents. “So, we want to increase use of the park.”
The master plan is the culmination of an 11-month process that included public meetings, surveys, focus groups and an 11-member steering committee. The $100,000 study, funded equally by the city and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was led by Harrisburg-based landscape architects H. Edward Black & Associates.
Simone offered some park history, saying that it sprang from the City Beautiful movement of a century ago.
“It’s the same park that your forebears enjoyed 100 years ago,” he said.
Over the years, many features have been added to the park, including an arts village, a greenhouse, fountains and sports facilities, many now in disrepair. The city just completed rehabilitation of the band shell, one of the park’s most prominent structures.
Simone broke the master plan into seven phases. The first, the most expensive at $2 million, would cover pricey items like park security and lighting. It also would include less expensive features, like meadow planting and a dog park.
Subsequent phases would include new restrooms, a water spray park, handball courts, new pavilions, changes to roads, more parking, a food truck pull-off area, new playgrounds, a grandstand and band shell seating.
“This is a plan that will take a decade or more to implement,” Simone said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that he’d like the city to begin the first phase soon, following a presentation to City Council this fall.
“We believe we can fund a portion of it from city funds,” he said. “We’re looking to grant a portion, too.”
The plan recommends seeking grants from numerous sources, including the state departments of Environmental Protection, Community and Economic Development and Conservation and Natural Resources.
At last week’s meeting, the park’s neighbors seemed generally supportive of the plan, but a few spoke out on the subjects of security and roads.
The plan addresses security through more cameras and by installing long-lasting LED lighting, and Papenfuse said that the city is about to add second park ranger.
“If we’re going to put an investment of millions of dollars into this park, we’ll also put the investment into the personnel to make sure the park is safer,” he said.
The crowd seemed split on proposed changes to roads and traffic flow, with some insisting that all existing roads should remain open and others advocating restricting automobile use. The plan recommends making some roads one-way to make room for pedestrians and bicyclists and possibly closing off a portion of Park Drive to traffic.
“I like driving through Riverfront Park,” said one resident who wanted to ensure she still could cut through the park between State and Market streets. “It’s a lot quicker and much more beautiful.”
The crowd seemed to agree that Reservoir Park was a diamond in the rough, a remarkable city asset that needed investment, a little love and a lot more use.
“The first time I went up to the park and looked out, it was like, ‘Wow, this is a million-dollar view,” Simone said. “It’s an important facility, and one that’s not really replicated in communities all across the country. This is a very special place.”
Find more details about the Reservoir Park Master Plan at www.harrisburgpa.gov/reservoirplan.
Author: Lawrance Binda