“In the future, I will let you know when I come,” Allan Lynk said in telling the story of the Canadian train squatters. The story goes that a Canadian came to view Wadena’s three train crossings and ended up being surrounded by the police instead. He came to see what the bustling town of Wadena had to offer him at a time when a train was the means of travel.

But what if people continuously came to Wadena because of a new landmark feature, or remembered Wadena because of the meaningful view? What if people came again for the trains? What if families stopped in the park on the crossroads during their journey north, south, east or west?

As a previous volunteer at The Depot, Lynk was fascinated with seeing people at the park. He remembers visitors stopping at the Super One grocery store and then letting their children and dogs play before continuing on the road.

These remembrances of Wadena’s past could return in Wadena’s future with the dreams and designs collected from the Wadena Crossroads committee charrette on Wednesday, Nov. 6. At the charrette, community members and architects collaborated through group discussion and interactive activities on ways to transform the empty space by Hwys 10 and 71. From the start of the meeting, Coen+Partners landscape architects Laura Kamin-Lyndgaard and Anna Springer and Salmela Architect of Duluth architects David Salmela and Kai Salmela encouraged community members to design together.

“I think it’s very courageous because it’s attempting to do something that conveys the whole community, and so you take on a lot of responsibility because what you’re proposing, you’re proposing in a sense for the whole community,” David Salmela said.

After the design team cast ideas on the style of the space, community members participated in three activities: placing dots on ideas they wanted or did not want to incorporate, writing foreseen opportunities and challenges with the project and crafting a vision statement about the space. While forming his vision Lynk, Wadena resident and a Wadena County representative on the Five Wings Arts Council, shared three of his ideas: a free library, a peace pole and vein and a railroad-themed playground.

“It would help people to realize some of the values of our community. There are many people in this community who are peace loving people and have a real value for harmonizing and being at peace with one another,” Lynk said about the peace pole. A peace pole is an international project where the pole reads, “May peace prevail on Earth.”

Community members voted on ideas for the empty space along Hwys 10 and 71. The green dots were for ideas they hoped to see and pink dots were for ideas they did not want to see. 
Rebecca Mitchell/ Pioneer Journal
Community members voted on ideas for the empty space along Hwys 10 and 71. The green dots were for ideas they hoped to see and pink dots were for ideas they did not want to see. Rebecca Mitchell/ Pioneer Journal

As the afternoon went on, community members found excitement in the ideas shared, from bridges to tornado sculptures, plants, historical symbols, bike lanes, silos, a labyrinth and a welcome center. A resounding clap came from the crowd when the combined vision statement was read.

“The Wadena Crossroads is a community gateway that makes an impression on visitors and residents. It offers a place for rest, reflection, and gathering. It is a place where the history and the future of Wadena are represented. It reflects the opportunity, diversity and culture of Wadena,” Kamin-Lyndgaard shared.

Throughout the group conversations, members considered the history of the train and the Jefferson Highway, safety concerns about the area, what the area would look like during the day and at night as well as it being a place for new people to have as a memory and for current residents to enjoy.

“One of the things we’re talking a lot about is something noticeable, something other people don’t have, something that makes us distinctive and people say, ‘Do you remember that little town that we went through and it had that…,’” said Kent Scheer, Wadena resident and artist and member of the Wadena Crossroads committee.

Scheer recalled when the governor’s design team visited in 1990. From that the community completed highway entrance signs, street lights, the Memorial Auditorium and saved The Depot. Because, after all, “The only reason that Wadena’s right here is because of the train,” Lynk said in reference to the 1860s planned location of Wadena. Scheer also knew there was one recommendation the city did not complete: removing the buildings at the intersection of Hwys 10 and 71.

“There was no way, it was like impossible to do, it was simply a pie in the sky dream. But, low and behold, one day I saw these buildings coming down, this empty space and I went back in my mind and I said, ‘Oh my gosh… 30, 20 years ago we were told that that would change the perception of our community and change interest in our community. Let’s go back to that recommendation, let’s develop it further,’” Scheer said.

Scheer finds that the previous changes “made the quality of our lives better,” and has the same goal for the current crossroads project. Jamie Robertson, Wadena resident and member of the Wadena Crossroads committee, believes people want to better Wadena. While he is not certain on any particular feature, he would enjoy a nature feel and a greater appreciation of Wadena’s transportation history.

“I like the idea of having native prairie plants as part of a green space that would greet people and would relate back to one of the natural wonders really of Wadena County,” Robertson said.

Wadena-Deer Creek High School student Makaylyn Sibert hopes for an agricultural feel, such as restored silos.

“I didn’t realize the whole history actually behind Wadena like the whole chief and everything, and now I at least have a say in Wadena. So I feel like that’s pretty cool, you know, be able to grow up and come back and just be like I was at that meeting,” Sibert said.

The land ownership is still in question with no guarantee that the city will own the property, according to Wadena city administrator Janette Bower. And fundraising is required as the city has no funds to purchase the land, but Scheer has a plan.

“I think that from here we can go in a step-by-step fashion where each year we have something a little bit better than last year because we just raised a little bit more money to do it,” Scheer said. “So even if we just end up the first couple years after this is all done with grass out there it’s going to look great compared to the way it did, and then we’ll make it look much greater than that.”

While the community continues to collaboratively dream, Lynk remains excited about a peaceful place with railroad history, Robertson an environmental and transportation history, Scheer a cast iron feature and Sibert an agricultural feel. Now, “it’s just a matter of how we put all of these things together,” as David Salmela said.