Why do we call it "Monkey Park?"

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Why do we call it "Monkey Park?"

M.A. Hughes | Auburn-Opelika Tourism

Municipal Park, located on Park Road in Opelika, has been affectionately known as “Monkey Park” to locals for as long as they can remember. Many might not know, however, that this nickname dates back to the 1950’s, when the park housed eight real spider monkeys.

The monkeys lived in cages at the park and were a popular attraction for visitors of all ages. They were the vision of Bill Calhoun, the first director of Opelika Parks and Recreation.

 

“Bill was a visionary,” said Laura Leigh Chesser, public relations coordinator for Parks and Rec. “He was very forward-thinking.”

Though well-loved, the monkeys were a bit mischievous. According to Chesser, they would often escape their cages. Sometimes park-goers would even let them out voluntarily.

“We have all these old newspapers in the office, and some of them have the silliest headlines about the monkeys,” Chesser said. “There are ones like ‘Eight monkeys escape from Municipal Park’ and ‘Six monkeys caught, two still at large.’ I think one time one of them even ended up at a Krystal’s with a college kid really late at night.”

Eventually, the rascally monkeys were rehomed to the Montgomery Zoo. Their legacy is remembered in the form of wooden statues that were built in 2016 to commemorate their reign.

 

The monkeys’ free, fun-loving spirit is also embodied in other aspects of the park—namely, The Rocky Brook Rocket. The Rocket is arguably the park’s biggest attraction and has been a staple of the park since 1955.

“Bill Calhoun called the Rocket the catalyst that brought Parks and Recreation to Opelika,” said Matthew Battles, City of Opelika Municipal Area Supervisor. “It’s very unique. Most others like it have been decommissioned or sold off, but ours is still going. It’s rare to see something of that caliber stay for so long.”

 

Chesser also thinks the park is unique in that it acts as a bonding point for the community. “I love that it’s so centrally located,” she said. “You don’t have to get on the interstate or anything—you can just hop on over here and enjoy what it has to offer. It makes it a really good hub for events and really encourages the community aspect.”

So the spirit of the monkeys and their fun, lovable nature lives on—through their statues, through the Rocket and through the community that is formed at Municipal “Monkey” Park.

 

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