ELKHART — Elliott Park has been closed for several years, and the city of Elkhart is vague about its plans for the property.
But one thing’s for sure — it’s not going to reopen anytime soon.
A locked gate bars visitors from going down the winding road by forested Elliott Park at 29301 C.R. 16 W., which spans 10.6 acres. A chain-link fence around its borders holds back the greenery that has grown unchecked for the last four years. An abandoned wooden pier and concrete diving block reach into the still waters can be seen through the thicket.
Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to Mayor Dick Moore, said the city can’t talk about what will be done with the property.
“We’re dealing with some private individuals who might not want their names released at this time,” he said. “We’re waiting to hear back from them.”
The city, however, will not reopen the park, according to separate emails from Moore and superintendent Karin Frey of the Elkhart Parks & Recreation Department.
The city of Elkhart closed the park indefinitely Dec. 1, 2009, Dawson said. Moore is quoted in an article published Nov. 13, 2009, in The Elkhart Truth that the closing would save the city money on “daily opening and closing expenses,” maintenance and about $10,000 in repairs.
Even if the city were to reopen the park, it wouldn’t have money to make the property meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)’s requirements, Moore said. Those changes could cost $200,000 to $250,000 by the Elkhart Parks & Recreation Department’s estimates, Frey said.
Research on what’s needed for Elliott Park to be ADA-compliant was not fully completed because it was closed, Frey said. Their cost estimates are based roughly on what has been done to make other Elkhart parks meet ADA requirements. What Frey does know is that the observation tower in the park would have to be removed, and a new trail system and parking lot would have to be installed. The department would also have had to bring in an expert to further access what’s needed for Elliott Park to be ADA-compliant.
The city came into possession of Elliott Park when Dr. Thomas Elliott, an Elkhart physician, and Mary Elliott donated the property in 1975, according to an article published April 16, 1975, in The Elkhart Truth. The St. Joseph River borders the park toward the north and Physicians Pond borders it toward the south. The park also has a nine-hole disc golf course.
Elliott Park has 36 kinds of trees, and its pond was stocked with small-mouth bass, blue gill and catfish in 1978, according to a diagram published Aug. 5, 1982, in The Elkhart Truth. It’s still a popular fishing spot today with visitors who sneak into the property, according to area resident Jacob Deal.
But Elliott Park has also been closed a number of times in the past under different city administrations.
Former Mayor James Perron ordered the park to be closed for 30 days in 1990 to clean it up and make it safer, according to an article published March 23, 1990, in The Elkhart Truth. At that point, the city had received complaints since at least 1984 about its upkeep and “the fact that it has apparently become notorious for homosexual activities,” Perron told The Elkhart Truth in 1990.
A publication called “Bob’s Address Book” had listed Elliott Park — in addition to Concord Mall, Ox Bow Park and Main Street in downtown Elkhart — as places where gay people could meet others of the same sexual orientation, according to an article published April 13, 1990, in The Elkhart Truth. The book included 6,000 such locations.
In 1999, undercover officers with the Elkhart Police Department arrested 10 men in one day at the park on charges of public indecency, most instances of which were said to be sexual acts between people of the same sex, according to an article published Aug. 26, 1999, in The Elkhart Truth. In total, there were 51 people arrested for public indecency at Elliott Park from June to August that year.
“We’ve run into everything,” former police Captain Tim Balyeat said in the article. “They do it in their cars. They do it in the woods. They do it on the tower. There is no one specific place.”
That led Perron to close the park again in 1999 and appoint a task force to come up with ideas to attract families back to the property, according to an article published Nov. 13, 2009, in The Elkhart Truth. Former Mayor Dave Miller reopened the park the next year.
In 2005, the number of reports for public indecency were down to two, according to numbers from the Elkhart Police Department. For the last three years, police have never been called to Elliott Park and no incidents have been reported at the property.