Shining Christmas lights return to BN Park

The trees are decorated from Hwy 71 to Second Street, and even include a decorated Christmas tree in the bandstand.

BN Christmas Lights.JPG
Lights are aglow at Wadena's Burlington Northern Park thanks to the work of volunteers this season. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

“We just thought we needed a little extra light,” said Ron Greiman, “and a little holiday cheer in Wadena.” That extra light is shining through thousands of Christmas lights perched in the trees in Burlington Northern Park, adorned by a group of local volunteers.

The lights bring back what the four volunteers fondly remember the trees being decked like from 2007-2012. At that time, Luther and Marilyn Nervig started the lighting project with the city utilities department after seeing lights displayed high in the trees at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Community members Dan Sartell and Kent Scheer noted their remembrances of the previous light displays.

“We can remember when the lights first appeared. There was not always that tradition of high lighting, … and one year they just appeared and everybody was pretty dazzled,” Scheer said.

The trees decorated to the tip top are on the east side of the park closest to Hwy 71, and were put up by Michael Pete of Pete’s Nursery and his crewman Peter Zosel with the generous donation of a Merickel Lumber lift for two days. The Convention and Visitors Bureau gave a $1,000 grant with the help of Wadena Chamber of Commerce board member Renee Frethem and the J. Harold and Edythe Peterson Family Foundation, which Nervig established, granted $3,400.

Greiman, Nervig, Sartell and Scheer added the rest of the lights, which extend to Second Street. The west portion includes lights on the entire tree with the whole park’s light color placement and design directed by Marilyn Nervig.


Each volunteer found their own part, as Sartell said, with Greiman and Nervig taking the unofficial charge to complete the project this year. Lights were unraveled and stretched out and trees were wrapped, with a bamboo fishing pole for around the branches. Sartell and Scheer quickly realized the scope of the project when it took more than the short hours envisioned.

"We just thought we needed a little extra light and a little holiday cheer in Wadena."

— Ron Greiman

The group found this year perfect for the return of the BN Park decorative lights with the Hwy 10 project complete and downtown Wadena “more visible now than it’s ever been,” as Greiman said. The lights brightly shine for a great view along Hwy 10 and 71. After all the construction this summer, Greiman said the lights are a way to thank those who dealt with the detours, and of course show that Wadena has Christmas spirit.

Sartell noted the encouragement the dazzling lights can bring during the pandemic when people’s mental and physical health are impacted.

“Seeing a bunch of lights is always, for me, inspiring and energizing,” Sartell said.

BN Bandstand Lights.JPG
Burlington Northern Park and the bandstand within it are glittering in lights in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal


The lights shine in the darkness from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. “so people coming to work early in the morning have a bright light also,” as Nervig said. The lights will be up through the start of the new year.

The group hopes the lighting project will continue annually, and not “slip away” like last time, as Scheer said. And with more time to plan in the future, the group looks forward to having more community members and foundations involved.

“This would be a fun event to do if we rallied the community and got some civic organizations involved and had a ‘Light the Park Saturday,’” Sartell said. “It’s so worthwhile to do, and I think it really helps our community. And we’ve got such a brand new look with the 10/71 project completed.”

"Seeing a bunch of lights is always, for me, inspiring and energizing."

— Dan Sartell

While planning continues and nothing is official yet, lighting could become a more permanent feature in the welcome to Wadena with the “gateway” project at the Hwy 10 and 71 intersection. The Wadena Crossroads committee previously had brainstorming sessions and community surveys for ideas along with recommendations coming from Coen+Partners and Salmela Architect. The land is still owned by MnDOT and BNSF Railway. The possible design could include lighting that is strategic and attractive, according to Scheer.

“We have such long winters and such dark winters that we can’t have just a feature that shows up in summertime, it has to also be something that works in winter,” Scheer said.

So when you’re in need of a bit of hope, what better place to be when the snow is endlessly falling than under the dazzle of what Nervig says are “night-brightener” Christmas lights.


BN Christmas Lights2.JPG
Sit a spell under the brilliant lights at Burlington Northern Park in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
What To Read Next
Get Local