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Return of the Big Blue Boxes

by on April 26, 2016 6:00 AM

One of the wonderful things about living in Happy Valley is the vast amount of open spaces outdoors.

If you live in a metropolitan area you spend your days within the confines of concrete and steel. If you are lucky you have access to a few open spaces here and there – almost always hemmed in by the aforementioned asphalt jungle. As Joni Mitchell sings (or the Counting Crows for the younger generation), “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

But in central Pennsylvania we have land, land, and more land. Most people live within a five-iron or two of a park, farm or woods. The Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority (CRPR) operates 54 parks, meadows, natural areas, preserves and other sites across the area totaling 915 acres of nature to explore and enjoy. Couple those with abundant state forests and Penn State’s holdings – including the Arboretum – and the opportunities for local outdoor recreation are limitless.

The only minor catch with having so much fun outdoors is that occasionally nature calls. Just not in a pretty, songlike way.

Jeff Goldblum’s character in “The Big Chill” has a healthy attitude about such nature calling when he says, "That’s the great thing about the outdoors, it’s one giant toilet."

However, some of us might not be so eager to avail ourselves of this giant natural rest facility. Especially during those times when temperatures dip below freezing. Although during those times most of us do our recreational activities indoors where standard man-made restrooms are readily available. And some of us would do more if a certain you-know-who would let us. But we’ve already told that story.

In any case, what happens as the temperature climbs into the 40’s and above and we do spend copious amounts of time outdoors?

Gratefully, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the arrival of warm weather in Happy Valley heralds the return of the big blue boxes.  

“What are the big blue boxes?” you ask.

Why, the port-a-potties of course!

Thank goodness for the big blue boxes. Or the green ones as the case may be. If you are a parent out with your kids, a runner getting in some miles, friends engaging in a game of soccer, tennis or basketball, a dog-lover walking your best friend, or someone out just smelling the flowers, the knowledge that a blue box is nearby can be comforting. Or a downright godsend depending on the situation.

After more than a decade of running in and around State College I consider myself an expert on blue box locations, but in the interest of checking my knowledge I recently asked Ron Woodhead, the director of Parks & Recreation for CRPR, if he could share any information about the presence of portable toilets.

On a side note, if you see Ron around town be sure to wish him well. After more than 19 years leading CRPR (since March 1997) Ron will be retiring on Aug. 31. A 1975 Penn State grad who was a Parks and Recreation Director in Tioga County and Montgomery County before finding his way back to State College, Ron has done an outstanding job leading CRPR. He is one of the faces around town who keeps the Happy in Happy Valley. Or you can just wave to him and his wife Ann as they pass you by on their motorcycle.

Back to the potties…  whether you refer to them as a port-a-potty, port-a-john, port-a-pot, or job-johnny, here are some interesting facts about the plethora of them in the area.

Several local parks are lucky enough to have a potty presence year-round. They are: Lederer, Tudek Dog Park, Blue Spring, Slab Cabin, Bernel Road, and Circleville. In addition, Spring Creek and Tudek Park each get a port-a-potty in the winter months when their regular restroom facilities are locked and winterized. So for those of you who have to get out even in the cold, plan your activities in or near those places.

Then there are a number of parks who receive a potty from April 1 to Oct. 31. They are: High Point, Radio Park, Tusseyview, Autumnwood, Fairbrook, Greenbriar-Saybrook, Haymarket, Homestead, Suburban, Fasick, Kaywood, Nittany View, Dalevue, Oak Hall, Graysdale, Green Hollow, Oakwood, and Woodycrest. In addition, Circleville and Spring Creek get extras due to the geographic size of the parks.

For those of you who get concerned about germs and cleanliness, each porta-potty is emptied and cleaned at least once a week. If you notice a port-a-potty in need of repairs or damaged, let CRPR know – it must be fixed within five days once the vendor has been notified.

Probably the most wonderful thing about these stations of relief is they cost less than $3 a day. Which is a pittance compared to the number of uses many of them receive.

So as the temperature continues to get warmer and you and your family utilize all the wonders the great outdoors has to offer, be glad you live in Happy Valley where one of the many benefits is bringing a little civilization to nature. Thank goodness for the blue boxes!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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