A tornado devastated Old Wadena Park. They plan to rebuild it.
The Wadena County park administrator discussed at the April 16 annual meeting of the Old Wadena Society plans for rebuilding and re-planting at Old Wadena Park near Staples after last year’s tornado.
STAPLES — Those at the Old Wadena Society’s annual meeting inside the Historic Northern Pacific Depot in Staples were taken on a trip back in time, and also heard about Old Wadena Park’s future.
Deana Malone, administrator of Wadena County’s system of parks, gave a presentation about the history of Crow Wing River parks at the public meeting on Sunday, April 16. She also discussed the reconstruction and re-planting efforts at Old Wadena Park after last year’s tornado.
“We do anticipate planting trees – could be some saplings – and we're going to look into maybe transplanting more mature trees just to try and get some of that aesthetic back,” Malone told the crowd inside the train station along U.S. Highway 10, between the cities of Motley and Wadena.
“This is the only park in the county’s park system that may be reserved for a party,” according to the county’s website. “It boasts a large open area with plenty of shade for family reunions and weddings, a small shelter, a newly constructed larger pavilion and electricity.”
The Wadena County Board of Commissioners approved a quote in 2017 from JR Construction to build a pavilion at Old Wadena Park; Malone recommended the Verndale firm's quote of $31,371 and told the board the project would be financed by the Park Reserve Fund.
“Between the mouths of the Leaf and the Partridge rivers, you will find this history-filled campsite. In 1783, the fur traders built the Crow Wing’s first trading post on the ‘little round hill.’ which means ‘Wadena’ in the Chippewa language,” according to the county’s website.
Regarding the devastation at Old Wadena Park caused by last year’s tornado, Malone said clean up of walking trails and campsites will be done on an ongoing basis, by parks staff and Todd-Wadena Sentencing to Serve program participants, or possibly by volunteers.
But before the county can pursue any major improvements at the park, an archeological survey may be conducted to determine those areas of historic value and have the listing with the National Register of Historic Places amended to reflect only those areas.
“In 1972, an application for the listing with the National Register of Historic Sites was submitted and approved,” Malone told the attendees at the depot.
The latest centerpiece for the park was a large pavilion that was completed in 2018. It was completely ripped apart and parts of the steel roof were scattered in the toppled pines following the 2022 tornado. The foundation was damaged slightly and all poles snapped.
The iconic Wadena County park near Crow Wing River is located northwest of Staples. The pavilion’s construction cost was funded by a tax-forfeited land sale and a contribution from the Old Wadena Society.
“This was a huge success in the park until it was destroyed in the Memorial Day tornado that devastated the park and campground,” said Malone, administrator of the Wadena County Planning and Zoning Department.
A swath of some 30 acres of mostly 30- to 40-year-old pine and oak trees was leveled on a plantation on the north side of the Old Wadena Park due to an EF-2 tornado that formed to the south and traveled up the west side of the Crow Wing River.
“The pavilion is slated to be rebuilt before Memorial weekend,” Malone said at the annual meeting of the Old Wadena Society, whose mission in part is to preserve, protect and share knowledge and historical treasures of Old Wadena.
The park is closed until further notice due to the weather-related damage, according to the county’s website. The pine plantation that was knocked flat was once a farm field back in the 1960s before the county obtained the property and turned it into a county park in 1964.
The Warrior Tree, a massive white pine that's been around since the 1800s, remains standing tall above the popular bog walk. An old ox cart that was built in 2021 and set on display was missed by falling oak trees. Another small shelter and diorama in the park were untouched.
FRANK LEE is a features writer for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. He may be reached at 218-631-6470 or at email@example.com .