Hurricane Agnes struck the city in 1972 causing widespread damage and another tropical storm struck the city a few years later, resulting in additional flood damage. In addition to the ravages of nature, the difficult economic recession of the '70s and a general flight from urban areas by anyone who could afford to get out caused the city's parks to fall into a state of total disrepair.
In the early 1980s, the city was nearly bankrupt and was declared one of the most distressed cities in the United States. With scarcely enough for police salaries, funding for parks and recreation was cut to the bone. But this changed in 1982 with the election of a new mayor who viewed the city's parks and open spaces as opportunities for bringing suburban dollars back into the city's coffers.
Since 1984, more than $28 million has been spent to refurbish and revitalize the 27 parks and playgrounds in Harrisburg. In addition, the city government helped to create a variety of recreational events for residents and visitors, ranging from neighbourhood block parties to major events drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors. It is estimated that nearly two million people participate in the city's 200-plus events every year. Thousands more use the city's parks and open spaces daily.
The park system and city open spaces are considered some of the finest in Pennsylvania, covering 450 acres. An additional 1200 acres is contained in the Capital Area Greenbelt an open space connecting the city with five suburban municipalities.
Among the more popular parks and open spaces in Harrisburg are:
Capital Area Greenbelt
Formerly known as the Harrisburg Bike Path, this 1200-acre greenway winds through and around the city and links to five neighbouring municipalities. Designed by architect Warren Manning, the greenbelt connects City Island and Riverfront Park to the Cameron and Paxtang Parkways and Wildwood Lake. The city's restoration efforts are shared with an active citizens advisory and volunteer group known as the Capital Area Greenbelt Association. The parkway extends for a little over 20 miles and is used by runners, bicyclists and in-line skaters daily.
The focal point of the city's waterfront enhancement programme in the 1980s, City Island is now the crown jewel in the city's park system. The island sits in the middle of the mile-wide Susquehanna River1 and can be reached by the Market Street Bridge and by the historic Walnut Street footbridge. In 1986, the city built Riverside Stadium2, home to the Harrisburg Senators, a minor league baseball team owned by the city. Other facilities on the 63-acre island include a miniature golf course, a miniature railroad, and the Skyline Sports Complex which hosts soccer, American football, softball and volleyball tournaments. Other features of City Island include picnic areas, horse-drawn carriage rides, an arcade and batting cages, a marina and boat launches, a wading beach, and the launching point for the Pride of the Susquehanna, a paddlewheel riverboat which offers dinner cruises and sight-seeing cruises along the river.
This 4.5-mile long ribbon of green space runs along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River and is one of the city's most popular parks. Many of the region's largest festivals take place in this area including the Kipona Festival3 during the Labor Day holiday and a regional arts festival during the Memorial Day holiday. The park contains public art, picnic benches, overlooks and walkways that parallel the river. Built between 1901 and 1911, its 13 overlooks and 13 steps down to the river were designed to honour the 13 original American colonies. Theme gardens like the Sunken Garden in midtown and the Peace Garden in uptown are also very popular.
Established in 1845, this 90-acre park is the oldest and largest in south-central Pennsylvania. It is home to many festivals including Shakespeare in the Park every summer and concerts on Saturdays in July and August. The park is also the home of the National Civil War Museum, located at the top of the park and the highest point in the city. The museum is city-owned and contains many unique and special artifacts from the American Civil War. Other park features include a 1940s era concert bandshell, formal French gardens, a children's playground, basketball and tennis courts, picnic pavilions, an artists' village and an arts and education centre in the historic Brownstone Building.
Located in the city's uptown area, this beautiful 9.5-acre park has been completely restored to its former beauty. The park hosts concerts on Sundays in July and August and features several beautiful statues. One of these pieces of public art is a locally famous fountain of a semi-clad woman entitled the 'Dance of Eternal Spring'. Designed by Giuseppe Donato for Milton S Hershey's Highpoint mansion in Hershey, Mr Hershey donated it to the city because it was too racy for his simple Pennsylvania Dutch tastes.