The dedication of a reading garden at Levee Park in East Peoria Wednesday not only opens an idyllic public setting for reading a good book in the central Illinois sunshine and fresh air, it also represents the completion of a stage in the East Peoria Community Foundation’s effort to attract residents and visitors to the Levee District.

“This reading garden is the first phase of many in which the Levee District will become the centerpiece of our city,” said East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus. “Each phase will infuse life into the area and will infuse our community with a new purpose of improving the lives of those who live, work or visit here.” 

Levee Park is located at the East Peoria Civic Complex at 401 W. Washington St. The reading garden features landscaping, seating, a paved path, and a Little Free Library drop box for books. The cost of the project, approximately $550,000, was funded entirely through private donations to the East Peoria Community Foundation. The Foundation honored the generosity of East Peoria philanthropists Ray and Peg Bahnfleth, who contributed $250,000 for the project before Ray Bahnfleth's death in 2009 and Peg Bahnfleth's in 2014. Statues of the two were created by artist Gregory Johnson. During the ceremony, the Bahnfleths’ niece, Jane Bach-Brummitt and Foundation board member Gary Uftring unveiled the statues.

“We can all appreciate the value of parks and public spaces for the community to enjoy,” said Sue Portscheller, president of the East Peoria Community Foundation. “What’s special and unique about Levee Park is that it will be the anchor of East Peoria’s new and thriving downtown. It not only anchors our beautiful downtown but it embodies the new, iconic face of East Peoria: green, growing and family-centered.” 

The East Peoria Community Foundation was formed in 2014 as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving East Peoria through the development of general community-related projects. It will embark on a fundraising effort to finish developing the one-and-a-half-acre Levee Park complex, said Portscheller. Future plans for Levee Park include a water feature and splash pad for children, venues for markets and festivals in an open multi-purpose lawn, space for sporting and music events, and terraced seating space for community and family gatherings. 

“I am so happy to have watched the Levee District grow in infrastructure and opportunity,” said Genna Buhr, director of the Fondulac District Library and an East Peoria Community Foundation board member. “I’m doubly excited to participate in the growth of this park, first with the construction of the library and City Hall and now with the addition of this beautiful public space and the future development of Levee Park.” 

The Fondulac District Library, which is adjacent to Levee Park, has already planned a variety of outdoor activities for the reading garden and the Levee Park complex

“We’ve invited local organizations to put on our first-ever Big Rig Petting Zoo,” said Buhr. “It’s a family event where kids and grown-ups alike can explore our community’s big trucks and other cool vehicles. This summer, the library staff has a grilling program for adults and an afternoon powwow perfect for all ages. The library staff will also be bringing some of our popular Fun Friday events outside for the kids with a Book Walk and something my staff will only tell me is called Messy Madness.”