Community Collaboration To Revitalize Levings Park

Rockford Sharefest has officially announced that Levings Park was selected, which means in June, volunteers will donate their gifts, abilities, and resources to rebuild Levings Park, making it even better.

Levings Park is more than just a lake, it’s a destination. For 82 years, Levings Park, 1420 S. Pierpont Ave., Rockford, has served as a culturally diverse park that has helped many families over the years create memories that will last a lifetime. Close to 50,000 visitors enjoyed Levings Park in 2016, and that number is only expected to grow. The lake is also central and crucial to the livelihood of Levings Park, but is in need of preservation.

In the late 1980s, community advocate Elbert Jordan rallied residents and the Park District to renovate and rejuvenate Levings Park. Over the years, the Rockford Park District has committed significant funding to improve Levings Park, increase sustainability, and develop new amenities in response to growing recreational trends. The Rockford Park District asked Rockford Sharefest to consider selecting Levings Park for the 2017 summer project, and help the Rockford Park District with the next phase of a long-term master plan. Today, Rockford Sharefest has officially announced that Levings Park was selected, which means in June, volunteers will donate their gifts, abilities, and resources to rebuild Levings Park, making it even better.

“We are very excited for thousands of community members to help us expand and improve park amenities, as every aspect of Levings Park will be transformed while building unity and relationships along the way,” said Rockford Park District Assistant Executive Director Jay Sandine.

Volunteers Needed

Sharefest 2017 takes place at Levings Park June 2–10, 2017. “This is an opportunity as a community to step up and usher in the next wave of energy at Levings Park,” said Creig Day, Director of Rockford Sharefest. There will be three volunteer shifts a day, and anyone age 12 and older can volunteer. For more information and to sign up to volunteer, visit www.rockfordsharefest.com.

About Rockford Sharefest

Rockford Sharefest exists to identify, develop, and lead projects that empower and release volunteers to make an impact for the common good. Since 2007, Rockford Sharefest has done major makeovers in Rockford public schools, and last summer, Alpine Park received a makeover.

Additional Park Improvements

Over the past two months, the Rockford Park District, City of Rockford, Winnebago County, West Rock Wake Park, Southwest Ideas for Today and Tomorrow (SWIFTT), and Rockford Sharefest have held neighborhood meetings with residents, businesses, and church leaders to gather feedback about park needs, and begin to work together again to refurbish, restore, and upgrade Levings Park based on a multi-year master plan. Enhancing and expanding the recreational amenities at Levings Park include:

  • West Rock Wake Park expansion
  • Shelter and beach house renovations
  • Grill replacements
  • New playground built in cooperation with Healing Communities, Rockford Park District Police along with other area law enforcement, and Levings Park neighbors
  • Repurposing beach area and eliminating swimming due to recreational trends
  • Removal of 300 dead ash trees due to Emerald Ash Borer
  • Construction of new concert area pending fundraising efforts
  • Levings Lake water quality improvements

Water Quality Improvements

Levings Lake will act as a catalyst for future growth and development at the park. Water quality improvements must prevent phosphorous and sediment from entering Levings Lake from upstream sources, and treat phosphorous and sediment already circulating within the lake. If nothing is done, nuisance algae blooms will be a problem, sediment will build, and the fish habitat will suffer. The following solutions will improve the recreational use of the lake, including for wake boarding and fishing.

  • BioHaven® Floating Islands – 51 floating islands will help maintain water quality by acting as floating wetlands to clean the lake water of excessive nutrients, and provide fish habitat in an area of the lake where very little exists. BioHaven® Floating Islands help repair ecosystems by accelerating the natural recovery processes. BioHaven® Floating Islands will create a long-term solution to the buildup of sedimentation, and will reduce future costs of dredging the lake. HOW FLOATING TREATMENT WETLANDS WORK > BIOHAVEN LOCATION MAP >
  • Filter Strips – Filter stormwater runoff sheeting over parklands into the lake, control erosion, and deter resident geese
  • Water Movers – Designed to blow the algae blooms away from West Rock Wake Park. They can be turned on and off as necessary, and can be moved as conditions change.
  • Native Aquatic Plantings – Rooted aquatic plants are an important component of a healthy lake ecosystem; they stabilize soils and shorelines, provide much-needed oxygen, and will also improve the fishery by providing nursery areas for juvenile fish, and feeding grounds for adults.
  • Addition to Existing Silt Basin – Silt fences will disrupt and slow the water’s flow, allowing more sediment and other debris to settle out and be caught within.

The entire Levings Lake ecosystem will serve as an educational ground for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), regardless of grade level.

Improved Fishing

Levings Lake is stocked every June with 1,500 pounds of catfish, and has wheelchair accessible parking spaces and a dock. Water quality work being done below the waterline thanks to the addition of BioHaven® Floating Islands will help provide a diverse habitat for pollinators and wildlife, and increase fish populations.

West Rock Wake Park Expands

In 2014, West Rock Wake Park opened, and attendance numbers continue to grow. “It was a dream of ours to open a cable park in Rockford and remove the cost prohibitive measures of water skiing. Last summer, we watched 2,000 people experience our wake park. With the exciting momentum and community support for this park, we are ready to invest and expand. A larger full-size cable system will double our size, andallow us to accommodate 60 to 100 riders a day,” said Daniel Jarrett, West Rock Wake Park owner. West Rock is northern Illinois’ premier wakeboarding facility, and will be a full-sized cable park managing up to 6–7 riders at any given time, versus one rider in the current system. This environmentally friendly cable technology allows individuals without the means to a boat to experience the water at an affordable price. It provides access to all citizens regardless of their economic status. West Rock expects the expansion to be complete in early July 2017. West Rock draws local, regional, and national customers ranging in age from 4 to 78.

Concert Venue Improvements

Music, arts, and culture is easy to find almost every Sunday during the summer at Levings Park. In 2016, more than 8,000 people enjoyed free entertainment thanks to Live at Levings or Domingos en el Parque. Live at Levings started in 1986, from to an idea by Elbert Jordan. Live at Levings is a talent showcase featuring a variety of musicians, singers, dancers, poets, and much more. It’s an opportunity for local aspiring artists to take their performance to the stage and develop their skills.

Those who have appeared in the national spotlight have also performed at Levings Lake, such as:

  • Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child
  • Ann Nesby, Grammy Award-winning gospel singer
  • Paris Bennett, performed on American Idol
  • Fatally Unique, who performed on America’s Got Talent

Domingos en el Parque was founded by Armando Cárdenas in 2002. Domingos en el Parque not only provides cultural entertainment for all ages in the Latino community, but also offers families a venue to experience their heritage in music and dance in an “open air” park setting.

Currently, Live at Levings and Domingos en el Parque take place on the Rockford Park District’s Showmobile. A more permanent concert venue is currently in the engineering and design phase, but might include a new wood stage with overhead roof structure, additional concrete pads for vendors and entertainers, expanded seating, and shade structures.

About Levings Park Master Plan

The Rockford Park District believes in providing park space that meets the recreational needs of this and succeeding generations. The following details each of the four phases of the Levings Park Master Plan and funding opportunities. The majority of Phase Two is being completed thanks to a donation received from the Perks Family Foundation of $250,000. “The Levings Park project is a master’s thesis on how to build community through collaboration and collective impact, providing an insightful model for the regeneration of Rockford,” said Jim Keeling, Perks Family Foundation representative. The City of Rockford (led by Alderman Venita Hervey) and Winnebago County (led by County Board Representative Dorothy Redd) each committed $15,000 toward Phase Two of the project. Additional fundraising opportunities have been identified, and the Rockford Park District Foundation will work on raising $400,000 for a new concert venue.

Levings Cost Chart

FUNDRAISING >

History of Levings Park

1919 - Thomas Goodsman Levings donated his 135-acre farm with Kent Creek running through it to Rockford Park District

1928 - Park Commissioners voted to renovate Levings Park and the Kent Creek dam to create a lake

1935 - 700 men in the Federal Workforce Progress Administration program built a dam, and hand dug a large area for Levings Lake, and Levings Park officially opened to the public

Current Park Amenities

  • 135 acres of parkland
  • 22-acre lake with sand beach and beach house
  • Home to West Rock Wake Park, with concession building
  • Two free summer concert series – Live at Levings and Domingos en el Parque
  • Levings Lakers – a free fishing program that educates youth ages 6–12 on casting, proper use of fishing equipment, and core values
  • Fishing areas
  • Water sports
  • 1.3-mile paved roadway
  • Stone boathouse
  • Stone shelter
  • Three pavilion shelters
  • Two playgrounds
  • Basketball and tennis courts

Vision

To be the best urban parks and recreation system in North America, as measured by national standards and the citizens we serve.

Mission

To help people enjoy life by providing an exceptional parks and recreation system.

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