Now that a small portion of Rotary Park on the east side of La Salle is open, it’s easier to envision just how valuable of a natural resource and open space the city received from Illinois Cement.
Two new picnic shelters will add space for family and group outings in the outdoors, and the kids should enjoy what may well be the Illinois Valley’s largest complexes of playground equipment. There’s also a small pond near the playground, and currently a cleared area through the timber leads to the newly-opened dog park (as does a rough road just north of some woods north of the main entrance). By the way, the pond's not ready for anglers and no, you can't go swimming there.
A lot of land had to be cleared and seeded for parkland lawns and athletic fields, but now the city and park developers have a golden opportunity to try to some natural planting and prairie seeding.
For walkers and hikers, there’s a smooth, wheelchair-friendly paved path that circles the newly opened portion of the park north of U.S. 6, east of the Little Vermilion River and west of Interstate 39 near the Troy Grove Blacktop (East Fifth Road).
A stroll up the trail to the south gives hikers or casual walkers one of the best and certainly newest views of the Illinois Valley. From one promontory, you can view the Little Vermilion valley to the west and the Illinois Valley and Abraham Lincoln Memorial bridge to the south and southwest. The view to the west in summer is mostly trees, accentuated by the twin spires of St. Hyacinth Church in La Salle.
But there will be more to the park than what opened July 6. A second phase will include a senior league baseball diamond — La Salle currently doesn’t have an official-sized field for its senior league; M&H field has a “short porch” in right. Future phases — long-range plans — call for more trails, and perhaps a hillside amphitheater, if there are enough donations to the Rotary Park Foundation.
This writer is looking forward to the day when a trail or even a road leads to the far northwest end of the park. The city owns a large lake up there not far from the Little Vermilion River. Rotarian and major booster of the project Gary Gearhart assures us it’s beautiful up there but opening that portion of the park is years in the future.
Regardless, the new park already provides open space, recreation and in autumn should provide a phenomenal vista for the fall colors.