Aug. 13—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Samantha Hartland was excited to return to Southmont Borough in 2019 after spending years living in the Roxbury section of Johnstown.
But while the borough native loved her old and new neighborhoods, Hartland missed one thing about her previous one: the way Roxbury Park served as an outdoor magnet for friends and neighbors to gather.
Over the past two years, Hartland has spearheaded a grassroots effort to bring new life into her new community at Southmont's State Street playground.
"We saw a lot of potential there," she said.
At first, Hartland said she was thinking about a landscaping project.
But before long, she and her husband, Chris, designed plans for something more elaborate.
And the idea — and the number of people willing to get involved — kept evolving, Hartland said.
The borough's Centennial Committee, including Judy Kelly, Nick Antonazzo, Nancy Kush and Bob Walker, stepped forward to cover the cost to beautify the playground's entrance with a line of juniper moonglow trees, a bed of black-eyed Susans and colorful blue salvia perennials, she said.
First, though, Hartland had to make a formal pitch to Southmont Borough Council and landowner Westmont Hilltop School District for support to make any changes.
When COVID-19 made it difficult for volunteers to gather to landscape the lot, Stuver's Riverside Nursery, which sold the group the supplies, stepped forward and planted it all, Hartland said.
Seven local families, including Hartland and her husband, purchased stamped concrete benches that Fi-Hoff concrete and Tony and Danielle Holcomb helped assemble.
They were placed inside and outside the playground to encourage families — not just children — to spend more time in the playground and on the basketball court.
Hartland said her grandfather, H. Richard Cowan, donated a miniature lending library, which was stocked with books for children and adults by the Mock family, one of several families who made donations toward the project.
Due to supply chain and similar challenges that the pandemic brought, the project ended up taking two years to complete, she said.
But even that seemed like a blessing in disguise, Hartland said.
Hartland said the experience gave her a chance to meet so many people who are passionate about the commun- ity.
"That was the best part for me — getting the chance to really meet my neighbors — and so many kind, generous people," Hartland said.
Chris Hartland credited his wife for sticking with the project — even after hurdles arose.
"We're all really proud of her. She cares about the area," he said, "and the project turned out exactly how she envisioned it."
Samantha Hartland said she and a group of Southmont area residents continue upkeep of the property throughout the growing season.
Plaques honoring the families who donated benches are being planned.
A Southmont sign may also be added, she said.