Washington County commissioners last week were handed a petition signed by more than a hundred residents of the Avella Area School District, urging them to use money generated by gas drilling in Cross Creek County Park to improve facilities at the park and to lower Avella school taxes.
The petition was delivered by Robert Moore, a Hopewell Township resident, who said the county took the land for the park by eminent domain and removed it from the tax rolls. He noted that many of the amenities envisioned by the commissioners who undertook the project in the late 1960s have not materialized, depriving taxpayers of not just real estate tax revenue but also any economic benefit that might have come from a park with more facilities – such as a beach, ski trails, tennis and volleyball courts and the like.
Moore told the commissioners they ought to run Cross Creek Park like a state park, attract visitors from Ohio and West Virginia and charge admission.
Although Cross Creek Park could stand some improvement, transforming this quiet, peaceful enclave into a regional tourist attraction would be a grave mistake.
The park’s centerpiece is a 244-acre lake that has become popular among anglers since it opened for fishing in 1985. The sole boat ramp, approach and docks, as well as the shelters, parking area and rest rooms are well maintained. Although Range Resources has constructed pads on the 3,500 acres of park grounds, which straddle Cross Creek and Hopewell townships, gas drilling activity is not visible from the picnic area or the water.
The 9.9-horsepower restriction on boats limits noise and wakes and makes the lake amenable to canoes, kayaks and even sailboats.
Though swimming and a beach more than a quarter of a mile long were on the original wish list for the park, it’s difficult to imagine how practical such a facility would be today, considering liability and our litigious society. Too many tennis courts in this area go unused, and the cost of building and maintaining them could be better used elsewhere.
Indeed, Cross Creek Park could use more hiking trails, and it certainly needs a new access road. The only access to the park now is from Route 50, and the road needs to be repaired, rerouted or reconstructed – something the county intends to do. Access to the park from Route 844 near West Middletown and another boat launch would make sense, as well. These are high priorities that the county should be funding with revenue from the park’s gas leases. County residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on the park’s future at public meetings of the county Planning Commission this fall.
Some of the revenue from gas drilling is going toward Cross Creek Park improvements, but it’s also being spent at Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham Township and Ten Mile Park in East Bethlehem Township.
Just like our state parks, access to county parks is free; as county residents, we own them and have already paid for them with our tax dollars. They are intended to benefit the public, not any particular municipality or school district.
We own a real gem in Cross Creek Park, and its natural beauty needs to be protected. There have been several spills and other incidents involving gas drilling on park property, although damage has been minimal. The county needs to make sure that the highest standards of safety are maintained.
County commissioners must also concentrate on preserving and protecting Cross Creek Park’s peaceful nature and improving our access to it.