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Jean Shanley
Meadville Tribune

Aug 25, 2018

CONNEAUT LAKE — Cindy Adams Dunn stood at Fireman's Beach on Friday, amazed at the changes since she stood there with Bill Eldridge two years ago.

Although the beach has been open all summer, Friday was the official "grand opening" with state, county and local officials along with community residents attending a ceremony marking the completion of the more than $1 million project.

Dunn, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, recalled when she stood on the beach with Eldridge and heard of the plans for the beach renovation project spearheaded by Conneaut Lake Community Development Committee (CLCDC) for which Eldridge serves as president. He also is a member of Conneaut Lake Borough Council and serves as the liaison between council and CLCDC.

"This is one we're really proud of (having supported)," Dunn said of the project. She explained that the $775,000 grant from the DCNR came through the Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, which is funded through a small portion of the real estate transfer taxes. When someone sells real estate, the price included a transfer tax that's then given to the state.

Dunn had nothing but praise for the project, which included construction of new boat launch and ramp, docks, boat slips, pedestrian walkways, parking area and access drive. Erection of a woolly mammoth sculpture was enhanced by stormwater features, rain gardens, handicapped accessibility features, landscaping, new signage and other related site improvements.

Dunn specifically mentioned the rain garden, noting that rain gardens usually don't look as good as the one at Conneaut Lake in its first year.

"It's fantastic," she said.

She also mentioned the cooperation between the various state and local agencies and praised Eldridge for his many long hours of volunteer work on the project.

"Dealing with the government is not always easy," she said.

"I'm so grateful for the vision and all the volunteer efforts that helped restore this beautiful beach and make it readily accessible to everyone," said state Sen. Michele Brooks, who Dunn mentioned has been a big advocate of the project.

State Rep. Parke Wentling offered congratulations to the community on what he said was a wonderful example of private and public partnership, noting the private donations that were added to the state funds to pay for the project.

Crawford County Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn also thanked the volunteers and others.

"This is truly a treasure not just for Conneaut Lake but the county and northwestern Pennsylvania," Weiderspahn said.

Eldridge also spoke briefly, introducing various officials in the audience. None spoke publicly, but Tim Kaider, who was mayor when the project started five years ago, said after the ceremony that he thought the improvements and the look to the beach are "just tremendous" and it was hard to describe his feelings from having looked at the plans years ago and Friday.

"Conneaut Lake is among the growing list of communities across Pennsylvania that recognizes local parks and recreation opportunities contribute to a higher quality of life and attract and sustain employers and families," Dunn said. She added that local parks provide close-to-home nature and recreation that is always free or affordable. She commended the borough and its partners for working tirelessly to enhance one of the few publicly accessible boat launch areas and swimming facilities in Conneaut Lake borough.

The only thing left to do at the beach is to get the playground and picnic shelter up, according to organizers.

Eldridge said he is pleased to see the increased traffic at the beach, including teens rollerblading and enjoying the beach.

"It's been a long road," he said, with five years of planning and seeking grants and lots of challenges in getting various permits. "Fortunately, everyone worked together as a team."

The other part of the revitalization project is an update to the first block of Water Street. Eldridge said it is 90 percent complete with holdups now on the utility lines being installed underground. That's expected to happen in October.

The community has already received a $475,000 grant for updates to the second block of Water Street.