Having had a career as a professional geographer before retiring to Willow Valley two years ago, I instinctively looked closely at the aspect of Willow Valley’s location before and since moving. My wife, Christine, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how much we really love the Lancaster area, especially the many location advantages. Like many residents, we moved from a large city and it has been wonderful experiencing life in a small city. We seem to have the advantages of a large city, without all the size, congestion, and traffic associated with a big city. Lancaster often appears on lists of best places to live in the U.S. According to a 2012 U.S. News and World Report article, Lancaster was ranked #1 (out of 190 metro areas) in overall feeling of well-being by its residents. These well-being indexes are sometimes referred to as “happiness” indexes.
Let’s look at location from our neighborhood and then work our way out to the City of Lancaster and beyond. My wife and I live on the Lakes Campus and there is a convenient medical complex adjacent to the campus. We can actually walk to our doctors, dentists, orthopedic center, and even get lab work done. Within a mile of our campus there are two grocery stores, car maintenance shops, many restaurants, a movie theater, pharmacies, and banks. In fact, some of these places are within walking distance of the Manor campus.
When you tell people you are from Lancaster, most people have heard of Lancaster and they also have a positive impression of the area. Lancaster spawns images of beautiful farmland and the Amish culture. That image is certainly justified and we were impressed to discover that Lancaster County is the #1 county in the United States in permanently preserving farmland. The people of Lancaster realize the importance of their rural culture and the importance of preserving it. I love riding the Lancaster County backcountry roads on my bike and I can be in the countryside within 5 minutes after leaving the Willow Valley campus.
Willow Valley’s location has the wonderful joy of the closeness to that beautiful countryside, but also the nearness of a vibrant downtown Lancaster. We are only 3 miles from downtown Lancaster, which is a straight shot by car or bus. We are also only a 20-minute drive to the far side of town, but live on the southern, quieter side of town.
Did I mention the vibrant nature of downtown Lancaster? There seems to be so much more here than you would expect from a city of its size. The downtown Central Market has been in operation for 275 years and was designated as one of America’s “Great Public Places” in 1995. Strolling through the market epitomizes what so many folks love about modern urban life. The art and culture scene is certainly at a much higher level than we expected from a city this size. We have the historic Fulton Theater, the newer Ware Center, along with numerous local theater companies that provide all sorts of theater and music. Over the last decade or so Lancaster has become a Mecca for art studios and galleries. Museums and history are also part of Lancaster. Then we have the monthly “Lancaster First Friday” when the downtown area, with its galleries and scores of restaurants is energized. The wonderful and lively urban environment is illuminated. Lancaster also has three local universities, Millersville, Franklin & Marshall, and Elizabethtown, which add to the richness of our community. These three schools provide additional culture along with lectures, classes for seniors, and wonderful sports programs. If you are a sports fan, we also have our own local minor league baseball team, the Lancaster Barnstormers. Watching a baseball game in a small stadium and in a family friendly atmosphere is the way my wife and I love to watch a ball game.
Lancaster’s centralized location is a wonderful plus, too. If you are over 65, you can get a free pass to travel the entire city bus system and the buses stop on each Willow Valley campus. In fact, that pass provides free bus service in any metropolitan area of Pennsylvania. The bus system provides us with a quick 15-minute ride downtown and also allows us to ride to nearby towns like Lititz, Columbia and New Holland. You will know you not in the big city anymore because of all the friendly conversations always going on between the bus driver and all the passengers. Lancaster is also conveniently located to Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and the ocean beaches. The train station in downtown Lancaster has senior discount prices to Philly, DC, New York City, and the Philly airport.
There are always scores of events and activities to keep us busy at Willow Valley, but it is also wonderful to get out into the local community to experience everything Lancaster has to offer. If you still long for those big, busy cities, however, they are not far away.
By Dale Johnson
Dale Johnson and his wife Christine moved to Willow Valley Communities from Towson, MD in 2015. Dale taught geography at Towson University, while Christine was a director of human resources with McCormick & Co. the international spice company.