Mid 1950s to April, 2022

Rotary Park has been a club project from the early years of the club to the present day. The property we now call Rotary Park is actually on Village of Elk Rapids and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) property. Thus, it is a Village operated park.  However over the last ~65 years the Elk Rapids Rotary Club has been involved in most of the park's development and much of it's  maintenance. With this as background here are some of the major highlights of the park's evolution....and a look at the future.
  • In the early 1950s, the State of Michigan decided to re-route US-31 and bypass the Elk Rapids business district. The new route would use an old railroad track and cross the Elk River where an old swing bridge once was operational.
  • The new highway bridge over the Elk River was dedicated in 1953.
  • It appears that the first steps leading to what eventually became Rotary Park were taken by a few Rotarians in the late 1950's when they moved sand from a nearby sand hill and filled in an area south of the new bridge to relocate a small Visitor Information booth from River Street to the US-31 site.
  • In early 1962 it was apparent that the relocated information booth was too small.  A new larger information booth was needed. The Elk Rapids Progress reported in its April 26, 1962 edition that on the prior Saturday 1,200 cubic yards of sand was hauled  from a local sand hill to the new information booth site south of the bridge.
  • In 1964 the Elk Rapids Common Council supported a Rotary plan to complete the US-31 roadside Park.  The park held that name until 1971.
  • In the August 7 , 1969 issue of the Elk Rapids Progress it is reported that the Elk Rapids Rotary Club has undertaken perhaps its most ambitious project “....the construction of a new Chamber of Commerce building on US_31 at the site of the present and inadequate information booth....” . The A-Frame building would also serve as the new visitor information center.
  • In 1971 the club received approval from the Village to construct a picnic pavilion ~ 200 feet south of the still under-construction A-Frame. The income from the 1971 variety show was dedicated to the pavilion construction cost.
  • Then in 1971 came a very major action by the Common Council.  It voted to change the name of the park from US-31 Roadside Park to Rotary Park.
  • Eight years later, 1979, the Rotary Park monument was designed and constructed. This is a historical complex story on its own but here are the basics:
    • A close friendship developed between some members of the ER Rotary and the Rotary Club of Sault Ste. Marie Canada.  A member of the “Soo Club was an executive of Algoma Steel Company in Sault Ste. Marie. He told Keith Hubbell, designer of the monument and member of the Elk Rapids Rotary, that the company just acquired a state-of-the-art, computer driven steel plate cutting machine that was capable of cutting the shape of the Rotary Wheel.
    • The Soo club and Algoma Steel Co. donated the 1-inch thick, 7 ½-foot diameter steel plate Rotary Wheel to the Elk Rapids Rotary Club.  All expenses involved with the wheel construction and shipment to Elk Rapids was covered by the Soo Club and Algoma Steel.
    • The wheel itself is mounted in a concrete base, ~ 4'deep and contains 27 cubic yards of concrete. It is not going anywhere! Cost for construction of the monument and erecting the wheel was covered by donations, including some from the Traverse City Rotary Club. The Rotary Monument did not cost the village of Elk Rapids any taxpayer money.
    • In 1981 a gravel driveway and parking area were added to the park along with 17 pine log picnic tables. All donated by the club.
  • By 2001 the Rotary Park area, other than the Chamber of Commerce building, was looking quite worn and non-inviting for general use. Ducks and geese were using the picnic pavilion more than humans. Use your imagination on what that meant! The  monument was overgrown with weeds and the base was discolored with rust stains from the Rotary Wheel.
  • In 2012, as the club's Rotary International Centennial Project a decision was made to rejuvenate and expand the facilities at the park.
  • With approval from the Village of Elk Rapids, a series of  Rotary-sponsored projects brought the park back to life.  These projects included: a paved driveway and parking area, adding fencing and gates to the picnic pavilion to keep geese/ducks out and allow visitors in, constructing a deck on the lake side of the pavilion, replacing the shingled roof, painting the inside and outside of the pavilion, adding new metal picnic tables and removing weeds from the perimeter of the monument and had the monument re-painted.
  • In recent years a committee of local citizens and organizations, including the Elk Rapids Historical Society and led by Rotary, developed a plan to utilize the Rotary Park area as a history lesson for the community and visitors. Funding for the project came from Rotary as well as several other organizations and private citizens, no cost to the taxpayers. The Because of The Water Display is now a reality and tells the story of how the greater Elk Rapids area developed - Because Of the Water.
  • The development of Rotary Park is not over. The Paddle Antrim organization is currently working on plans to make the park a major element in its plans for the future. These plans will include a universal kayak launch, parking area for cars and trailers, and more.
What started out in the 1950s as a small Elk Rapids Rotary-driven project, moving truckloads of sand, is now a wonderful multi-use park for all to enjoy.