Iola Considers Quarry Recreation Area … in 1979

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The June 13, 1979 edition of the Iola Register reports on discussions of the Iola City Commissioners about turning the Lehigh Quarry Lake and surrounding property into a public recreation area:

The old Lehigh quarry at the south edge of Iola is again mentioned as a fishing lake and general recreation area. Members of the Iola Chamber of Commerce proposed converting the old rock quarry to a recreation site during a meeting of the Iola City Commission yesterday. City declines to make commitment on quarry.

Iola city commissioners yesterday agreed with Iola Chamber of Commerce representative Roger Parson that the old Lehigh quarry would make an excellent recreational area, but declined to commit the city to any financial or liability responsibility in the matter.

“Everyone here would like to see it become a recreational asset for the community,” Jack Hastings, Iola mayor, said, “but there doesn’t appear to be any way that we can handle it.” Hastings pointed out that the city has neither the money nor the manpower to turn the quarry into a recreational facility and then operate it.

Iola Industries owns the quarry and land around it and has indicated interest in selling it, primarily because of the liability risks involved. At one-time the quarry was offered to the state fish and game commission to be turned into a state fishing lake, but that agency declined the offer after studying the site.

Parson said, early in his presentation, that Iola Industries “wants to get rid of the quarry and I hate to see something with that potential escape the city.”

Parson said he feared the quarry would be sold privately, “ending once and for all an opportunity for the city to add it to its park system.”

Steve Robb, another Chamber member, questioned whether the city would be willing to take the quarry if it became available through a five-year development plan which would lessen cost to the city. “Not to pass the buck,” Hastings said, “but if the quarry is going to become a recreational area, it probably should be done on a countywide basis because everyone in the area would benefit from it. “I don’t think the city could support it properly,” he said. “It’s too big for us, but it is also too good to let die.” Hastings suggested that the Chamber members contact the Allen County commissioners for their reactions on the proposed project.

In January 1982 the city commission had further discussions:

There is probably a pretty good chance that sooner or later the old Lehigh quarry will become some kind of an Iola city park. Right now, though, later is probably better. The city’s planning commission has spent many hours during the past several years discussing the quarry. The planners think it would be a great addition to the city’s park system. The city commission and Mayor John Carder also think the quarry could be the focal point of a fine fishing-camping-picnicking facility.

There’s just one drawback: money. City officials know it would take big bucks, and a lot of them, to develop the quarry area and more dollars on down the road to maintain a park around it. Meanwhile, Iola has needs that are more: pressing than another recreation area.

Mayor Carder said arguing against the quarry was like saying you didn’t like motherhood and apple pie. But, the mayor also said that city fathers had to prioritize projects. “Taking into consideration the economic climate and concerns the city has, it is difficult for me to think that development of the quarry is very near the top of the list. In a year or so the economic picture may well brighten. Then, it would seem appropriate to consider a substantial investment in another recreational facility.”

Ultimately, the lake and part of the property was leased to the local Elks Club, as reported by the Iola Register on July 2, 1982:

The old Lehigh quarry was leased by the Elks this week. It will be converted to a private recreational area by the club. The Iola Elks and Iola Industries signed an agreement this week which gives the local club a long-term lease on the old Lehigh quarry and ground around the south edge of the manmade lake.

Leon Lundine, exalted ruler of the Elks club, said his group had put together a 5-year plan for turning the lake into a comprehensive recreational area. Initially, Lundme said, facilities would be be erected for camping, fishing and picnicking at the lake. Later, shelter houses will be built and a lighted trap shoot range erected.

“The thing we want to stress is that the quarry area will be totally family-oriented,” Lundine said.

Even before the formal signing of the lease agreement, Elks members started working on the area. An access road was constructed just east of “Moonlight Hill” and a small peninsula on the south side of the quarry was flattened out and covered with gravel. A holiday picnic and fishing derby for Elks members and their families will be held at the quarry this weekend.

“The quarry will be open to Elks members and their guests only on a regular basis.” Lundine said. “But we do have plans to open the quarry up to the general public for special days later on, probably by next year.”

The leasing of the quarry to the Elks ends on a long-running effort by Iola Industries to convert the area to a recreational facility. The quarry was offered to the state, Allen County and the city of Iola several times for conversion to a public park and fishing lake, but officials of each of the governmental units thought cost of constructing facilities and maintaining them would be too much of a burden.

Today, the Iola Elks Club still leases the Quarry Lake and parts of the southern and western shore, and maintains that property as a private amenity for its members and guests.

But with the development of the Lehigh Portland Trails, the initial vision of the quarry property as a public recreation area moves closer to reality, and in a way that no one at that time could likely have envisioned — public hiking and biking trails, funded by a healthy living grant, and developed and maintained by a non-profit organization and volunteers.