Park History

Articles authored by Mary Ann Provenza, secretary, Oakmont Recreation Board

 

History of Riverside Park

Present day Riverside Park was part of a land tract originally deeded in 1749.  It was sold to Michael Bright in 1816 after passing through the hands of several early land speculators.  Bright’s purchase consisted of two hundred and thirty-four acres. Throughout the years the land was split into smaller properties through sales, gifts and family inheritances.

In 1917 the property was purchased from remaining members of the Bright Family by the Scaife brothers when they moved their manufacturing business from Pittsburgh to Ann Street.  The property remained under the ownership of Scaife Manufacturing and included a history of varied use; home to the Aztec Canoe Club, Red Raven Club, rental property for residents who built small cottages along the river and a large Scaife employee WWII Victory Garden.  

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In 1959 the Junior and Senior Women’s Clubs of Oakmont sought public support for a $150,000 bond issue to purchase thirteen available acres from the Scaife Corporation.  Oakmont voters approved the bond issue by a two-to-one margin and the land was purchased in 1960.plaques

The Oakmont Park and Recreation Committee immediately began fundraising the $50,000 needed to develop the site.  Spearheading the project were Gerry McAfee and Len Anderson.  *Len Flowers, *Betty Hackett, *Al Kennedy, *Barbara Ride, along with scores of additional citizens were very active in the project.

The borough council formally established a recreation committee for the town and named William E. Kerr, Chairman.  Under his leadership the park was developed into a recreation area.

*Family members continue to be active in the community. 

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 History of Riverside Park (continued)

Countless residents and friends of the Oakmont community have contributed to the growth and development of Riverside Park in one way or another.  It would be impossible to accurately note each individual or group contribution for the fifty some years.

However it is possible to focus on three individuals whose names are synonymous with the early history of Riverside Park.

Len C. Anderson, William E. Kerr and Len Flowers

 On the West side of the field house near the top of the stairs that lead to the lower level of the park are two plaques dedicated to the three men.      Len Anderson initiated the Riverside Park project.  With the assistance of several active citizens he helped bring the land purchase and development project to fruition.

William E. Kerr combined his skills with his ongoing generosity to successfully guide the development of the park into a community landmark for team sports, children’s play and picnicking.

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Len Flowers affectionately known as “Mr. Riverside” was the next chairperson to continue the tradition of excellence in caring for and maintaining the park.  He worked alongside the park crew on a daily basis and was a true “master” of repair.  The visitors’ bleacher seating is still in use today and were hand built by Len during the late 1970’s.

By1994 federal safety standards changes forced the renovation of the children’s playground. In order to meet project costs the recreation board sponsored fund raisers such as craft shows in the park and secured state sponsored grant awards.

Many residents expressed disappointment when the favorite climbing equipment and the tall slide had to be removed.  These pieces were in place since the 1960s.  New equipment pieces were chosen by a committee of residents who did their best to choose ‘close proximity’ replacements.

The renovation became truly complete when the Oakmont Lions Club donated the unique playground fountain.  Our community ‘heard’ the “lion roar.”

For everyone who has played a part in the past, present and in the future development of the park we THANK YOU!

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Riverside Park – Century XXI

Since 2006 major changes are ongoing at Riverside Park.

Renovations began with construction on Third Street. The beautiful, unique wrought iron entrance design motivated the community.  Donations of money and professional services from community members began an upward movement and the project began to move forward.

A large grant awarded from DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) resulted in construction of tennis courts, pavilion, children’s playground and a water splash pad.

Additional grant awards, combined with dollar commitments from the school district and borough, provided for the installation of the beautiful surface running track. The track is thought of as the ‘crown jewel.’   No more cinders!

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The RAA (Riverview Athletic Association) secured a Pirates Charities “Fields for Kids” grant to purchase new backstops and reconstruct the fields. They also funded construction of the under bleacher storage facility and renovations to the concession stand.  This was achieved through additional fundraising and grant sources.

Following fundraising efforts, initiated by the recreation board and with council approval the portable ice rink was purchased in 2011.  Weather permitting, skating is a popular winter activity.  In 2013 the borough was awarded a Dek Hockey facility through the Penguins Foundation.  Within two years the Riverside Hockey League has 170 players ages 3 to 15 and continues to expand and grow.

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Fifth Street Memorial Park  (Bocce Park)                                

 The Oakmont Bocce League initial season began in May 2011.  Prior to construction of the bocce courts the two vacant lots on Fifth Street were an important part of Oakmont history. 

On the lot beside the borough building there was a family residence and next to the tiny home was  *Jakovac’s Market.  The family owned market, one of several ‘Mom & Pop’ grocery stores in Oakmont, served the community faithfully for 50 years from1939-1989.  When Mr. & Mrs. Jackovac retired in 1989 the property was purchased by the borough.  During the next decade the local District Justice Magistrate Office was housed in the building.  When the Magistrate office was relocated, the Riverview School District Administration Office moved to the old market building for a short period until renovations at the 10th Street School were completed. 

By 2004 the building, in poor condition, was condemned and torn down. 

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At this time the borough had the opportunity to purchase the family residence next door to the borough building.  Both of the acquired properties remained undeveloped for approximately five years. 

 In 2009 because of interest expressed in the community, the recreation board initiated a plan to develop the vacant lots for bocce play.  State grants were secured and public meetings held.  Numerous conversations with members of the community and local bocce “officianottos” contributed to the development of the park.  It was decided that the park would be dedicated to our community Veterans, Police Officers and Fire Fighters.       

Construction was completed early spring 2011 and on Saturday, May 21, the official dedication of the courts was held.  The following were In attendance: representatives from the community, state, county, local veterans group, police and fire departments.  The official **park sign declared: 

 BOROUGH OF OAKMONT FIFTH STREET MEMORIAL PARK      

Dedicated to those Who Serve:

Our Veterans, Our Police Officers, and our Fire Fighters

This neighborhood park is busy during the months of May through August, five nights a week, from 6:30 till dusk for league games.  Open play takes place on weekends and weekdays.  Currently there are 16 teams and 160+ players in the Oakmont Bocce League.   For league information contact: oakmontrecreation@gmail.com

 *Additional history of ‘Mom & Pop’ grocery stores in Oakmont available by contacting Oakmont Historical Society at: oakmonthistory@gmail.com

 **The Oakmont Historical Society shared park signage costs with the borough recreation board. OHS was awarded a grant to support a project within the community.  Thanks to OHS for their support!

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Falling Springs Run Park

Located at Fifth and Lee Streets near the northern boundary of the borough is Falling Springs Run Park. Initially forest land, the property transitioned over the decades becoming farm land, a civil war training camp and today a destination for mountain bike riding trails enthusiasts.

 On April 8,1848 Caleb Lee purchased over a thousand acres at Hulton, PA (Oakmont) for $23,000.  The property was named White Oak Level and included all land north of Hulton Road, from the river to beyond the site of what today is Oakmont Country Club. 

 Mr. Lee, a tailor in Pittsburgh’s Market Square capitalized on his association to many notable and prominent families in the banking and political arenas. Retiring to White Oak Level, the main log house eventually had eleven rooms, included a tenant house, stables and numerous outbuildings. The water from the two springs on the property was described as “never failing soft water springs”.

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 It has been suggested that Mr. Lee’s special connections to the influential families of Pittsburgh may have assisted in the decision by government officials to locate a Civil War training camp on his property.

On June 1,1861 the Warren Guards Erie Regiment arrived to construct Camp Wright.  First thing undertaken was to run water pipes to the camp from the two springs located on the property.  Several barracks fifteen feet long and twenty feet wide were constructed on the hillside where the park entrance is today at Fifth and Lee Streets.  A total of 4000 volunteers from all over the state trained at the site.

 In a letter to his family dated June 8, 1861, a young soldier wrote:  “The camp is located on the south bank of the Allegheny River, fifteen miles from Pittsburgh.  It is splendid and has the best spring water.” 

He further described the camp as a ninety acre meadow consisting of a large orchard, beautiful shade trees with a brook running through a shady hollow.  Another soldier from Ebensburg reported on July 18th that the camp was situated on “gently sloping ground which successfully prevented the formation of mud puddles”. He noted lounging under scrubby oak and apple trees and that the camp was “thronged daily with visitors”. The Allegheny Valley Railroad ran between the camp and the river, with parade grounds located at the river.  In operation less than a year, the camp was visited by the governor of Pennsylvania.  A celebration of patriotism on July 4, 1861 had 10,000 people (including troops) in attendance.  Local merchants set up stands at the entrance to the camp and sold fruit, vegetables and whiskey.  Early in 1862 with the volunteer quota met the troops left Camp Wright by train to fight in the war.  The barracks were torn down and memory of the camp faded over time. 

In 1902 the Lee residence burned down and the property was incorporated into adjoining land parcels owned by the heirs of Caleb Lee.

Over the years the land was divided and purchased by several individuals.

In 1953, local developer Edward McCrady Jr, submitted plans to build approximately thirty homes in a development he called “Woodstone Manor.”  This is the present day Wade Lane neighborhood. 

Development continued over the decades to include the Oak Meadow neighborhood.  By 1984 only four parcels of the original Lee property remained undeveloped.  Today this portion is Falling Springs Run Park. 

In 2003 the land was donated to the borough and designated as a park.

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Creekside Park

In 2008 the Borough of Oakmont received a seven and one half acre parcel of land on Dark Hollow Road from the developer of the Edgewater Plan. This land was part of an agreement allowing the developer to meet the borough ‘open space’ building requirement. Titled “Edgewater Steel Redevelopment Project” plans included construction of baseball and soccer athletic fields, concession stand and restroom facilities.
Groundbreaking began on March 3, 2010. Buildings and foundations on the property (formerly Carnegie Tar and Asphalt Company) were demolished and the site was remediated for recreational purposes following Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection standards. The initial building permit was issued June 15, 2011 and the property was officially turned over to the borough in April, 2015.

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The Riverside Athletic Association and Twin Boro Soccer League organizations, in collaboration with the Recreation Board of Oakmont, played a strong role in the completion and refinement of the property. In the fall of 2015 the RAA replaced the infield surface to make it safe and playable. Volunteers from RAA and the community completed the project with RAA providing the financial commitment.
RAA president, Bill Tomlinson noted a special thanks for project completion goes to the general contractor, Tunnel Construction. This spring RAA purchased bleachers and covered dugouts. Everfresh Beverages provided concession stand coolers and construction of the temporary home run fence was funded by an anonymous donor. Tony Lascola, recreation board vice chairman, constructed a trail around the park boundaries for use by runners, bike riders and dog walkers.
The RAA currently is working to secure a local fraternal organization grant for a scoreboard at the park.
“PLAY BALL” has true meaning at Creekside!

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First Playground in Oakmont

“OAKMONT PLAYGROUND SPONSORED BY CLUB IS A HAPPY PLACE”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette Headline, July 1949
Just after World War I the school district donated the use of ground next to the 5th Street School to establish a playground. The Woman’s Club of Oakmont became the project sponsor. Oakmont resident, Mary McGraw, chaired the project and each year held a card party at her home at 728 Hulton Road. The yearly card party became the primary fund raising source even raising $250 in 1923. This would be equivalent to $3,500 today. In 1946 the party was moved to the Oakmont Country Club due to increased attendance from the residents.

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The Post Gazette described the playground as “having slides, seesaw, swings, sand boxes under the trees as well as areas for basketball and softball…long tables for children to draw and cut out pictures, make cork animals or string dyed shell macaroni into attractive bracelets. Every Friday there is a show of some kind, biggest and most important being the pet show and doll show early in July.”
The borough, school board and Lions Club all made donations to the Woman’s Club recreation fund. It paid for equipment, operating costs, repairs, and the physical education student-teacher instructor’s salaries June thru August. The playground was open week days from 2:00 to 9:00 PM.
Until the completion of Riverside Park in the early 1960’s this playground served as the borough’s primary recreation facility. It is evident that the community came together to support the need for recreation in Oakmont.

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Snow and Ice

Weather at the turn of the century allowed the Allegheny River to have ice along the edges thick enough for safe travel. The Liberto family, local merchants traveled with their horses and wagons to and from Pittsburgh on the ice. The Hulton ferry and steamboats tied along the shore were compelled to force their way through ice daily as the river froze over nightly.
The ice however was a delight to those who wanted to seek winter recreation in the form of ice skating and hockey on the Allegheny River and Plum Creek. A favorite daredevil act called

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  “Hickory Bender” was performed by many skaters and described as; “gliding rapidly across an area of ice so thin that it gives and rolls like an ocean wave and then sinks under a skater’s weight as the pass over is completed.”
Occasionally the ice would break up before a skater had completed the run over the thin area and many a close call happened. During the winter of 1909 a fatal “Hickory Bender” took place when a twelve year old boy fell through the ice on Plum Creek into nine feet of water. His five playmates made heroic efforts to save him with their hockey sticks but they too broke through the ice. The five made it out and help was quickly summoned. Three doctors; Dr. James M. Hamilton,* Dr. William H. Cooper* and Dr. Edward Lewis, were on scene when the boy was pulled from the creek but their efforts at resuscitation were in vain.
Children utilized the hills to sled ride and ski. Sleigh ride parties were a popular social activity among young adults. Groups would travel by horse drawn sleighs often to “Plum Township” where they had supper gatherings at a friend or relatives home.
The many clubs and camps along the river held skating parties, banquets and dances to highlight the winter season. Organized euchre (trick card taking) parties were extremely popular.
During the 1960s and 70s the Riverside Park basketball court was covered with tarps, flooded and transformed into an ice rink through the foresight of recreation chairman Len Flowers.*
In 2007 the recreation board purchased a portable ice rink which is set up each November and removed at the start of baseball season in March. The initial winter was one of the mildest ever, with the skating season lasting less than a week as it was impossible to get the ice to freeze. Individual free skating, pick-up hockey games and group skating parties have been ongoing at Riverside Park every winter since then.
Here’s to the winter of 2016-2017 and cooperation from Mother Nature!

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Tennis vs Golf

“OAKMONT GIVES UP GOLF FOR TENNIS” (Pittsburgh Daily Post 1900)
“TENNIS IS BOOMING UP ALLEGHENY VALLEY” (Pittsburgh Press 1902)

At the turn of the century, Pittsburgh newspapers were reporting that the game of tennis was replacing in popularity the games of shuttlecock(badminton) and croquet. It was noted that tennis enabled players to combine recreation with exercise.

The Oakmont Tennis Club which had been in existence for nine years reorganized in 1901 and had seven courts on A Street (California Avenue) available for use. William A. Tomlinson an iron works clerk was elected president, Phillip Price a civil engineer, secretary and George B. Martin a bookkeeper, treasurer. The men were all in their early twenties and lived in the borough.  

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 Oakmont resident and County Commissioner Charles B. Price who lived near the Oakmont Railroad Station on Railroad Avenue (Allegheny Avenue) hosted the Club’s tournaments on his own private courts.

In 1902, it was reported that all the prominent players in the district had entered the tournament and that the large crowd of spectators witnessed “some of the prettiest tennis playing ever seen in the valley”.

In 1892, the Oakmont Tennis Club was presented with a silver cup, with conditions being it was to become permanent property of the person who won the club sponsored tournament title three times. Club officers, George B. Martin and William A. Tomlinson were both cup holders. In 1903, the Oakmont Country Club included in its plans the installation of six tennis courts.

Over a hundred and ten years later, tennis remains a popular form of recreation and exercise with four courts at Riverside Park for residents and the Riverview Tennis Team.
In 2015, a practice board was installed at the courts through the efforts of the Borough of Oakmont, the Recreation Board and residents Michael Swenson and Bill Tomlinson.
Bill a descendant of the original Oakmont Tennis Club President, is on the Oakmont Recreation Board and won the Riverside Park tennis tournament championship in 1983. History does repeat itself!

What became of the cup is a mystery. If you have any information about it, the Oakmont Recreation Board would love to hear from you!

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Edgewater Park

In the Pittsburgh area during the fall and winter seasons of the 1890’s there were about 30 amateur and independent football teams.  Oakmont had a team, the “OAKMONTS” that was highly competitive in what was called the League of Western Pennsylvania.  Home field was Edgewater Park located just off of the Edgewater Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  This was the former summer farm of John McD. Crossan consisting of eighty-five acres which then became the Edgewater Steel Company and home now to the housing developments of Edgewater at Oakmont and The Rivers Edge of Oakmont.

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Teams were comprised of local working men and graduated college students with the only requirement of weighing one hundred fifty pounds and up.  The Oakmont teams were praised for “gentlemanly conduct and sharp playing” while also having “excellent team work, aggressive hammering at its line and new criss cross plays.”  Teams would regularly advertise for game opponents and Oakmont always hosted a game on Thanksgiving Day at Edgewater Field.  Attendance at the games often times numbered over six hundred spectators.

Spring and summers around the turn of the century brought baseball to Edgewater Field.  The Oakmont team also known as the “OAKMONTS” was comprised of amateurs and social group teams.

Trap shooting matches also took place at Edgewater Park where gentlemen were paired up against each other in a competition to hit the best of twenty-five targets.  In September of 1902 the winner was Oakmont resident Thomas A. Hunter who hit twenty-one out of twenty-five targets.  Mr. Hunter, of the Hunter Brothers Grocery, was president of the First National Bank of Oakmont, served as the Oakmont Postmaster and later became the first Fire Chief of Oakmont.

Brooks and Blair Homes, the Developers of the new River’s Edge of Oakmont Community (adjacent to Edgewater at Oakmont) has just completed the main features of their Central Waterview Park. The park setting provides a beautiful view of the Allegheny River and will see additional plantings and benches added in the spring.  In 2017, The River’s Edge community will add private recreation facilities which will include an infinity pool, a clubhouse and fitness facilities.  As further development of the community takes place, a half-mile stretch of gently sloping land fronting the Allegheny River will be improved to provide public park areas and walking trails to serve the entire Oakmont community. Eventually, a network of trails and walkways will link Oakmont parks throughout the various neighborhoods to paths along the Allegheny River and meandering trails through the Plum Creek.  Football and baseball recreational activities will continue to be “connected” to the area originally known as Edgewater Park.

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Walk, Run, or Bike

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. This is the motto for the United States Postal Service but it is also appropriate for those who walk, run or bicycle through Oakmont.

During the 1890’s bicycling became the rage. The huge front wheeled bicycles became obsolete as air pressure tires equal in size appealed to the public for recreational and transportation needs.  Races were held on banked wooden oval tracks outdoors and indoors within velodromes.  Road races became extremely popular and in 1898 a 25 mile race known as the “Greater Pittsburg* Road Race” was held through the streets of Shadyside, East Liberty, Wilkinsburg, and Verona to the “turning point in Oakmont”.  Course conditions were good due to rain which helped solidify the surface with the only rough portion being “Verona to Hulton Grove”. One rider collided

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  with a trolley in the Point Breeze area of the city but was strong enough to recover to win with the time of 1:14:15.

In 2006 residents and avid cyclists Ed Grystar and his son Eddie, partnered with the recreation board to promote cycle racing in Oakmont.  Pittsburgh area racers met the special challenges of our local streets with the most popular feature being the traveling over the railroad crossings at great speed.

Since the early 1900’s running events have been held in and around Oakmont.  In 1909, a marathon race with over 180 entries was held running Frankstown Avenue to Hulton through Oakmont and Verona and Sandy Creek Road back to the start.

With the resurgence of running in the 1960’s, the recreation board sponsored yearly races.  Riverside Park summer program directors and Riverview teachers, Russ Maxwell and Bill Beebe, coordinated the events until the 1990’s.

Residents Bob and Palma Ostrowski, passionate runners and volunteer Riverview Track and Cross Country coaches then became the 5K organizers. Under their guidance, the 5K race is held yearly in June and continues to be a favorite event with participants. Proceeds benefit Oakmont recreational projects including trail development.

One of the most exciting upgrades for runners and walkers alike to Riverside Park was the conversion of the narrow four lane cinder track into a synthetic track in 2011.  Prior to this major change, the Riverview Girls Cross Country Team with their successful reputation and hard work earned the nickname “The Cinder-Ellas.” 

Walking trails throughout Dark Hollow Woods are maintained by the Oakmont Garden Club and the Oakmont Boulevard Project oversees the 1.4 mile arboretum trail along the railroad tracks.

Plans to illuminate the perimeter of the Riverside Park walking trail and extend the multipurpose trail at Creekside Park upon approval of borough council is planned for late 2017.

Residents and visitors travel our community using sidewalks, streets, park trails, track and the railroad walking trail.  

Walk, Run or Bike, our history and our future.

* The “h” in Pittsburgh was officially dropped from 1895 to 1909

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On The River

Our quest to locate the 1902 tennis championship silver cup led us to the Tomlinson Agency office and an interview with Bill Tomlinson, Sr.

We discovered that the silver cup in the office was awarded to Bill’s grandfather, William A. Tomlinson in 1907, not for tennis but regatta racing on the river!

The earliest record of racing at Hulton (Oakmont) was in 1884.  Races were held

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 every few weeks during the boating season and contributions were taken to pay the winners. By the turn of the century boat and swimming races grew in popularity and the Oakmont Boat Club began with a rented houseboat moored at the foot of Washington Avenue.  There was a one mile race course for rowboats and both single and double oar canoes. The sailboat course was just over one mile with swimming having varied lengths.

In 1904 W.T. Brill and William A. Tomlinson finished next to last in the double oar race.  Tomlinson went on to finish second in the quarter mile swim competition.  By 1906 additional canoe clubs were established in Oakmont and memberships grew to over five hundred. Thousands of people attended the races and social activities which included; dinners, corn roasts, euchre, tennis tournaments, musical entertainment and dances.  During this time canoeists from Oakmont clubs were competitive enough to attend meets in Chautauqua and in the St. Lawrence area.  The introduction of motor boats at this time soon became the favorite of local spectators.   

The first regatta held in Pittsburgh included motorboats and was declared a great success by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Saturday, August 3, 1907. 

It was a complete victory for The Helen, owned by William A. Tomlinson, capturing the silver loving cup in the division for boats of any length, having engines between 51/2 and 11 hp.”   Today the exquisite silver cup is displayed in Tomlinson’s office at 506 Allegheny River Boulevard. Feel free to stop in and family members will share the story of the cup and the extraordinary athleticism of William A. Tomlinson.

A quote found in a 1914 Pittsburgh Post Gazette regarding river activities in Oakmont stated …“It is no wonder that so many young people in the city visit this delightful place during the summer and enjoy the many comforts and pleasures.” 

Recreational activities on the Allegheny River in Oakmont continues to grow and  will include the addition of a future kayak park in the vicinity where canoe races were held over 130 years ago.

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CURRENT OAKMONT RECREATION BOARD MEMBERS

T.Bland, Chair, A.Lascola, Vice Chair, D. Provenza, Secretary,  G.Frerotte, J.Powers, B.Tomlinson, R.Vitti-Lyons, M.Walsh