LEFT: The Hot Springs Rotary Club’s latest project was the construction of a 28x40 picnic shelter in Brookside Park, started in early May and completed in late June. The project was a collaborative effort with the City of Hot Springs and SHEDCO.
RIGHT: Hot Springs Rotarians happily serve water, pop and beer at their annual Fall River Fourth Street Dance held in Centennial Park this past Saturday night.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – For anyone who enjoyed this past weekend’s Fall River Fourth of July celebration in Hot Springs, it’s hard to imagine how different the experience would have been without the Hot Springs Rotary Club.
Not only did they start and continue to put on the street dance and parade each year, but they are also the group responsible for providing many of the amenities in the city parks, specifically the bathroom and two picnic shelters in Centennial Park and one picnic shelter in Butler Park. They also put a roof on the band shell stage in Centennial Park and built the “potty on the path” near the Mueller Civic Center, to name just a few of their other contributions to their community.
The Rotary’s most recent gift to Hot Springs was in providing the labor to erect yet another picnic shelter in Brookside Park, which was a collaborative effort with the City of Hot Springs and the Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation (SHEDCO).
Longtime Hot Springs Rotary Club member Gary Schuh said their group began focusing on improving the city’s parks in the late 1980s around the time when the Mueller Civic Center was built. He said they utilized the city’s surplus blocks from that project to build the Centennial Park bathrooms on a single weekend by securing a bunch of volunteers, who were paid afterwards with a steak dinner and a relaxing, beverage-filled outing to the lake.
Over the next few years, the Rotary put their focus on building picnic shelters beginning with the 20’ x 40’ shelter on the north end of Centennial Park, followed by one near the ballfields in Butler Park a few years after that. About 20 years ago, they completed the second shelter in Centennial Park followed by the “potty on the path” behind the Mueller Center a few years after that and the Centennial Park stage roof.
Schuh said in the late 1980s, the average age of the Hot Springs Rotary Club was about 40 years old and they were very active and excited about creating things that would provide a lasting legacy for their community. Today, while they may have slowed down a bit, that same drive to help their community is still prevalent, despite the average age of their members now being in their 70s.
Many of the projects the Rotary Club is able to support is thanks to the groups fundraising efforts, which includes beer and beverage sales at events like the Fourth of July street dance and community picnic, as well as brat sales at events like the Arts & Crafts Festival and the Spring Fling Home & Garden Show.
The Rotary’s newest picnic shelter project in Brookside Park was actually the result of SHEDCO’s Andrea Powers becoming a cohort member of the American Walking College, which according to their website, offers its “participants an opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge around creating vibrant, safe, accessible communities for all.”
As part of her membership with the Walking College, Powers met with community members with mobility issues, which she said, makes up about 22 percent of the Hot Springs population. During those meetings, she learned about their concerns which included the fact there were not any charging stations for their electric scooters and wheelchairs along the Freedom Trail. She also learned that they had concerns about the lack of storm shelters on the south end of the trail.
Powers said when she discussed her findings with the City of Hot Springs, and councilmember Larry Pratt, who chairs the Parks & Rec Committee, was able to help secure some reallocated funds to purchase the materials for the shelter. Powers then secured a grant to purchase the electric charging equipment that will be installed at the shelter.
With their experience in building picnic shelters, the City of Hot Springs then approached the Rotary Club to help make it a reality.
Kelly Cape, who coordinated the project on the Rotary side, said the construction involved six to 10 volunteers over the course of two work days, which first included erecting the frame and then a few weeks later, the steel roof. Cape said local contractor Ken Fischer volunteered his expertise with installing the roof, which wouldn’t have been possible without his help. Schuh also lauded Fischer as a “God send” for his help in many of the Rotary’s previous projects, dating all the way back to the beginning.
This newest picnic shelter is the Rotary’s largest at 28 feet x 40 feet, and was set on a pre-existing concrete slab and also next to pre-existing bathroom facilities. The park also includes playground equipment, a “swimming hole” and is the only city park where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited, making it truly a family-friendly experience.