H.M. Levitz Park is a living, breathing tribute to Mary Levitz’s – and her husband Herman Maurice Levitz’s – vision for the citizens of East Hanover Township. What the park has naturally evolved into is the result of hard work, execution, and unforeseeable circumstances.

Of all the wonderful recreation parks in Lebanon County, Levitz Park is one of the most beautiful and one of the locale’s best-kept secrets.

Park caretaker Ross Henderson and former East Hanover Township supervisor Tom Donmoyer. (Falk)

“When she gave it to the township, I told her I’d develop it the best I can, but that I’d have to follow guidelines,” said Tom Donmoyer, who was an East Hanover township supervisor for 42 years. “I told her, ‘You’ve got to trust me.’ I think she was very proud of it. But she had her own visions of what it should be. She was the kind of person [who wouldn’t let you] change her mind.”

But without Mrs. Levitz, nothing’s here. There is no park.

“I think quality of life is important for people,” added Donmoyer. “I’ve always tried to think of the needs of the community. I think this has a way of improving the quality of life.”

Owned and operated by East Hanover Township, H.M. Levitz Park is located at the foot of the Blue Mountains, just off Route 443 at 28 Park Drive in Grantville, not far from Fort Indiantown Gap. It is 105 acres, half farm land and half wooded terrain, that includes many modern recreational features, while still maintaining a rustic feel and staying true to the natural surroundings it inhabits.

There are three pavilions, more than four miles of nature trails, a pond, a lodge, playgrounds, a baseball diamond, a basketball court, tennis courts, a beach volleyball court, and primitive camp sites. Wildlife like deer, turkey, coyote, bobcats, muskrats, mink, and countless species of birds peacefully coexist in and around the park.

Park features include over four miles of nature trails. (Falk)
One of the park playgrounds. (Falk)

Levitz Park is open from dawn to dusk daily, and all are welcome.

“It was originally designed for the residents of East Hanover Township, but far more people use it,” said Donmoyer. “For the most part, it’s a well-kept secret, because we don’t promote it. It’s in a more secluded area. It’s off the beaten path. But we want it to be used.”

“There are a lot of people who know about the park and use the park,” said Ross Henderson, Levitz Park’s caretaker. “But I have neighbors who live less than a mile away and they didn’t even know it was here. I have people calling to reserve the pavilions and the lodge, and I’ll have to tell them that everything is booked.”

In 1977, Mary Levitz donated the land for Levitz Park to East Hanover Township, and three years later the park was formally opened. Levitz and her husband Herman owned and operated Globe Outfitters, a men’s and women’s apparel store in downtown Lebanon, for many years.

A sign along the Omni Stone Trail. (Falk)

Before Mary Levitz passed in 2010, she witnessed 30 years of developments and improvements to Levitz Park.

“I was fairly young, in my 20s, and I knew Mrs. Levitz, but I didn’t know her well,” said Donmoyer. “I went and asked her to donate the land. She said that before her husband died [in 1967], he told her she would know what to do with the farm. She thought that meant recreation. She agreed to give the land to the township.

“They gave the land and had set up a trust, so there had to be resources,” added Donmoyer. “But how [Herman Levitz] got those resources, I don’t know. When I came here for the first time, I had a four-wheel drive truck, and I could barely get in. There were no buildings here. This land was just vacant.”

The development of the once primitive land into the recreational park it is today required sweat, planning, and resourcefulness.

Initially, the park was developed with no funds from local taxes. Instead, resources from the federal Civilian Employment Training Act, as well as a variety of private donations and grants – including nearly $500,000 from Pennsylvania’s Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources – were used to fund the development of Levitz Park.

When the land was first gifted, the it was practically inaccessible — “just vacant,” according to Donmoyer. (Falk)
Decades later, the park boasts plenty of amenities and recreation areas. (Falk)

“When I was a kid, Mrs. Levitz offered the land to the township, and the township refused it,” said Donmoyer, a 79-year-old resident of Grantville. “When I approached Mrs. Levitz about the land, she agreed. At the time, the other supervisors said ‘yes’, under one condition, that we couldn’t spend any tax dollars on it. For a while, that guideline was difficult to follow.

“We were close to not being able to do it,” Donmoyer continued. “It was very, very tight. We were scraping and trying to find ways. But you find ways to do things. The current supervisors are very proud of the park. Now they put money into the park willingly. Those rules aren’t there anymore. Ross has taken this place to another level. He’s done so much to fine tune it and make it beautiful.”

“It’s always a work in progress,” said Henderson. “The pond, for example, is a focal point, but it’s not finished yet. From where it was to now, it’s night and day. When I first got here, the pond was in the parking lot.”

For the past 40 years, East Hanover Township has been a good steward of the land it was entrusted with, simply by staying true to the Levitzes’ original vision. Both entities seem to understand the importance of recreation and the power that the great outdoors has to enrich lives.

“I am very proud that a township the size of East Hanover has what we have here in Levitz Park,” said Donmoyer. “It’s something to be very proud of. It’s a unique facility. The community came together. The community responded to a need. All we did is bring them together. Now I think the community has to step up and tells us what they think we need here.

“Ross has taken this place to another level. He’s done so much to fine tune it and make it beautiful,” said Donmoyer of park caretaker Ross Henderson. (Falk)

“We have relatively low growth in East Hanover Township,” Donmoyer added. “Our population has been fairly constant over the last 50 years. If the population isn’t growing, we don’t know the needs. I think you can over-plan sometimes.”

“It’s always been about the community,” said Henderson. “Whatever we do out here, we focus on that. I hope that people would come out and enjoy the park. We’ve always been based in conservation.”

Somewhere, the Levitzes are proud of what their donation to East Hanover Township has become.

Trails and photographs of H.M. Levitz Park can be viewed here.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...