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State help for Wadena veteran's park clears Senate hurdle

It's still a long way from becoming law, but at a meeting last week, a state Senate committee recommended including $350,000 for a Wadena veteran's park in this year's bonding bill.

The Senate's version of the bill, which authorizes state borrowing for construction projects, is expected to be released soon after the Easter recess. The project - slated to be built on a slice of land in Sunnybrook Park adjacent to Highway 10 - isn't included in the House bill or the governor's wish list, but with the committee recommendation, it stands a fair chance of making it into the Senate version, said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, whose district includes Wadena. Before the legislature adjourns in May, the House and Senate will negotiate differences, then send a bill to the governor.

"We'll see what happens," said Gazelka, a member of the Senate state departments and veterans division of the finance committee. "It's still in ... It probably helps that I'm on the committee."

With the city of Wadena's blessing, the second-term senator included the provision at the veteran's park committee's request. Wadena's state Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, filed an identical measure in the House.

Dave Ludovissie, Wadena veteran's park committee chairman, braved a snowstorm in March to testify on behalf of the project.

Without his presence - and convincing testimony about the park's regional significance - it wouldn't have made it through the committee, Gazelka said. "He made a good case for it."

Ludovissie said he's grateful for the senator's support.

"We're just very hopeful we get at least some of (the money)," he said. "I won't be surprised not to get all of it but I hope it's at least some."

Anderson said while he supports veterans, $350,000 is a lot of money for a park project.

"The chances for that to be approved in a bonding bill are not real good," he said.

If the people of Wadena heard of another city getting that kind of money, Anderson said, "they might be a little upset."

During his testimony, Ludovissie stressed the project is not just for the city of Wadena, but for a broader region. In addition to developing an interpretive center and an observation deck overlooking Whiskey Creek, the money would go to building granite walls with the names of all deceased veterans in the "greater Wadena area."

Ludovissie has already compiled about 6,000 names and he's not done. "There are so many small cemeteries around," he said.

The park, he said, will host veterans ceremonies, picnics and community events of all sorts. "We anticipate there will be lots of involvement. I think it will be a very nice place for people to visit."

For years, the veteran's park committee has been working to develop a memorial. Disagreements with the city had stalled the project. The impasse ended in March, when the city council signed a land use agreement.

The resolution allowed the city to apply for a $20,000 competitive state grant. With help from the local VFW, the park committee will provide the required local match.

Grant recipients were scheduled to be announced Monday, but by early afternoon, city administrator Brad Swenson hadn't heard whether the application was successful.

Money from the grant, Ludovissie said, would be used for the granite walls. If the veteran's park request doesn't make it into the final bonding bill, the $400,000 project would have to be built gradually as fundraising and grant dollars became available.

Regardless, the committee hopes to erect a 50-foot Navy mast it has held in storage by June 14, Flag Day. The display will feature a large American flag and smaller flags from each military branch.

"It should be very visible," Ludovissie said. "We're very excited."

When that's complete - a tangible sign of the project's progression from the idea phase to reality - the committee will begin a fundraising push, he said. It plans to distribute a pamphlet explaining the project and how to donate. People can sponsor the personalized park benches and pavers that will lead to the observation deck.

Swenson said although the city hasn't had an active role in pushing for the project to beat the legislature, he'd be happy to see it funded. "If they can build it the way they designed it it's going to be a nice addition to our park."