The Model Park

Featured image for this post is the blacklite art of Malcolm Crittenden

Malcolm’s exhibit runs through February at the Community Art Center, Johnstown, PA

Thanks Malcolm and great show!

Always wanting to explore new corners of our home state, Susan and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures this last weekend and headed for the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area, a place neither of us has really been near; proving again the vastness of Penn’s woods.

I’m known for sneaking into places such as hedgerows, abandoned lots and wooded acreage of ambiguous ownership when I need a place to tent but when Susan’s along, we try to stay on the up-and-up and so I’d called ahead to a park I’d spotted on the map to see how much I’d have to pay to reserve an official camp site. The gentleman I spoke with was friendly enough and was clearly surprised to have someone calling from Pittsburgh in mid-February for camping accommodations. But then he surprised me by just asking for my name and informing me that parking could be had near the municipal building and we could just bring a tent and find a spot. No wrangling with bureaucracy and paperwork, no jumping through hoops, no litany of activities I could find myself fined of imprisoned for! I wrote a lengthy article last year entitled, Libertarian Park and suddenly it seemed I’d found that place.

And it wasn’t just an inkling. Stackhouse Park, surrounded by residential Johnstown, was a gift to the city from the wealthy Stackhouse family, way back in 1930. Interestingly, this isn’t an aberration – so many of our finest public lands were gifts to all of us from the much-maligned turn-of-the century industrialists, the “robber barons.” Stackhouse was improved by the Civilian Conservation Corps but fell into general neglect through much of the twentieth century. But in the mid-1980’s the people of Johnstown renewed their commitment to the park, forming a private park corporation to improve, maintain and staff the park, returning it perhaps to its “glory days.” Particularly, Ranger Jim Pasco has been instrumental in this ongoing effort.

So, just before nightfall, we pitched a tent in a glen that seemed far more secluded than it really was and kindled a tiny wet wood fire in one of the Conservation Corps era fire pits. Tiny blue flames danced below the boiling pot and the valley was ours alone as life went on all around in Johnstown. Hot chocolate was enjoyed as the brook prattled on in its haste to mingle its clear spring water with the flow of the Conemaugh

far below. Couldn’t ask for better from the Pennsylvania winter. The myriad birds of the valley acted as alarm clock seven or eight hours later.

Not the first model private park I’ve encountered in my travels, but a very fine example of parks done right. Things seemed well maintained; a good balance between the needs of families and the individual’s desire to slip away from the urban world into a primitive hollow of your own among wilder creatures. And just because everyone’s allowed in, this doesn’t seem to mean that things get destroyed and vandalized. Funny how these things are often self-policing. Should you choose to visit, keep an eye out for the goshawks, tread lightly and be generous at the donation box on your way out!

Note: Not all photos here are of Stackhouse Park and those that are, certainly don’t show the park at it’s May or October best! The pictured art is the blacklite art of Malcolm Crittendon.

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