Those who experienced the Wadena tornado of 2010 recall very similar memories.

The blackening sky overhead. The deafening sound of a train roaring by. The complete and utter devastation that the storm left behind.

But after about 45 seconds of havoc, people stepped out of their safe places to sunshine and calm.

The southwest Wadena home of Vicki and Daryl Pearson, on Lincoln Ave., was one of the first homes hit by the tornado as it tore northeasterly through town. She, like everyone else, was holed up in the basement.

“Just right after it passed, I could smell pine in my basement,” Pearson recalled. “So many pine branches had blown into our house.”

While no lives were lost in Wadena from the storm it left it’s scars on the community. Quite apparent are the scars left behind on the few remaining mature trees in the path. Losing mature trees was one of the painful parts of the tornado for Pearson.

“When you lose your trees - your mature trees - it's like a death,” Pearson said.

Vicki was one of many volunteers in Wadena that helped replant trees in what she calls “tornado alley,” a stretch of Seventh Street SW that straddles the east side of the Wadena Cemetery. After the tornado it was totally void of trees and most of the houses were smashed to pieces.

Looking at Wadena now, 10 years later, you can still see the path, not by the missing structures so much, but by those new trees, many not much older than a decade. Previous Wadena Pioneer Journal articles indicate that 2,600 trees were lost on private property during the storm. The following April, 1,900 trees were disbursed to replace lost trees. Pete's Nursery and Landscaping offered free trees the next spring, Scouts, National Honor Society members, volunteers and the Wadena County Soil and Water Conservation District took a part in bringing trees back to Wadena. A Trees for Wadena group first formed by Wadena residents Bill Stearns and Erik Osberg set a goal of raising $100,000 to replant trees in Wadena. They even used a DNR grant to hire a professional tree planner for the city.

Take a walk down "tornado alley," Seventh Street SW, and you'll see mostly young trees as they were all torn from the ground 10 years ago.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Take a walk down "tornado alley," Seventh Street SW, and you'll see mostly young trees as they were all torn from the ground 10 years ago. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

In addition to trees being replaced, many of the empty “tornado lots” as they were called, have been disappearing over the last 10 years as people rebuild homes there. And while a home can go up in weeks, those trees have been taking time to fill in the voids.

“It’s been 10 years since our Wadena tornado of 2010 and so many of our trees along the tornado path have morphed into continued existence despite the trauma,” Pearson wrote in the weeks before the anniversary.

Immediately after the storm the loss of the trees was quickly felt as the uprooted trees damaged water lines in the city and exposed homes to direct sunlight. Former Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said water consumption about doubled in the days following the tornado because of leaking water lines.

The loss of trees in southwest Wadena created environmental problems for that area, according to SWCD staff member Anne Oldakowski.

Energy bills were expected to be higher because of unblocked winds in the winter and no shade in the summer. There were issues with wildlife, such as squirrels flocking to the only yard with a tree. With unprotected rainfall and lack of roots, the ground is also susceptible to erosion, she said.

"Also, it's an aesthetic thing. People like to see trees, to be connected to nature and earth," she said in an October 2010 Pioneer Journal article.

Former Wadena Cemetery Association President Dennis Olson said the devastation that the cemetery saw morphed that area from a heavily shaded place to an open field. He said Wadena won't see a cemetery like it was in his lifetime or the next generation. To bring it back to where it was will take many decades. But they did replant many new trees in place of old ones that are now filling in some of the voids the community may have felt in the aftermath.

There was no insurance to cover the losses at the cemetery. Instead non-profits like the Wadena Elks sponsored fundraisers for the cemetery. They raised thousands of dollars, which helped cover the cost of righting the stones and replacing those trees.

"We probably shelled out $25,000 to $35,000 to correct the damage," Olson said. The Cemetery Association is not a part of the city and must raise funds through the sale of lots.

Look around and the few large trees that survived the path of the storm and you may find scars where the tree has repaired itself or misshapen branches bent from the nearly 200 mile per hour winds that bore down on them.

Aside from trees painting the picture of the past, locals say some of the wreckage still exists too. In areas to the north of the high school football field, roof sheathing with part of a rafter still attached can be seen on the edge of the woods, caught by aspen trees before it could sail across the BNSF railroad tracks. Further north beyond Merickel Lumber, roof tin lies in a tangled mess.

Roof sheathing is propped against a stand of trees north of the Wadena-Deer Creek football field. The plywood still has a chunk of rafter nailed to it but was clearly torn away, likely by the 2010 tornado.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Roof sheathing is propped against a stand of trees north of the Wadena-Deer Creek football field. The plywood still has a chunk of rafter nailed to it but was clearly torn away, likely by the 2010 tornado. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Aside from nature's remembrance of the destruction, one small corner of Fink Park, which was in the eye of the storm, holds a place of remembrance for the tornado. The memorial garden within Fink Park was spearheaded by the late Mim Maas. Mim worked to bring in a sculpture of a woman in a wind-swept dress. In front of her is a piece of the old high school.

This monument was part of the original high school built in the early 1900s. It was saved and its new home is at Fink Park across the street from the WDC high school.
Pioneer Journal file photo
This monument was part of the original high school built in the early 1900s. It was saved and its new home is at Fink Park across the street from the WDC high school. Pioneer Journal file photo