Miller Point Park work wraps up in time for Light the Night Saturday in McHenry

Park reconstruction began in late March for site purchased in 2013

Workers install a roof on the amphitheater at Miller Point Park on Aug. 30, 2023. The city started construction on March 20 to upgrade Miller Point Park, which will be officially unveiled to the public on Saturday at Light the Night. The $2.27 million construction cost includes nearly $600,000 in private donations.

When city of McHenry staff made plans for Miller Point Park, among the things included were four parking spots with electric hookups for food trucks.

On Saturday, residents will get their first look at the refurbished park and all of its amenities: public bathrooms, a water feature play area, amphitheater, grassy play areas – and those food trucks.

The newly renovated Miller Point Park at 1202 Riverside Drive will be unveiled at Light the Night, set for 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Highlights of the annual event include craft vendors, the lighting of fire globes along Boone Creek, live music and food trucks. The night ends with a fireworks show at 9:45 p.m.

“The river is the backdrop for anyone eating and playing at the park. Miller Point Park has become a hub for the riverwalk,” Bill Hobson, McHenry parks and recreation director, said of the upgrades.

McHenry bought the 2.62-acre property in early 2013 from the Charles J. Miller family trust. Prior to the city’s purchase, the land had sat idle, fenced off since 2009. That’s when a fire set by burglarizing arsonists destroyed the circa-1929 house on the site and the restaurant inside it.

Since its purchase, the city has sought to improve the area by adding walking paths, lighting, a paved area overlooking the river, a dock for boats and a small gazebo. The McHenry Riverwalk loops around around the park on its river- and Boone Creek-facing sides.

In December, the McHenry City Council approved a $2.27 million plan for renovating the park at Riverside Drive and the Fox River as part of its overall redevelopment. Construction began March 20 – the day after ShamROCKS the Fox - and should be wrapped up before Saturday’s event.

The city has worked closely with the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce and others to develop the park and riverwalk to take advantage of the Fox River, 3rd Ward Alderman Frank McClatchey said.

“People from around town and many miles away are spending time at this. That is the main focus, utilizing the water with the riverwalk and Miller Point,” McClatchey said.

Other amenities at the park predate the latest update.

McHenry’s new Riverwalk Shoppes opened for business on July 22. Positioned at the end of Riverside Drive where a pedestrian bridge crosses Boone Creek, a new monument sign now greets park users and shoppers.

For the past few years, All Marine Retro Rentals has offered boat, kayak, standup paddle board and paddle boat rentals from a kiosk at the park, as well as a drink and snack bar. The bar has reopened and the rental business will return, Hobson said.

People from around town and many miles away are spending time at this.

—  McHenry 3rd Ward Alderman Frank McClatchey

“This area started as a rental opportunity” and the city chose to continue that plan, Hobson said. Bistro chairs and tables adjacent to the kiosk also give park users a place to stop “and sit in the shade,” he added.

The smaller gazebo that was located at the far end of the park – where the ampitheater now sits – was moved closer to Riverside Drive.

One thing the city did not do was resurface the existing parking lot, which would have added $300,000 to the project cost, Hobson said.

Other portions of the overall park redevelopment were paid for through donations.

Gary Lang, the now-retired owner of Gary Lang Auto Group, donated $250,000 for the amphitheater. The A.D. Johnson Family Foundation donated $30,000 toward a seating wall on the river side, and the boat slips were reconstructed through a $20,000 donation from Will Hazen at Shore Werks. Cynthia Locke donated $7,500 for the new sod.

The water feature’s $75,000 price tag was paid for with $5,000 from the Kiwanis Club and $70,000 from the Cunat Family Foundation, while the RISE Up Foundation, ran by Mayor Wayne Jett and his wife Amber, donated $200,000 to overall site preparation costs.

“This Miller Point project as a whole really shows what McHenry is capable of with private-public projects. This is just the start of what we will be doing [in] years to come,” Jett said, adding a thank you to the companies who donated towards the park.

Hobson hoped to include a section of artificial turf in the park which would become a skating rink in the winter. Its $158,000 price tag nixed it from the city plans, but the sod installed instead can be lined with a membrane, flooded and frozen for winter ice skating, Hobson said.

“If a donor comes forward, we can still do the artificial grass” at a later date, he noted.

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