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HomeFeaturesRoscommon FeaturesNeighbors – Bridge builder and friend: Karen Walper

Neighbors – Bridge builder and friend: Karen Walper

Karen Walker
In 2004, Karen was awarded the Caring for Children Angel Award by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. In addition, Friends helping Friends was awarded $1000 in her name. She also has been honored by the girl Scouts of America with the President’s Award, was named ZONTA Woman of the Year, Chamber of Commerce Community Service award, and served as parade marshal to the Firemen’s Memorial Parade.

In Roscommon, the name Karen Walper and community service, are pretty much synonymous. 

Karen and her husband Paul, moved here in 1988 from Armada, in northern Macomb County. Together, they owned and operated Paddle Brave Canoe Livery and Campground for six years. 

During that tenure, Karen discovered the Crawford County Road Commission was planning on removing the deteriorating Smith Bridge. They had not planned on replacing the bridge due to cost estimates, and because it only crossed the AuSable near M72, leading to a parking lot and no other access. In other words, “a bridge to nowhere”. 

Canoe Livery owners were concerned, as it would negate their access to canoeists at that landing site. Karen was a strong voice at meetings and in getting the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners to replace the old bridge. The Army Corp of Engineers were instrumental in the rebuilding of “a bridge to nowhere.” It is still a vital part of that landing and South Branch of the AuSable recreation area.

Karen was always willing to help with local fundraisers for someone who was ill, accident victims, and the like. Many times, she’d be heard saying…” someone should do something, people need help now and they can’t wait to see if insurance will help.” Many times, those were children with cancer, leukemia, or had been in a car accident. 

After one such event, she called a friend and said – “I did it!” “I filed papers to start a foundation to help Roscommon County children.” Friends Helping Friends began with Karen and a small group of friends, and since 1997, helped many young people and their families, providing gas cards, food certificates, and covering other expenses. Their final act prior to recently disbanding the foundation, was to help the family of a 17-year-old who had been severely injured in a freak accident. 

Karen Walker
Karen Walper in downtown Roscommon.

Karen has a knack for “including” friends in her “volunteer” work. Hearing that the former Roscommon County Fair Board was in debt, she joined, became the president of the fair board, and enlisted “helpers” to work, fund raise, and get the fair board out of the red. 

She and her small group of “volunteers,” participated in a rock-a-thon, bought a cotton candy machine, and made cotton candy for the 4th of July fireworks, sold ice cream, and a host of other endeavors, raising approximately $20,000. 

One fundraiser was hosting a Circus … with elephants. A board member had brought her dog to the “clean up.” Needless to say, she had to do more than just clean up after the elephants! 

They painted trash cans on the fair grounds and did a lot of other needed repairs as well. She and her group were able to turn the operation over to a new board, debt free on at least two occasions.

For many years, the Michigan Firemen’s Memorial Festival Committee had been using the grounds for their festival, and had been doing most of the upkeep, mowing, and building construction. Due to the efforts of Karen, the Roscommon County Commissioners now lease the Fire Training Grounds to the Michigan Firemen’s Memorial Festival Committee for the annual festival, as well as other activities.

In addition to Paddle Brave Canoe and Campground, Karen has owned and operated a Motorola Century cell phone business, and more recently, “Antiques and Uniques.” 

While serving in the capacity of President of the Roscommon Business Association (RBA), she helped form the current Higgins Lake/Roscommon Chamber of Commerce, where she then served as vice-president for a year. The Roscommon DDA was also formed during her tenure as president of the RBA.

Karen has also served as President of the Roscommon Pro-Am Canoe Race Association, which for many years hosted the first Pro Am race in Michigan the first weekend of May. Added events that weekend were a Poker Run and a dance at the Knights of Columbus Hall. 

Smith Bridge
Karen helped secure funding to replace the Smith Bridge

The love of her life and right-hand guy, Paul passed away in August 2018. It was a difficult decision, but Karen has decided to leave Roscommon and move closer to family in Tennessee. The home they built together has been sold and the “Slo-Go Ranch” sign that their friend Bruce Lorion made for them, has been taken down.

A grateful Roscommon community is thankful for the time Karen spent here, and wish her the best of luck as she seeks new adventures in Bon Aqua, Tennessee.

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