Vision comes to life at 10/71 crossroads
The project to improve this area of Wadena's entry has been under talks for over four years.
WADENA — Great plans like improving the landscape at Wadena's main crossroads of Hwy 10 and 71 usually take time to come to completion.
When those great plans involve government funding or major approvals from big players like MnDOT and BNSF Railway, the process can be slower than most movers and shakers can bear to wait for.
With a sunny day at hand and a thirst to make something happen at last, a small group of Wadena volunteers, including Kent Scheer, Luther Nervig, Dan Sartell and Dean Krogstad went to work on Tuesday, May 24. They set out to improve this site that was first cleared back in 2019 prior to the reconstruction of Hwy 10 and 71, which was completed in 2020.
The volunteers followed a fairly simple plan that involved planting rows of feather reed grass that create an angle of view that is meant to direct eyes towards Wadena's downtown district. They also enlisted the help of Pete's Nursery and Landscaping to plant Northwood maple trees further east and west of these grass plantings.
The trees are not to be so numerous that they limit the view of downtown Wadena, but they are meant to offer an attractive look for the otherwise grass covered empty lots left when Orton's and Fastenal buildings were removed several years ago.
Organizer Luther Nervig said while the work of planting is complete, they may need some volunteers to help water the new plantings. The city has agreed to help with some of the watering in the first year. Nervig believes there will be a need to do more watering especially this first year as the plants are setting roots in the somewhat gravel-rich soil. The volunteers were adding black dirt as they planted. Once well established, these plants should be rather self sustainable.
Sartell and Scheer were part of an original group of dreamers that looked at the sites to start imagining what they could be several years ago. To now reach the point of getting their hands in the dirt and creating a change was very rewarding.
"I think we came up with a good plan," Sartell said. "I think it's going to greatly improve the looks of this rather barren area."
Nervig agreed saying the work has been a long time coming. He's confident that this will be a permanent part of this intersection.
Scheer said this first planting is a test run as MnDOT currently maintains ownership of these sites. Once they complete their second round of work on the highway in 2025, the city may be gaining it back.
"Once the city has control and owns this plot of land then this thing is going to shoot all the way down and it's going to be a major visual aspect,"
Until then, he believes a subtle change to the landscape is the best approach. They are not totally sure how the lot may be used by MnDOT when they return to work in the area.
"We had to move slow and we have to be cautious," Scheer said.
He hopes when the city regains ownership, it will remain as a green space that they can gradually add more to, including sculptures. There were a lot of grand ideas about the space during early conversations in 2019.
"We feel the idea generating process was really important," Scheer said. That imagining phase brought forth ideas of sculptures, seating, a Ferris wheel, ramps and more. Logistically, some attractive plantings were the best thing the group could do now on their own.
Even that was a costly move as it added up to $5,000 - $6,000 for this project. While the city is seeking funding to help pay for this project, knowing the slow speed of some approvals, the group gained relatively speedy funding from local partners, including the Paper Family Foundation, Browne Family Foundation and the Peterson Park Foundation, according to Nervig, who has been driving the project forward along with continuing to develop other area parks.
While this chunk of land has seen dramatic changes in the last four years, this group hopes they were part of something that will help make Wadena more attractive and more welcoming for generations to come.