Reopening of Minot park heralds hope after floodBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — When Ron Merritt saw Minot's Oak Park after the peak of last summer's Souris River flooding, he despaired about making it normal again. Water had reached the eaves of the park's picnic shelters, river sediment was everywhere and a 60-foot ash tree had toppled across its band shell.
By: DALE WETZEL,Associated Press, Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — When Ron Merritt saw Minot's Oak Park after the peak of last summer's Souris River flooding, he despaired about making it normal again. Water had reached the eaves of the park's picnic shelters, river sediment was everywhere and a 60 foot ash tree had toppled across its band shell.
"It was a real mess over there. Debris and people's decks and garbage and everything else that had floated in," the director of the city's Park District said. "How in the world are we going to clean this mess up?"
It has happened, with the help of donated money, goods and sweat. On Friday, Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman, former Minot banker and current U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and a group of other dignitaries are to begin a "Weekend of Hope" anniversary celebration by reopening Oak Park, one of the city's largest and hardest-hit by last summer's floods.
Minot has more than a dozen parks, most of which were submerged for a month or more last summer when the Souris River, swollen by melting snow and heavy spring rains, hit record levels and overran a series of emergency levees.
More than 4,100 homes were damaged, and 12,000 people were forced to evacuate. The flood destroyed two schools and forced the closing of a U.S. Highway 83 bridge, which made it difficult to travel between the north and south halves of the city.
The Souris, also known as the Mouse River in North Dakota, crosses from Canada's Saskatchewan province near Sherwood, in northwestern North Dakota, and flows past Burlington, Minot and Velva before turning north and re-entering Manitoba northeast of Westhope.
Oak Park, which covers about 90 acres and is named for the bur oaks that grow there, is one of the largest of Minot's parks. Its band shell has hosted weekly concerts, and the park has markets where farmers sell fresh produce twice a week in the summertime. At Christmas, a local civic club sets up displays of Christmas lights.
"It has a lot of trees. It's a very peaceful place to be in. I think people just enjoy the atmosphere," said Ron Bieri, who ended 20 years of service on Minot's park board last week. Bieri lives about four blocks from the park.
Volunteers from the Dakota Boys' and Girls' Ranch, an organization that helps troubled youth, gathered up tons of debris in Oak Park shortly after the water receded, Merritt said.
Three weeks ago, a small army of about 60 workers from 14 rural electric cooperatives rewired the park's picnic shelters and bathrooms.
Oak Park's walking path, roughly a mile long, has been brushed off and fixed up. A playground and "splash pad," where youngsters can cavort while being sprayed with water, is ready to go. Newly planted grass is beginning to peek above the soil.
"I think it's a big morale boost. We hear more about what we've done in the parks than any place else, just because more people see that," said Bob Underwood, Minot's assistant city forester.
Merritt said almost all of the parks have been cleaned up and readied for summer, although the most heavily damaged park, Roosevelt, which is adjacent to the city's zoo, still needs extensive work and has not reopened.
More than 200 of the zoo's animals are being kept in about 15 zoos around the country and a wildlife park in Wichita, Kan.
The public Souris Valley Golf Course has nine holes open for play, with the layout cobbled together using the course's front and back nines. The 10th hole, for example, is now where a golfer's round begins.
Baseball diamonds at Corbett Field and Jack Hoeven Park, named for the senator's father, have been resodded. The Hoeven diamonds are fit to host elementary school baseball teams this weekend, although the park complex's bathrooms and concession stand are not ready to open, said Steve Wharton, a Park District horticulturalist.
"We'll have some (portable toilets) for the kids to use," Wharton said.
Bieri, in a telephone interview Thursday, said the reopening of Oak Park was an important milestone for the community's flood recovery.
Bieri and his wife are gradually restoring the couple's two-story home, about four blocks from Oak Park. While their work progresses, they are living in a trailer, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is parked in their front yard.
"People are working on their houses and things are coming back together, but we still joke about it as 'the ghetto,' because it looks pretty rotten down here," Bieri said. "Anything that I think we can do ... that greens things up, and gives people a place where they can go and have a picnic or take a walk, it's back to normal life."