The Elk Rapids Rotary Park – a popular roadside park just south of the village on US-31 and a key trailhead on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail – is set to undergo an estimated $1 million transformation. Rotary Park was awarded nearly a half million dollars this month in the first wave of Michigan Spark grants, paving the way for upcoming renovations, including new restrooms, redesigned parking, a non-motorized launch to provide the first universally accessible route on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail, a rain garden, improved channel access in the Elk River, and the state’s first non-motorized permanent wash station.
Rotary Park was one of 21 projects selected for funding in the first round of state Spark grants. The Village of Elk Rapids, working in partnership with nonprofit Paddle Antrim, was awarded $478,100 toward the park’s revitalization. (The only other northern Michigan project selected in round one was the expansion of Alford Park in Sault Ste. Marie, the remaining projects are concentrated in southern Michigan). The state plans to distribute $65 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds this year to local parks and recreation projects via $100,000 to $1 million grants. Approximately $15 million was allocated for round one this month, while $25 million will be awarded this spring and another $25 million this summer.
The grant boost pushed Elk Rapids and Paddle Antrim across the fundraising finish line for Rotary Park’s redesign. Other significant funding sources included $247,000 from the Michigan State Waterways Commission and a commitment of more than $100,000 from the village. Paddle Antrim – which hosts the Chain of Lakes Water Trail, a 100-plus mile water trail stretching through 12 lakes and interconnected rivers in Antrim, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse, and Kalkaska counties – has been working since 2015 with communities including Elk Rapids, about desired amenities and environmental improvements along the trail, according to Paddle Antrim Executive Director Deana Jerdee.
“In those initial discussions, there was some envisioning of improvements at Rotary Park,” Jerdee says. “That would be the main launch in Elk Rapids, so it made sense to do that in that location and space.” At the same, Elk Rapids was seeking community input on its updated recreation plan, and heard repeated comments about the desire for bathrooms, running water, and a universal kayak launch at the site. Over the next several years, the village and Paddle Antrim – with public input and the support of numerous other local organizations – developed a conceptual design for the park. The partners signed an agreement in 2021 to move forward with improvements and received state permit approval to create a safe water path from the park to the existing channel in Elk River.
With funding now in hand, the partners – who have already completed preliminary redesign engineering – are ready to move into final engineering and construction. The estimated $1 million transformation will include new fully-plumbed restrooms with a changing station and a redesigned parking lot with more spaces and improved flow, including trailer parking and designated loading/unloading zones. Several stumps will be cleared from the surrounding water to provide clear access to the Elk River boat channel. According to Jerdee, a crucial component of the project is environmental stewardship, so stumps will be removed in a time and manner best suited to protect fish and other habitats. A rain garden with native plants will also be installed to control stormwater runoff from the parking lot.
The redesign also includes two notable firsts. With one universal access launch already located on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail on the north end of Elk Lake in Kewadin, Rotary Park will soon boast the second universally accessible non-motorized launch. That will provide the first complete route on the water trail accessible to all users. Instead of users having to launch from and return to the same site, they will be able to travel continuously between Kewadin and Elk Rapids. “One of our interests is creating a quality experience for everyone on the water,” Jerdee says. “This provides a 100 percent universally accessible connected route from point A to point B.”
Rotary Park is also set to receive a new permanent wash station for kayaks and other non-motorized vessels. It will be the first in the state of Michigan, according to Jerdee, and will help protect invasive species from spreading through the Chain of Lakes. “We’re really excited about that,” she says. “Paddlers will have a chance to wash their boats before and after they enter the waterways to help reduce that spread,” Jerdee notes that while many motorized boat owners are familiar with washing stations, non-motorized users sometimes aren’t familiar with them or aware that kayaks and canoes also pose a risk of spreading invasive species. “We’re hoping this will help raise that awareness,” Jerdee says.
In a written statement, Elk Rapids Village President Karen Simpson said the village was “thrilled and honored” to receive grant funding through the competitive Spark program.
The next steps will include the village issuing a request-for-proposals (RFP) to select a firm to complete the final engineering and oversee construction. Some work could begin in Rotary Park yet this year, with the goal to have the new improvements installed and the park redesign completed in 2024.
Photo credit: Paddle Antrim