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Check out the trail in the new nature park in Folkestad’s East

You can now go explore the trail as it starts off of Seventh Street SE.

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Seeing the new nature trail get started were members of the community from various degrees of support including Laura McKnight of MMCDC; Dan Kovar, Wadena Public Works director; Nate Loer, Wadena Rotary president; Ryan Damlo, foundation executive director for Tri-County Health Care; Bob Keppers, representing the Wadena Lions; Jacob Hagestuen, field coordinator for Conservation Corps.; and Lillian Norman, of Lead for Minnesota.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — It’s a tad rough and a bit wet, but a trail is now clear along about 1 mile of wooded area in southeast Wadena. It’s soon to be Wadena’s newest nature park.

A crew from the Duluth region of the Conservation Corps came together in the last week to shave their way through the site. Few large trees had to be removed unless dead. Most work involved a gas trimmer with a metal blade that sliced through short brush along the way. As they made their way through, a blanket of snow followed them along.

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The new park area is highlighted with a plan to have shortcuts added for those that don't have time or energy for the full hike.
Contributed art

The trail skirts the backside of homes, mostly shaded by 30 foot trees. It weaves through cattails overlooking a swamp. It passes the edge of a farm field and loops you back to where you began after hiking through a mixed hard and softwood forest. You'll find deer tracks are often more abundant that people tracks.

This park area lies right next to what is planned as Wadena’s next big housing development with some 60 lots to be available should infrastructure start going in next spring in what they call Folkestad’s East Addition.

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Roger Folkestad, seated, and his son Curt at the site of the planned park area in Folkestad's East Addition.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The work has been a long time coming. It was finally able to proceed after local volunteer Jim Kraemer gathered donations from around the city to pay for the crew of five Conservation Corps workers. In short notice, he raised $5,400 from willing donors, enough to cover their costs. Donors included the Peterson Foundation ($1,000), Tri-County Health Care ($1,000), Wadena State Bank ($1,000), Paper Family and Friends Charitable Trust ($1,000) Wadena Lions ($500), Wadena Rotary ($500) and Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation ($400).
He also secured housing for workers at the Verndale Catholic Church rectory, which was a significant boost to keeping them here for the week’s worth of work.

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A gathering of donors and supporters of the project came out on the first day of trail blazing to share about their support for the work. They included service groups, city staff and business leaders.

"From the hospital side, we just love anytime you have a trail like this, getting people active and outside is absolutely tremendous," Ryan Damlo, Tri-County Health Care foundation executive director said. "Having this outdoor space is gong to be great for the community members."

Bob Keppers with the Wadena Lions said that this is one more thing for the community to come out and enjoy and a project that aligns well with the Lions projects.

"It's a project that benefits the whole community and that seemed very consistent with Rotary values, so we were eager to get involved," Wadena Rotary president Nate Loer said.

Jacob Hagestuen, field coordinator for the north district of Conservation Corps said that the organization does not make it over to this part of the state often but they were pleased to get involved.

Laura McKnight with MMCDC (Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation) said that it just made sense for them to be involved.
"With this new development back here, I mean it just fits that perfectly, the amenity for someone to buy a house in this area and have this trail go right near their house, in this beautiful spot is just a win-win for us," she said.

Kraemer explained that this project is one piece of the puzzle in an effort to make Wadena a better place to live, work and play.

"I thought about this for many years," Roger Folkestad said. He looked forward to this becoming a place where people with disabilities could easily escape into nature.

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Seeing the work was just about to get started was rewarding for Roger, who is now 96 years old.
"I was hoping I would live to see it," Folkestad said.

There are six siblings plus their father, Roger, involved in this property transfer. Roger and all six of his children graduated from Wadena.
"The Wadena community has been very good to us as a family," said one of the Folkestad siblings, Curt, during the gathering. "We just thought that maybe this is one way that we could honor my mom and dad, by having this nature park and trail and also give back to the community for what they've done for us."

Kraemer said it warmed his heart to see the project move ahead.

"That I think is one of our real strengths in this community," Kramer said. "We don't have to agree on everything. We can still do positive things for the community and that's part of that quality of life that keeps us here."

Kraemer asked if Roger would be up for a trip around the trail, perhaps on skis once it's complete.

"I would love to be able to," Roger said, which brought a chorus of agreement from the group.

The project would not have come to this point if not for the Wadena Development Authority agreeing to buy the land from the Folkestad family in Wadena. Patriarch Roger Folkestad was instrumental in donating a portion of property as well as funds to support this designated area as a nature park as he wanted to see this as a place for nature to flourish and for the community to have access to it.

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A Conservation Corps worker clears a trail through woods in a planned nature park in Wadena's southeast corner on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Roger has also paid for granite benches to be installed in the park that will stand the test of time. The benches will have he and his now deceased wife’s names on the benches (Roger & Marie Folkestad) in small writing, while in larger writing, the message – “Relax, Enjoy Nature.”

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The property might not have been an attractive choice for Wadena’s next major housing development if Roger hadn’t planted thousands of pine trees across dozens of acres decades ago.

Kraemer said the Development Authority is still at an early stage in the next steps, but they own the property, have a commitment from a developer and the city has a million dollars (largely ARPA funds) to pay for a portion of the infrastructure needed for the housing to hook into.

And, now, they have a trail, which is open for you to come explore the woods, “relax, and enjoy nature.”

The park will have a natural feel, considered a greenspace in a growing housing development in southeast Wadena.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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