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Black's Grove receives electricity

Ron Bucholz, Wadena public works director, points toward the pole that will eventually house a security light for the parking lot in Black's Grove. Photo by Zach Kayser

Black's Grove is known as one of Wadena's more rustic parks, where people can enjoy nature while biking, hiking and cross-country skiing. Ever since an electrical line was extended to Black's Grove last month, however, the possibility of a new activity has arrived: plugging in.

The campaign to get juice flowing to the park first began years ago when members of the Wadena Cross-Country Ski Club approached the Wadena Park Board with the idea of putting in an electric light to improve safety, said Ron Bucholz, Wadena public works director. Bucholz also said the skiers wanted the light not just because it would illuminate the parking lot itself, but also as a means of guiding themselves back to their cars during the long ski trips in the dark winter months. Getting the money to extend the power line, though, was a recurring problem.

"Over the past several years we've been trying to fundraise for it and put it to the city budget, but it never seemed to make the cut" Bucholz said.

Money for the project finally began to materialize this past summer in the form of a grant from Todd-Wadena Co-op's Operation Round Up program, which lets customers choose to have their electric bills rounded up to the nearest dollar amount, with the extra money being donated to local causes. However, the Round Up money alone didn't come close to financing the project, said Pat Johnson, communications manager at Todd-Wadena.

"They were awarded a grant ... but it was about $400. The cost to bring power was figured at $3,500. It helped start things, but it was not nearly enough," she said.

Undeterred, Todd-Wadena went to their own lender, CoBank, for help. Along with CoBank's matching funds, Todd-Wadena was able to foot the rest of the bill, and the project was back online. Since the Todd-Wadena construction crews wanted the new line in before the cold winter months froze the ground, they got straight to work on laying cable. Soon, the new line reached all the way to the Black's Grove parking lot - three miles outside of Wadena city limits.

Johnson was excited about the new opportunities presented by having electric power in the park.

"Even though it doesn't seem like a big deal to extend one line into the parking lot, there's a lot of possibilities now for that park to do cool things in the future," Johnson said.

Terry Olson, leader of the ski club that initially requested electricity for Black's Grove, was equally optimistic. Now that the park is hooked up with power, Olson envisions a warming house being built so that cross-country skiers can take breaks from the cold. The warming house was one of the ideas that brought the ski club to the Wadena Park Board in the first place, and Olson said it could help attract more visitors to Black's Grove.

"When it's really cold, it's hard to get families with young kids out there" Olson said. "Hopefully it'll be more family friendly out there so more people can cross-country ski."