Allentown's "Park" Place

By Faith Brenneisen

As inches-upon-inches of snow have piled-up on us this winter, it’s exciting to begin planning for warm spring days and outdoor activities. With nearly 40 parks covering more than 1,600 acres. 34 ball fields, over 50 game courts; five outdoor pools, and two spray parks, Allentown is known as the City in a Park, and is the place to be in the upcoming months!

It’s remarkable to see Allentown’s parks bringing together people from diverse backgrounds. While concerts in Allentown’s historic West Park have traditionally accomplished the same, something else is also taking place: On Monday nights in July, there are hundreds who gather in Allentown’s historic West Park, located between Turner and Linden Streets near 15th Street. Bob Knauer, an attorney from Allentown, faithfully attends Tango in the Park with his wife, Cindy. Knauer tells us it’s a great activity for a balmy summer evening. “We dance around a fountain that sprays a cool mist–perfect on a summer night!” Following a formal lesson, people are welcome to stay for the Milonga, where everyone dances tango. Other park visitors bring lawn chairs or picnic blankets and enjoy watching both experienced and beginner dancers enjoy themselves!

For locals, it’s virtually impossible to think of Allentown parks and recreation without thinking of General Harry C. Trexler who is considered the father of the Allentown park system. Greg Weitzel, director of Allentown’s Parks and Recreation Department, reminds us that, among other contributions to our community, Trexler helped build West Park over 100 years ago. In 1927, Allentown’s Planning Commission issued a report that captured the interest of the General. The report recommended improving the area from Schreiber’s Bridge to the Trout Hatchery which was owned by the General. Several years later, he donated 30.5 acres of his trout hatchery to the City. Other landowners followed the General’s example. This marked the beginning of the Little Lehigh Parkway.

With nearly 40 parks covering more than 1,600 acres, Allentown is known as the ‘City in a Park.

Opened in 1883, the Little Lehigh Trout Hatchery in the Little Lehigh Parkway is the oldest fish hatchery in our state welcoming 4,000+ visitors monthly during peak seasons. Over 40,000 trout are raised annually for stocking in the city’s 14 miles of streams and in Allentown parks. It is fascinating to see these enormous fish swimming in manmade ponds even in winter! Members of the Lehigh County Fish and Game Association and the Pioneer Fish and Game Association volunteer their time to run the nursery and raise the fish. I called on Gary Cressman, president of the Lehigh County Fish and Game Association, who explained that not all fish raised make it to public bodies of water. Among other environmental factors, herons and large birds prey upon the fish in hatchery ponds. The City has plans for new netting to keep predatory birds from the fish. Young fish, called fry, are acquired from the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission. After a year or two, they are moved to city bodies of water such as the Jordan Creek, the Little Lehigh, or Cedar Creek in accordance with the bylaws of the Hatchery. In winter, the fish don’t freeze because the ponds are spring fed, and water filters through different channels of the ponds so there is always a moving flow of water. Mark your calendar for the Lehigh County Fish and Game Association Fish Derby, May 15th! (Attendees may catch up to five fish and win additional prizes.)

Equestrians like Paige Lilly have long enjoyed the trail system. Along watershed areas, Trexler planned the existing bridle path with fine stones called screening, which is better for horse hooves. The bridle path extends from one end of the park to the other. “I enjoy an occasional horseback ride starting at the entrance to the Fish Hatchery, continuing under the 309 overpass, traveling beyond the covered bridge for several miles to the Lower Lehigh Parkway before turning back.” If she travels the entire distance of the Lehigh Parkway in a complete circle, this is about a six mile journey, or just over seven miles if traveling macadam as well. A versatile trail, the Lehigh Parkway is ideal for all kinds of outdoorsmen. Because there are restrooms, water, and multiple parts of the path with bridges crossing the stream to the return portion of the path, anyone can simplify their course direction or distance – even to less than one mile. With flat areas and more mountainous, challenging areas, this path is ideal for those with varying skill levels.

The City-Wide Allentown Parks and Recreation Master Plan ( was completed with the assistance of the Harry C. Trexler Trust. Administration for the City worked with City Council to approve a 3.8 million dollar Capital Project Improvement Program to renovate and improve parks throughout the city. All funds were secured through grants from Trexler’s Trust, Lehigh County, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the federal government.

Home to Muhlenberg Lake, the Cedar Creek Parkway is divided in two by Ott Street on Allentown’s elite West End, and is the site of grand public events, multicultural activities, athletic activities, and family gatherings at quaint pavilions. Fellow runners and dog-walkers enjoy watching the ongoing improvements at the Rose and Old Fashion Gardens in accordance with the Cedar Creek Parkway Master Plan. It’s exciting to see the paths to the gardens mature into beautiful walkways accessible to all. This new old park is a reminder of cool spring days in the rose garden where I brought my dog, Madison, the day I rescued her from an upscale New York City high-rise. (As the Lehigh Valley is a known retreat for individuals from larger cities, there are undoubtedly those who can find humor in that statement!) Virtually anyone can attest to having seen a wedding, prom photo shoot, engagement party or other classic celebration at Cedar Creek Park. It wasn’t until now that we’re realizing how many people were unable to share these special moments with the ones they love if they possessed physical disabilities. It’s heartwarming to consider that parents of children with disabilities and leadership at assisted living facilities had input into the planning of renovations at this West End Park where surely many will benefit from enhanced access, the new Life Trail designed with seniors in mind, and the children’s playground with features for children of all abilities. See for a plot plan highlighting park renovations. Park visitors can also look forward to improved security as the City works to encourage active recreation and the perception of the City’s parks as world-class destinations.

Allentown’s City within a Park maintains more than 35 miles of trails for walking, running, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. (See “Hit the Road: Bike Trails of the Lehigh Valley” in this issue for more information.) Anyone is able to create a green living tribute in one of our cherished parks to someone or something by purchasing a Remembrance Tree through the nonprofit, Friends of the Allentown Parks,

A former member of Team Rage, a group of exercise enthusiasts who traveled the tri-state area’s various parks to participate in triathlons, Faith Brenneisen is a resident of Allentown’s West End, and has been running in Allentown parks for about a decade.

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