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Wadena Veteran's Park moves forward

A Wadena Veteran's Park that's been discussed for more than four years is moving forward now that the city and the park committee have signed a land use agreement.

The memorial will be located on a conspicuous slice of land in Sunnybrook Park adjacent to U.S. Highway 10.  It will feature large granite slabs with the names of 6,000 veterans from around the area. Anyone can sponsor personalized park benches and engraved pavers that will align the main path, which will lead to an observation deck overlooking Whiskey Creek.

"I think it's a very good use of the park," said city administrator Brad Swenson. "It's very visible."

To kick off the project, Veteran's Park Committee plans to install the 50-foot Navy mast it has kept in storage, which will display an American flag and flags from each military branch. The goal is to finish that work by June 14, Flag Day, said Dave Ludovissie, Veteran's Park Committee chairman.

"We're ready to put that in as soon as the frost goes out," he said. "I think it's important we get the flag up so people can see we are serious about this."

In a unanimous vote, the city council approved the land use agreement at a special meeting March 3. It calls for the park committee to build the memorial on city land. Upon completion, the city would take over the responsibility for maintaining the premises as a part of the overall park system.

The council also authorized Swenson to apply for a $20,000 competitive state grant for the park. The grant requires a local match, which the park committee is able to provide with help from the local VFW.

If Wadena is awarded the grant - winners are announced in April - Ludovissie said the committee will begin purchasing the granite walls, the main park attraction. The project has a totla budget of nearly $400,000. More features will be added as fundraising or additional grant money becomes available.

Disagreements about the land use deal stalled the park for the past year. The main sticking point: who should have to provide liability insurance for equipment leased from the military - the only amenities at the park the city will not own. Ludovissie said the committee has already secured a two-and-a-half ton truck to display on a concrete platform. It has also asked the Army for a helicopter and artillery piece.

The land use agreement approved March 3 states the park committee will need to buy the insurance for those items.

The committee doesn't like that provision, Ludovissie said, but council can decide to waive that requirement in the future.

"Our primary goal is to not leave any bills behind us," he said. "We can work through that issue when it comes up."

The committee checked with other communities in the area with veteran's parks - Staples, Park Rapids, Long Prairie, Detroit Lakes - and found none of those cities required land use agreements.

Swenson said Wadena has previously required similar written agreements from other groups.

Until very recently, Ludovissie said, he wasn't sure the project would ever happen. 

He said the committee considered moving the project to another community, but "we could never find a site as good as we have."

Now, organizers are marching toward their goal of creating a lasting tribute to veterans in Wadena.

"We want to keep the ball rolling on it," said Mike Tast, a veteran of the Navy and Marines. "We've been fighting for it for a long time."

Park committee member David Anderson, who spent 23 year in the Navy and now works as the Wadena County veterans services officer, said Veteran's Park won't just be for those who served in the armed forces.

"It's for everyone," he said. "It will be a nice place for people to go to see a little bit of our military past and honor the people that fought to keep this country free."