Changes are ahead for 2 Centre County parks. How you can help decide what’s next

Construction is underway in Ferguson Township — at Haymarket Park and Songbird Sanctuary Park — with the hope of attracting pollinators and offering recreational facilities to Centre County residents.

Lance King, Ferguson Township arborist, said the Haymarket Park site off Blue Course Drive always seemed like the “perfect fit” for a pollinator habitat, but finding the funds to cover the cost of construction was always a challenge. Through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ferguson Township was able to find an affordable way to convert a stormwater facility into a pollinator friendly environment.

“The township had looked at doing this project in the past, but costs were exorbitant compared to what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has done,” King said.

With its partners, the fish and wildlife service helped find ways to finance the removal of unwanted species and overgrown thistle from the stormwater basin and replace them with two different seed mixtures that will foster an environment for pollinators. Work to remove all unwanted vegetation is almost complete, King said. In the fall, the township plans to plant trees and shrubs to create an environment for other animals like songbirds.

The total cost of construction is estimated to be $4,420, King said.

“The new pollinator mixes have all been seeded, so we should see some germination in the next few weeks,” King said.

Ferguson Township is also beginning the master planning stage for Songbird Sanctuary, 8.99 acres of land bordered by Owens Drive and Blue Course Drive. After the land was added to the township’s map as a natural conservation area in 2006, township officials began work to maintain the landscape while brainstorming potential ways to enhance the area for community use.

“(The end goal of) Songbird Sanctuary is to create a passive park area to maintain the natural forested characteristics of that area, maintain the stormwater infiltration properties that the area has and still be able to give folks an opportunity to enjoy it,” King said. “It’s kind of like a little pocket of woods in the middle of town.”

A sign on a walking trail at Songbird Sanctuary, details future plans and potential species that will inhabit the area. Marley Parish

So far, work to remove invasive species and plant native species has been completed, and a pollinator garden was planted this year.

In order to gauge public opinion, the township created a survey so community members could share their thoughts on what they would like to see implemented at the site. Fifty respondents answered the survey, and the final results indicate a desire to re-establish wildlife and incorporate bird watching, native plant life and pollinator habitats into the landscape. Survey respondents also said they would like to see benches and a water feature.

The main concerns from community members pertained to trash maintenance, distributing natural environmental benefits and safety.

Over 10 community members attended a Ferguson Township meeting held at Songbird Sanctuary to share ideas and concerns with township staff. Marley Parish

Last month, the Songbird Sanctuary ad hoc committee met to brainstorm ideas for a master plan. Some suggestions included educational signs to help identify plant and animal species, a kiosk at the park entrance, walking paths, nesting boxes and a buffer zone between walking and biking paths.

During a meeting Wednesday, township officials met at the site to discuss possible ideas and concerns with Centre County residents. Supervisor Laura Dininni led over 10 attendees through the Songbrid Sanctuary’s walking trails and listened to residents who said they did not want to see the park turned into another athletic complex with athletic fields.

King answered questions about the landscape and the progress already made to create habitats for species with Township Manager David Pribulka.

State College Area High School teacher Susan Braun, of Patton Township, said she is interested in incorporating Songbird Sanctuary into her lesson plans by having students engage with the landscape hands-on.

The park has also partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Master Gardeners and Ferguson Township Elementary to implement other services.

The committee is scheduled to have a pre-final design by July 29. The design is anticipated to be presented to the board of supervisors in August, along with a narrative report. Centrice Martin, assistant township manager, said community feedback is the committee’s main focus right now. Martin said the process is going to take some time and estimated no significant work will be implemented until 2020.

Ferguson Township Assistant Manager Centrice Martin explains how community members can share future ideas and potential concerns about Songbird Sanctuary with township staff during a community event at the site. Marley Parish

“Once we have a final plan prepared, it’ll go in front of the board at a regular meeting where again, citizens are welcome to attend and continue to weight in whether they support or do not support something that might be in the plan,” Martin said.

The community survey has been filled out by 41 residents, and it is still open to the public. The second community meeting to discuss the master plan will be held at noon July 20, at the cul-de-sac on Owens Drive.

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.