Penn Dixie is excited to report that the first phase of construction is underway for a new parking lot and entrance road to be located at 3900 Jeffrey Blvd. in Hamburg. The project commenced last week with a generous donation of skilled labor from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17. Local 17 has a long tradition of supporting civic projects in the WNY region, including recent work at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Hamburg Town Park Beach.
“The Operating Engineers Local 17 Apprenticeship is excited to be involved with this project. We have completed many projects over the years, providing our apprentices with valuable real-life heavy equipment operating. It will be nice to work on this important venture right here in our hometown. We’re very happy for the Penn Dixie organization,” says James A. Smolinski Jr., Administrative Manager for Operating Engineers Local 17 Training Fund.
“Penn Dixie is a valuable community and regional asset. The Town of Hamburg is proud of and dedicated to our ongoing support and partnership with Penn Dixie as they advance their vision and mission. This project is a long-sought improvement which started two years ago with discussions between Penn Dixie, Operating Engineers Local 17 representatives, then Traffic Safety Coordinator Jerry Giglio, and myself. It has been a terrific process of collaboration between entities,” says Hamburg Town Councilwoman Elizabeth Farrell.
“We’re essentially starting from scratch with this transformational project. The defunct Pennsylvania-Dixie Cement Company created a very large area strip mine. All soil was removed and the land was mined deeply below grade. As you can imagine, many improvements are needed to make the land suitable for development. We are honored that Local 17 is offering their technical expertise, and that the Town of Hamburg has created such an excellent and supportive environment for our organization’s growth” says Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes.
This project solves many problems, including growing traffic in the Steelton residential neighborhood caused by increased Penn Dixie visitation, the lack of a permanent street address for Penn Dixie visitors to plug into their GPS, and the shortage of safe parking for Penn Dixie guests. “I’m very much looking forward to not pushing visitor vehicles out of the mud on rainy days,” says Stokes.
The new parking lot will be built on a 5-acre lot located within the remnants of the former quarry. The 5-acre lot was acquired by Penn Dixie in 2008; the purchase was made possible by the East Hill Foundation, Wendt Foundation, Ravenwood Associates, and individual donors. The first step is to grade (i.e., build up while maintaining a level surface) the lot using 12,000 cubic yards of donated fill material. Using excavators, bulldozers, and other equipment, Local 17 will sculpt the material to allow for proper drainage of stormwater while also laying a foundation for the next steps. Local 17 Training Coordinator Kelly Roblee will lead on-site personnel in these efforts.
“In the 29 year history of the Penn Dixie Fossil Park, this is the first physical improvement that leads directly to the construction of a permanent building. And the new entrance will immediately remove excessive traffic from the local residential neighborhood. The look and function of the Fossil Park will be dramatically improved. Seeing equipment on site and earth being pushed into place is really exciting. I was recruited many, many years ago as a Penn Dixie volunteer, and I’m proud to still be around and working on this dream project” says Mark Castner, Project Manager and former Board Chair at Penn Dixie.
“Many initiatives over the recent years have led Penn Dixie to this moment in our organization’s history. It is one step of many to provide not only an improved, easily accessible site, but also more science programming for all ages and a destination for our local communities and tourists. We have many people to thank for their time, efforts, and monetary contributions including our staff, volunteers, board members, community supporters and donors,” says Penn Dixie Board Chair Jennifer Hasse.
Once the site is graded, it will be stabilized using geotextile fabric. Gravel will be installed above the fabric, creating a water-permeable and environmentally friendly parking surface. And, the entrance road will be paved to help reduce the amount of loose stone that might be tracked onto area roadways by school buses and other Penn Dixie visitor vehicles.
Following the completion of the parking lot and entrance road, Penn Dixie will add accessory structures such as a pavilion to welcome visitors, storage, fencing, security cameras, and signage. New trails will be required to connect the Jeffrey Blvd entrance to the existing trail network within the park. Local species of vegetation will then be seeded around the perimeter, eliminating the many invasive species that overran the park in the decades following mining activities. Finally, the old park entrance will be closed and Penn Dixie will relocate all operations to the new entrance. As funding is not yet secured for the latter steps, the timing of this move is not certain. In a future phase, a permanent visitor center will be constructed.