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Chester County Press

New Garden Hosts ‘Open House’ at St. Anthony in the Hills

09/30/2020 05:26PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

On Dec. 17, 2018, the day that the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors approved the funding for the township’s $1.5 million purchase of St. Anthony in the Hills, it didn’t merely signal that the 137.5-acre property was about to be transferred from one owner to another.

It also gave notice that the vision for the property – cultivated largely by one man for decades -- would go along with the sale.

On Sept. 23, the township opened the gates to St. Anthony in the Hills to more than 200 local residents, and invited all of them to share their creative vision for the future of this well-worn yet stunning crevice of township land.

For more than two hours, township officials and members of local organizations received a myriad of ideas for the property near the confluence of Routes 7 and 41, while touring what had once been owned by St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington and served as a sanctuary for inner-city Wilmington children.

Although faded from time and weather, the many buildings and recreational nooks and crannies that children visited still stand as a testament to the legacy and vision of Father Roberto Balducelli, who served as the founder and caretaker of the facility until his death at the age of 99 on Aug. 9, 2013.

New Garden supervisor Steve Allaband said much of the credit that led to the purchase of the property goes to township residents, whose push for the township to preserve open space back in 2003 led to the passage of a tax referendum -- championed by a core group of township stakeholders – that created a funding source, one that has freed up the township to purchase and preserve property, including St. Anthony in the Hills.

Nearly 107 acres of the property – designated as Highest Protection and Standard Protection areas – were paid for through the township's Open Space Fund, in the amount of $938,164, which also included a $225,000 grant from Chester County. The remaining 30.6 acres were paid for by the township's General Fund, in the amount of $336,836.

“The initiative that began 17 years ago is still there,” Allaband said. “The important thing is that this is now the township’s property, and if you’re a resident here, we want to receive your input. We want to know what you want to see here. This is a large enough area that we will be able to provide a variety of activities, and keep this property preserved.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, but we want ideas.”

The township is currently working on a master plan for the park with York-based YSM, a landscape architectural company specializing in park and recreation design and planning. The company is not new to the park design game; they have developed master plans for several township parks in Chester and nearby counties, including the West Pikeland Township Park. 

Led by YSM President Ann Yost, a committee of residents, township officials and stakeholders asked residents to indicate what they would most want to see developed in the park. Under “new recreation,” their top priorities were for the township to develop walking, jogging and bike trails, followed by having the park become the new home for a farmers market and food trucks.

In the “existing facilities” category, the residents’ top priorities were for the township to renovate the property’s 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, its miniature golf course and its outdoor swimming pool – all of which have not been accessible to the public in several years.

The general public will continue to have opportunities for input throughout every stage of the master plan, beginning in early 2021, when an early draft plan for the park will be shared with the public.

For some who attended the open house event, their assessment of the property generously overlapped with that of common opinion: That although New Garden Township has inherited a diamond in the rough that needs a lot of work, it is a natural gemstone that celebrates its natural beauty and a part of its history.

“Families want someplace to go that is safe, clean and inviting,” said Deb Wright, a local resident and landscape architect. “What will also be important from a design standpoint is to preserve the park’s history and keep it alive through the next generation and the generations to come. By learning more about different pieces of architecture and the memories that have been made here, we can actually bring that into the future.

“We grew up with memories here, and we want to pass that along.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].