Brainerd Rotary park creation is gift that keeps on giving

Brainerd Rotary acquired 38 acres of land and 1,400 feet of Mississippi River frontage and donated the property to the city of Brainerd on Jan. 3, 2012, for use as a park.

Rotary Park gateway at Jenny Street and East River Road along the Mississippi River in Brainerd.
Snow covers the top of the Rotary Park gateway at Jenny Street and East River Road along the Mississippi River in Brainerd on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — It was a decade ago to the day that the Brainerd Rotary gifted acres of land to the city of Brainerd for the creation of a park to be enjoyed by many.

Brainerd Rotary acquired 38 acres of land and 1,400 feet of Mississippi River frontage and donated on Jan. 3, 2012, the land below Pump House Hill south of Kiwanis Park in Brainerd. The unmistakable Rotary Park gateway is at Jenny Street and East River Road along the river.

“We’re deeding this land to the city hopefully for public use forever and ever and ever,” Rotarian John Forrest had said at the time.

Forrest is co-chair of the Rotary Club of Brainerd’s Park Committee. Rotary Riverside Park is the club’s largest project in the lakes area. Rotary International’s initiatives include supporting education and protecting the environment.

“The diverse ecology of the park … serves as a resource for the educational efforts, including natural science and biology classes, for the nearby schools,” Forrest said Wednesday, Dec. 28, about the park’s proximity to Brainerd High School and Central Lakes College.


Rotary Riverside Park includes more than a mile of Mississippi River frontage, over 1,250 feet on Little Buffalo Creek, about 45 acres of wetlands, a tree-canopied flood plain and a 14-acre field, according to Forrest.

“The Rotary Board felt that land acquired would serve best as a Brainerd city park … and that the land, riverfront, wetland and creek frontage could best be protected, from an environmental standpoint, and still be available for public use by being made into a city park,” Forrest said.

A natural scenic area grant was received from the state and a grant came from the Brainerd Lakes General Fund with the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, according to officials. Mark Ostgarden, Brainerd’s former city planner, was instrumental in acquiring the grant from the state.

“It was also the Rotary’s Board of Directors' belief that the development of the park would enhance the effort of making the Brainerd riverfront available for the citizens of Brainerd, Baxter and Central Minnesota,” Forrest said.

Developing the Brainerd riverfront for public use enhances the livability of Brainerd and promotes economic development by having the park as well as the riverfront be a positive recreational amenity for residents and visitors, according to Forrest.

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“Being close to the downtown business district should bring visitors to the park and to downtown,” Forrest said.

The park's recreational uses include walking and hiking; biking on Buffalo Hills Trail, cross-country skiing; snowshoeing; birdwatching; wildlife observation; kite-flying; photography; and picnicking

Rotary Riverside Park was intended as an urban natural retreat serving as a natural resources-based city park for use by individuals, families and groups to explore, enjoy and participate in low-impact outdoor activities, wildlife observation and educational opportunities.


“The Mississippi is one of the world’s great rivers and for the city of Brainerd to have … public land available for public use in the city park system is a wonderful attribute that will serve the people for generations,” Forrest said Wednesday.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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