by Chelsea Hess-Moore
Capital Area Greenbelt Association
The city of Harrisburg encompasses standard inner-city features, such as tall buildings, art attractions, restaurants, a downtown scene and the hustle and bustle of a big city. What makes Harrisburg unique is our direct view of the Susquehanna River and the natural scenery of the riverfront, lined with towering trees and a paved path.
When riding down Front Street in Harrisburg, you are sure to see that path being utilized by all types of people. Perhaps joggers, bicyclists, families pushing strollers, walking dogs or skateboarding, the path is convenient and welcoming to all looking for some outdoor time. That path is just a small part of the Capital Area Greenbelt, a 20-mile trail that brings together five different communities in the region.
“Many cities are now looking to create some kind of pedestrian/bicycle trail, and we already have it,” says Patty Landis, president of the Capital Area Greenbelt Association. “We are ahead of the game.”
This past year, the Capital Area Greenbelt celebrated its 25th anniversary. Its roots date back to over 100 years ago, but its creation is credited to its founder and current long-time volunteer, 82-year-old Norman Lacasse.
When it comes to the nature and landscaping history of the capital region, Lacasse is an expert. His knowledge goes back to the start of the revitalization of the city back in 1900. He shares the stories of Mira Lloyd Dock, who brought the expertise of forestry to the region.
Lacasse worked for the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. At a point in his career shortly after a promotion, he was assigned to something they referred to as “urban forestry.”
“For taxpayers, a lot of that money goes to the state and federal government to do things in the woods that no one sees,” he explains. “Finally, they wanted something done in the cities. That was the urban forestry initiative.”
Through grants, permits and a whole lot of knowledge, Lacasse formed the Capital Area Greenbelt Association in 1990.
The association is currently run entirely by volunteers, and there are approximately 40 actively who help each year to do maintenance work.
“Things that need done on a daily basis include clearing brush, mowing and leaves removal in the fall,” says Landis. “Trees fall across the trail a couple of times in a year, so they need removed from the paths. We also recently completed a signage project that required primarily volunteer work.”
Lacasse has gone above and beyond just coordinating the volunteers and maintaining the Greenbelt. He has done major projects, such as building an entire memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a six-year-long project that is only accessible from the Greenbelt. He also gives back to the community in more than just improving the environment; he is a mentor to many youth from the region.
“Norm coordinates youth teams and simultaneously improves the Greenbelt while teaching these young people and giving them exposure to using tools and outdoor experience,” says Landis. “He is great with these kids. He bonds with them and teaches them at the same time.”
For Lacasse, he is thankful for how far the Greenbelt has come, and it shows in every word he speaks as he reflects on his struggles and triumphs over the last 27 years that he has been volunteering and working to establish this organization.
“We want everyone to enjoy the Greenbelt,” says Landis. “This is truly a great accomplishment for Norm and a great contribution from him to our region.”