FREMONT — Many improvements have been made to River Cliff Park since the Black Swamp Conservancy donated the 90-acre property at the Sandusky County Park District in 2018.
Native wildflowers and prairie grasses were planted, and the district applied for a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for an accessible paddle boat ramp to the adjacent Sandusky River.
The Park District also spent $350,000 on renovations to the Park Pavilion and moved its offices to the Ballville Township site.
With a proposed $1.5 million project to turn the lodge into a community gathering space, the park district, the Fremont Rotary Club, and city and county officials are leading the campaign to raise funds and educate residents about the scope of the project.
Gathering place in a pristine region
Park District Superintendent Andrew Brown spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Fremont at the lodge on Thursday about the project and showed a video that gave visitors a virtual tour of what it could look like the renovated lodge.
The Fremont Rotary Club has launched a “2 Projects 1 Goal” fundraising campaign on its upcoming 100th anniversary to help fund the Rotary Lodge at River Cliff and Downtown Fremont Amphitheater projects .
Brown said the goal of the project is to provide a space for people to gather in a pristine natural area.
He said that with the Park District office moving to River Cliff Park, he sees bald eagles, wild turkeys and other wildlife while he is at work, which Brown wants people to see. County residents also benefit when they use the lodge and visit the park.
Improvements planned as part of the Rotary at River Cliff Lodge project include the addition of a large outdoor pavilion connected to the lodge’s interior space, as well as patio space around the lodge.
With these upgrades, the lodge could host private weddings, birthday celebrations, community group reunions and graduation parties, Brown said.
Brown said a food court would also be added, although he stressed it would not be a full commercial kitchen.
Wants to allow alcohol at events
“We’re not looking to compete with private companies,” Brown said.
Brown said the Park District would like to make River Cliff Park the first facility in the Park District authorized to allow alcohol on-site for events.
The estimated cost of the River Cliff Lodge upgrades is $1.5 million, with the Fremont Rotary Club committing to raise $250,000.
Brown said the park district will raise the remaining $1.25 million through donations and grants.
Park District funding for operating River Cliff Lodge is provided through a $1 million voter-approved property tax levy in 2016, Brown said.
Depends on fundraising, material costs
Brown said what the park district can do with the renovations will depend on how the fundraiser goes and the cost of building materials, with costs recently rising due to inflation.
Hal Hawk, Fremont Rotary chair of its centennial committee, said the group and local officials want to complete both projects by 2026, if not sooner.
He asked members to talk about projects and make donations to help Fremont Rotary’s fundraising efforts.
“It’s great for Fremont. It’s meaningful for the county,” Hawk said.
More information about the Fremont Rotary Club’s fundraising campaign for River Cliff and the Downtown Amphitheater is available at www.fremontrotary100.com.