Land that was once home to the historic Oakford Park in Jeannette, Westmoreland County, will once again be used as a local public space, thanks to a donation of the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy from Regis and Jamie McHugh.
Oakford Park opened in 1896 and thousands flocked to the grounds for decades to enjoy the outdoors and amusement park attractions. Although the park closed in 1938, its swimming pool, constructed in 1921, remained open until the 1980s. The most visible remnants of the park, including the pool, were removed by 2003. A gas station now marks the spot where the trolley entrance once stood. The McHughs, a husband and wife who live in Penn Township and worked in Jeannette, grew up seeing the remnants of the park and regularly using the swimming pool. “The property sat vacant for years, but we always believed it had so much potential for the greater good to help the community, environment and nature thrive,” Regis recalls. “We had many good times there and didn’t want to see this important local history vanish.” After acquiring the property in 2020, the McHughs began efforts to engage the local community in determining a future vision for it. They determined it was in the best interest of the community to donate the property to the Conservancy to permanently protect the forest and stream. Their donation consists of 33 acres of forested slopes, a half-mile of frontage along Brush Creek and some regenerating woodlands that include oaks, tulip trees and hickories. “We’re excited that this donation can help spark conversations about the future of local greenspace in our community. We can’t think of a better partner than the Conservancy to help lead this effort,” Regis says.
Preliminary discussions about the future of the park and best ways to engage the local community are already underway with local municipal officials and community groups. Starting in spring 2023, the Conservancy will facilitate cleanup events and additional community conversations with local residents to help determine a future vision for the now protected greenspace. “This will be a community-led process, so that community members can have a primary role in reimagining this greenspace,” says Michael Knoop, the Conservancy’s senior director of special projects. “Together with multiple local partners, such as the Westmoreland County Conservation District and the Westmorland Land Trust, we’ll come alongside with our land protection and restoration experience to help support the process. We’re extremely grateful to the McHughs for their donation of nature to benefit the Jeannette, Penn Township and Hempfield Township communities, and the entire region.” In addition to engaging local volunteers for clean-up and tree planting events, the Conservancy hopes to establish a parking area, signage and possibly a walking trail beginning in early 2023. The community planning and engagement process will determine what additional improvements and uses will come to the property in the future. “It’s really up to the community to decide and we look forward to working with local stakeholders and residents to fully realize the possibilities for this land,” Knoop adds.
Funding to support the community efforts to help realize this greenspace is made possible thanks to a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.