by Jen Noel, photography by Amy McIntyre Devilbiss
From propellers and pilots, to pavilions and picnickers. Sport fields. Walking paths. Perhaps a tennis court. The possibilities for the new recreational park are much like a choose-your-own-ending story at this juncture.
Conewago Township officials and the surrounding community have launched strategic efforts to convert the old Hanover Airport into a new, community-centered recreation park.
Tucked among the agricultural fields off Mount Pleasant Road in west Hanover near McSherrystown, the recreation park will encompass 97 acres, all slated to be part of the transformation from vacant grass runways to sports fields and walking trails teeming with outdoor enthusiasts and residents relaxing in the new outdoor space.
Determining how to best allocate the expansive acreage may seem like a daunting task to some, but Conewago Township Supervisor Deb Ernst sees nothing but opportunity.
Ernst, with fellow Conewago Township Supervisor Don Knight, steers the Recreation Committee, which is charged with developing a strategy to move forward with the park’s creation.
Ernst said they have just begun the process of putting together a master plan and the Township has created a study committee consisting of representatives from the area.
The study committee’s main purpose is polling information and ideas in order to assist in the creation of the master plan. The Township wishes to ensure that community members see their ideas take shape and that residents have an impact on and vested interest in the park from beginning to completion.
“Our vision is one that will answer to all the wants and needs [of the community] by way of organizing a study group to determine which of these ideas will be most valuable to our municipality, as well as to our municipal neighbors who will also reap the benefits of such a park,” Knight said.
Ernst said the master plan will provide the necessary data to develop the land over the next five to 10 years. The process itself takes roughly two years to finalize.
Ernst said the Township also understands the importance of financial stewardship during the project.
“In order to be successful and financially responsible, the Township must gain community support, all the while submitting applications to organizations like the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for funding,” she said.
While the timeframe may seem extensive, residents can begin enjoying the benefits of the recreational area immediately. Community members are invited to visit the park and offer suggestions and their vision for its future.
Residents are also encouraged to attend public meetings regarding the development of the park and ultimately what the final blueprint will spell out concerning its specific recreational offerings.
Residents have already begun brainstorming ideas. Township officials welcomed community input at a May 4 meeting and offered the opportunity for informal voting on which ideas most suited the community’s needs.
Conewago Township embraced the opportunity to purchase the property when it came up for public sale; the airport has not seen considerable use in recent years. The open land provides the perfect opportunity .
Without any man-made effort, the space already draws visitors in. A trip down the long, gravel entrance offers a metaphoric transition from hectic everyday life to the respite of natural surroundings. It is not uncommon to hear woodpeckers building new homes or see deer grazing in the open fields. Nature itself is the current attraction.
The park will only polish a gem that already exists and foster relationships already established.
Ernst said Conewago Township has always been conscious of land conversation.
“Through the purchase of the land, we have been able to not only preserve the land, but we are now able to provide a community recreation park,” she said.
Because the park is in such an early stage of development, the property has seen little work. However, the Rotary Club of Hanover and students from Delone Catholic High School’s Interact Club partnered for an Earth Day project to plant a riparian buffer along the stream that runs along the park.
The students acquired donated trees from the Adams County Conservation District, and Rotary Club President Doug Barmoy coordinated the event between the school and the Township. Students were able to plant 125 trees along the stream.
“There is need for a park like this more and more,” said Barmoy, who also serves on the master plan committee. “I would like the Rotary to make a project out of [the park]. I have been looking to set up a long term project locally.”
The Rotary Club is interested in donating its trademark benches to the park as well.
Patricia Marrocco, Delone Catholic Interact Club Moderator and long-time Hanover resident, also hopes for the club to continue its involvement in the development of the park.
“I feel the park is vital to the community,” Marrocco said. “The growth of the Hanover area requires recreational spaces that are safe and secure. I believe that the park will fill this need.”
Volunteers interested in the park project can attend public meetings or contact the Township office at 717-637-0411 to sign up. The next public meeting will be held July 27 at 6 p.m. at the airport hangar on the park land. Also, the Township welcomes inquiries from any businesses that wish to get involved. The park remains unnamed, and community members have the opportunity to share creative and thoughtful suggestions in the “Name our Park” jar at Township building.