The City of Eaton Rapids has received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $2,678,190 from the Michigan Strategic Fund to improve the G.A.R. Island Park. Construction began on the project on February 22 and will continue until September 2022. The City will be contributing $760,310 to the project for a project total of $3,438,500.
The CDBG program provides grants to help develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.
A public hearing was held in July 2020 for citizens to examine and submit comments on the proposal application.
Island improvements include removing and replacing the bridge which goes from the Island to River Street. The replacement structure will not have steps but will have an ADA-compliant ramp to provide universal access to the park. Structural improvements will be made to flood protection walls. New walkways will be added, benches, and trail lights. A new walking path will be constructed to connect G.A.R. Island Park to Mill Pointe Park at the kayak livery. Outdated playground equipment on the island will be replaced.
The project is expected to increase vibrancy, walkability, and activity in the downtown area, which will then lead to more economic activity for Eaton Rapids.
“This is an exciting project for Eaton Rapids!” said Mayor Pro Tem Pam Colestock. “Not just for the city, but for the entire community, as so many people utilize this park daily. These improvements will add modern upgrades that will help to preserve the rich history of G.A.R. Island Park.”
The two-acre park has been a gathering place for the community for many years. In 1872, J.D. McAuliffe owned the park and created a small “resort” there, complete with a zoo. According to W. Scott Munn in his book “The Only Eaton Rapids on Earth,” the island was also bigger back then. The island extended to the north nearly to the Knight Street Bridge, and 40 to 50 feet to the south. Around the border of the island was a three-quarter mile path for carriage rides and walking.
The city purchased the Island in 1897. It was used for annual encampments by the Eaton County Battalion of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) from 1909 to 1929 and was named G.A.R. Island Park in 1909. It was a popular place for concerts in the 1940s and 1950s with Scott Munn’s Band.
One of the more unique items to be addressed in the island upgrade is a return of a historical feature of the island, a metal arch over the entrance to the island at Hamline Square. Early photos found by the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall and Museum indicate this arch existed and requested that it be included in the plan.
Access to the GAR Island Park will be closed while it is under construction, along with the lower parking lot #6 at the river’s edge, behind PNC Bank.