Rochester has plans for its parks

A downtown gathering spot, a new gateway and amphitheater for Municipal Park and rediscovering a hidden historic site are all among the goals outlined in the city of Rochester’s proposed new parks and recreation master plan.

In the works since October, the draft five-year plan is now ready for public review and comment and will be the subject of an April 2 public hearing by the planning commission. Among its goals are improved barrier-free access and aesthetics, trail enhancements and reforestation. When ultimately approved, it will serve as a road map for future improvements to the city’s parks.

Rochester’s population has topped 12,000 and the city is largely built out. Due to the housing slump, funds available for parks have been shrinking.  Still, the plan contains an ambitious list of projects, some of which have been on the wish list for several years.

One of those is the creation of a new entrance to Municipal Park from Main Street, along with construction of a covered amphitheater nearby. The city has received a bequest to help fund the amphitheater. City Manager Jaymes Vettraino said the current thinking is it would support local events in the park, like Art & Apples, which currently use an uncovered concrete slab as a stage.

The new entrance is being proposed for somewhere along the Paint Creek Trail. Vettraino said the city will work with property owners as that area of Main Street redevelops.

“We’ve got some right of way along the Paint Creek Trail,” he said. “We’d have to work cooperatively.”

The idea for a town square first appeared in a study for the Downtown Development Authority a few years back.  At the time, it was proposed for an area just west of the Rochester Elevator. The proposed new plan calls for a search for a new location.

“I think it’s appropriate because we’ve got a compact downtown,” Vettraino said.  One consideration is placing it closer to the new Municipal Park entrance. Thinking has also changed as far as moving the elevator, which has been for sale for years. The city now prefers to keep it at or near its historical location, Vettraino said.

Local history enthusiasts will be pleased to find a plan for a park on city-owned land that was once the site of a plant supporting the war effort in World War II. Dubbed Bunker Park for the concrete bunkers that still remain, it’s been the focus of study by the Rochester-Avon Historical Society.

RAHS President Rod Wilson said he was unaware of the site until another resident told him about it.  “We walked back in there and my wife said, ‘We need to make this a park,’” he said. Creation of the park is now in the historical society’s annual plan.

Wilson said a Rochester-based company called McAleer, which operated out of the Western Knitting Mills building, built a compound on the now overgrown site when it converted to wartime production of photo-flash bombs. The bombs were used for aerial reconnaissance, lighting the night sky for Allied planes. A line of thick, concrete, above-ground bunkers remains, along with the slabs of other buildings and an old mill pond, he added.

“There’s a lot of history back there that nobody knows about,” Wilson said.  “We’re doing work right now to place this location on the National Register of Historic Places. That’s how important it is.”

Wilson said two people were killed during the making and testing of the bombs. He recently saw a seven-minute film that shows the site and bomb production. “It’s really extraordinary,” he said.

The site is located between South Street and the Clinton River. The city has already conducted a phase one environmental assessment of the site, but Wilson said more testing is expected. The ultimate plan is to use the park for passive recreation and a trailhead.

Wilson said he’s excited that the society’s vision is also being embraced by the city through the proposed new parks and recreation plan.

“You start there,” he said. “The arrows are all pointing in our favor right now.”

Floyd King and the Bushwackers perform under a blazing sun in Rochester Municipal Park during the 2011 Art & Apples Festival. The previous year, their performance was rained out.

The draft Rochester 2012-2016 Parks and Recreation Plan is available for review and comment during the month of March at Rochester City Hall, 400 Sixth Street, and online at Submit comments to City Manager Jaymes Vettraino at or (248) 651-9061.

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