By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — Levings Lake Park in Rockford will look like a brand new facility when Sharefest 2017 concludes, volunteers say.
“It’s a great satisfaction to be out there,” Alderman Chad Tuneberg, R-3, said. “It’s great sense of community to participate in such an event.”
Tuneberg was among a host of public officials who volunteered last weekend for the nine-day cleanup project. The more than 2,000 volunteers expected to help are doing landscaping, painting and installing floating islands in the west-side lake.
A $52,000 upgrade to the playground and improvements of the picnic tables are also part of the Sharefest project. Tuneberg said while hundreds of trees have been destroyed by emerald ash borers, the park’s makeover will be beautiful and complete.
“Levings Lake is truly going to look remarkably different,” Tuneberg said.
Sharefest 2017 is part of a five-year, $1.4 million improvement plan made possible by the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, Rockford Park District and the Perks Family Foundation.
Those who’ve been enjoying Rockford’s premier wake park the past three years will see improvements to the popular West Rock Wake Park, as a $500,000 expansion will add a continuous looping system to allow up to seven riders at once. The addition is expected to double the amount of traffic and will accommodate up to 100 riders a day.
A total of 50 floating islands will be installed when the expansion is completed. Those will add a series of native plants that serve as a natural filtering system and habitat for nearby wildlife. Levings Lake is stocked with 1,500 of catfish every year and officials hope to see even more anglers at the already popular fishing spot with the addition of the islands.
“(The lake) is getting a total remake,” said Third Ward Alderman Venita Hervey, D-5, who volunteered alongside Tuneberg. “I thank Sharefest and also the Rockford Park District. It is safe and it is beautiful.”
There is still about $400,000 to raise to renovate the concert facility. Park district officials are offering naming rights opportunities for those interesting in improving the venue. Meanwhile, Sharefest volunteers will clean up the existing structure and prepare it for a summer schedule of events like the Live at Levings concert series that features, dance, art, music and spoken word.
Other public officials who volunteered were Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney, Sheriff Gary Caruana, and Winnebago County Board member Eli Nicolosi.
“Sharefest is not only a great way to lend a hand and help improve the community we all live in, but also an opportunity to take it to the next level between the City of Rockford and Winnebago County,” Nicolosi said. “We took that philosophy literally and rolled up sleeves, chatted about good ideas and most importantly got to work. There is definitely a new energy in the air, and a lot of good people are ready to make a difference on every level.”
Rockford Sharefest was founded in 2006 by former Heartland Community Church directional leader Mark Bankord. In the past 11 years, the organization has spearheaded dozens of cleanup and restoration projects for the Rockford Public Schools, City of Rockford, MELD emergency shelter and others. Its Million Meals program has delivered more than 1 million meals to mission partners in Haiti.
Volunteers slots are still available for this year’s Sharefest. Volunteers can sign up at rockfordsharefest.com, or just come to Levings Lake through Saturday, June 10. There are three shifts: 8 a.m-noon; 1-5 p.m.; and 6-9 p.m.
Levings Lake Park is at 1420 S. Pierpont Ave., Rockford. R.