Park History

        Wesley residents stand proud with Mr. Merlin Karlock on the historical day.
                             Wesley now owns Rivals property

New riverfront park open to the public dawn to dusk

Editor Pam Monson
Taken from the Freepress


Crickets chirped in lush grass while pen points scratched across paper and deer were discussed in hushed whispers. Moments later, a swan stretched its wings across the Kankakee River, streaming along the banks of a new park owned and managed by Wesley Township.


The Wesley Township Board assembled Friday, Sept. 11, to complete the title transfer of nearly 10 bucolic acres, with 900 feet of frontage on the river. The property, at the south end of Rivals Road [aka Resthaven Road] is a gift from Merlin Karlock of Kankakee.


Karlock had been working on rehabilitating the property for about four years when Dan Jay, who became township supervisor in May, asked if he would consider gifting the land to Wesley Township.


"I wasn't sure about the idea at first - neither was he, I don't think," Karlock said Friday after signing the land over to the township.


In a letter to the township board Karlock notes when he purchased the former Rivals Club it was a "total disaster, with dubious reputation and buildings unfit for human habitation." There were rusted out campers and trailers, garbage piles and debris everywhere. It was well known, and not in a good way, as the site of the annual motorcycle helmet roast, and was rumored to be a place to buy or abuse drugs.


"The tree-studded acreage and 900 feet of prime river frontage seem[ed] to call out for my help and previous experiences in renovating dilapidated properties," Karlock wrote.


The first steps were the removal of all garbage piles, rusted campers and vehicles, accumulated piles of brush, and both sick and dead trees. The second step was a precision trimming of the remaining trees.


"All at once it became obvious that this property could be molded into a little paradise," he added.


Next the dilapidated wood and block structures, riddled with mold and asbestos-related materials, had to be removed. The expense of this remediation was far more costly than anticipated, but for appearance and health reasons, it was an obvious necessity. To the best of Karlock's knowledge there is no other apparent indication of toxic or environmental problems.




"Now that the property is looking good, it appears to me its best use would be for the benefit of all Wesley Township residents," Karlock wrote. "The park like environment with its 900-foot of river frontage and boat ramp can very well be the catalyst which allows Wesley Township residents to become better acquainted and work collectively to enhance the area's economy and lifestyle.


"I feel good about being able to make this donation and sincerely believe the Wesley Township officials are now, and those in the future, will be capable of successfully using this subject property in a manner accommodating to all its residents. 


The donation is subject to a no discrimination policy involving age, religion, race, creed or politics.


In a post script, Karlock asked the Township Board to consider eliminating the Rivals Club name and hence, its infamous reputation. He suggested involving the citizens, allowing them to make suggestions, possibly holding a contest to select the best name. The township officials were also encouraged to use the property to create volunteer opportunities.


"I'd just like to say, this is a great facility, as you can see. In the months to come the board is going to be putting a program together about how to deal with the property, how to use it, and I would like any and all input from the entire township.


"We encourage people to get involved and bring your ideas forward. Debate and argument lead to better answers, so bring your thoughts and ideas to the township, and let's work on this together," Jay commented.


The board will also be looking at ways for the property to be self-sufficient; so that any expenses, like mowing and liability insurance, are covered by use-generated fees. Jay also wants to create a work program that will provide minimum wage employment on township projects, including care of the proposed park, for those seeking monetary assistance from the township.


A sign on the gate at the end of Rivals Road, the entrance to Rivals Park, honors Karlock. Jay said signage for the park in perpetuity, no matter its name, will always indicate it was Karlock's gift to the people of Wesley Township.


The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

                                      WEDNESDAY, JULY 29, 2009                                                                Wesley to accept Rivals Club donation
                    10 beautiful riverfront acres to become public park

Editor-Pam Monson
Taken from the Freepress

 The Wesley Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept the gift of a 10-acre riverfront parcel formerly known as the Rivals Club.


The board held a special meeting Saturday morning, under a large pavilion at the site. Township supervisor Dan Jay started talking with the owner, Merlin Karlock, of Bourbonnais, before he was sworn into office, and in May, Karlock indicated he would like to gift the land to an entity as a park. Wesley Township was his first-choice recipient.


The board was informed of the offer in a closed session on May 18, and gave Jay permission to pursue it.


In a July 20 letter, Karlock said the Rivals Club has been rejuvenated and is ready for gifting, and that he does not intend to make further improvements. He asked Jay to discuss his proposal with the members of the board and the township attorney, and let him know if the board objects to the acquisition so that he can proceed with donating it to his second-choice entity. Karlock enclosed a key to the property's front gate so the township officials and interested parties could view the former club of Helmet Roast fame.


Members of the audience were concerned about the loss of property taxes due to government ownership of the land, liability insurance and potential uses for the land. Jerry Cantu pointed out that township ownership of the land will mean township taxpayers will pick up Karlock's share of the tax bill.


"...You have to understand the numbers you're talking about. I know that same argument has been going through the township regarding the forest preserve, and when somebody hears that right away they're thinking, "oh, hundreds of dollars out of my pocket," Jay said. "That's where that whole argument is false."


The supervisor explained that when a property goes off the tax rolls, it's not the 2,500 people of the township picking up and sharing the tax bill, but the nearly 1 million residents of the county.


"Each time a property like this goes off the tax rolls, it's a matter of pennies, not dollars," Jay commented.


According to the Will County supervisor of assessments, the property was purchased in 2005 for $367,000. It is assessed at $77,583. Wesley Township and the township road district combined will receive roughly $300 of the total $4,200 due for levy year 2008 (payable in 2009). Only the township portions would be shared by Wesley taxpayers - an amount equal to far less than $1 per household.


In addition, board members don't know who Karlock's second choice entity may be, but they speculate the land could wind up in the hands of the Forest Preserve District of Will County or the city of Wilmington, neither of which would pay taxes on the land. Jay explained the city could annex the former club property by using the Kankakee River to be contiguous.


When discussions about the township receiving the property began, Jay contacted the Township Officials of Illinois Risk Management Association (TOIRMA), the township's liability insurance provider. Jay was told the existing township insurance policy provides blanket coverage.


Resident Jan Boward asked about the additional liability of allowing the public access to the river.


"The liability would be greater if somebody slipped and fell and drowned," she said.


Jay had explained that the property would be riverfront recreational space, and the TOIRMA official he spoke to said the township would be covered. Any additional costs associated with maintaining liability coverage would be recovered via park user fees.


"...We would have to develop some fees if there's additional cost," board member Deb Tennant said. "The intention is not to take this on and make it a burden on the rest of the township."


Board members see the existing boat launch as a revenue generator - even if run on the honor system with a drop box.




Boaters leaving their vehicles on-site could not anonymously put in and leave, and the township could institute some type of monitoring system to match payments with vehicles. Township clerk Sandy Vasko noted some local farm stands run on the honor system, and they make money.


Jay said in time, the members of the board, or the land use committee, will develop a plan for the property's use, including ways to generate enough revenue from it that the facility would be self sustaining if not profitable.


The township has about $1,700 in developer contributions set aside for park property acquisition or development that will be used for initial care of the former club property while the board develops a plan for it. In the absence of a park district, the township is the park manager.


Jay, who as supervisor is responsible for the township's general assistance program, added that he will be putting a work program in place that will provide minimum wage employment on township projects, including care of the proposed park, for those seeking monetary assistance from the township. Wesley Township is required by law to hold tens of thousands of dollars in its general assistance fund.


"I'd like to see the board approve his gift and accept this for the township because this is an asset," resident Kathy Kennedy commented. "I'd like also to see when you make your motion that you put in there that this property cannot be sold at an annual town meeting - only through a vote on the ballot for the voters so we cannot lose this on a whim of 50 people crammed into the shed and making a vote. Protect this property because it's an asset, the only asset the township has..."


"You're sitting on a pot of gold, that's what it is," Gina Stachowiak added. "...It's a no-brainer."


A show of hands indicated nearly everyone in the audience was in favor of accepting Karlock's gift.


Upon the board's return from a brief closed session discussion, Jay announced the members were in favor of accepting the donation.


The board will discuss at its next meeting the terms by which this property could actually leave the township's ownership. Protections will be included in the deed.


"Let's by resolution make it that it has to be an official township vote, so that everybody, when they go to the ballots, votes on whether to keep or lose the property - so there's no fast track, nobody can make a quick decision," Jay said. He explained that if in some way ownership of the property creates a hardship for the township, the board wants to have a way to find relief.


"The intention is to excel, with this being a beautiful park for the township," Jay commented. "But if for some reason it's not working for us, it would be nice to have an out."


Tennant made the motion to accept the gift of the Rivals Club property, which Wanda Stetzo seconded. Tennant, Stetzo, Tom Donohue and Jay voted their approval, to more applause from the dozen or so residents in attendance.


On Tuesday, Karlock said he owns quite a bit of land in Will County and the state, and he's been giving some parcels away. He thought of the residents of Wesley Township, and wanted them to be the recipients of his gift.


"It seems most appropriate I give it to Wesley Township," he said.
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