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Mouse River Park on its way to being a summer gathering place again

One year ago, as residents and campers at Mouse River Park cleared tons of debris from the silt-covered campgrounds and water-logged bar and cafe, they speculated about when and if the Park could become a summer gathering place again. Damage left by the Mouse River Flood appeared irreparable in any logical time frame.

9/12/12 (Wed)

From auditorium to new bar . . . Darrell Iverson, right, measures
trim he wants to nail up between the coolers behind the new bar
taking shape in the Mouse River Park auditorium. The county has
approved a project to remodel the auditorium, following the flooding
of the former Country Mouse Bar in the Park last summer and
demolition last fall. Iverson hopes the new bar, complete with
patio seating, handicapped accessible restrooms and a dance floor
next to the stage, will be open by the 2013 summer season.


By Caroline Downs

One year ago, as residents and campers at Mouse River Park cleared tons of debris from the silt-covered campgrounds and water-logged bar and cafe, they speculated about when and if the Park could become a summer gathering place again.

Damage left by the Mouse River Flood appeared irreparable in any logical time frame.

These days, caretaker Darrell Iverson welcomes Park visitors from the deck built alongside the FEMA trailer that is his new office. Guests pay camping fees and choose their site along the river or under a shady tree.

"It looks better than last year," said Iverson.

The grounds are green and mowed. Flowers bloom in planters around Iverson’s office and the Park’s gazebo. The Canadian flag ruffles in the breeze alongside the U.S. flag. The brightly-colored playground equipment, scrubbed clean after the flood, beckons children.

"We’ve probably had 50 campers here pretty much all summer," Iverson said, which is about one-third of the Park’s capacity but more than anyone expected.

With electricity restored and the camping areas ready to accommodate guests, Iverson has turned his attention toward other projects--namely, transforming the Park’s auditorium into a bar.

Old auditorium to
become new bar
The bar and café that served Mouse River Park visitors for decades, both owned by Renville County, were heavily damaged by floodwaters and demolished before the 2012 camping season started. Discussions among Park board members and county commissioners through the winter and spring led to the decision to remodel the auditorium, which withstood the floodwaters.

FEMA funds, in the amount of $20,000 available to restore the auditorium to pre-flood condition, helped. The Park also received $257,000 in matching funds from a Department of North Dakota Trust Lands grant to use for recovery projects.

"From the county’s perspective, that building was in good condition," said Kristi Titus, Renville County Emergency Manager. "Money-wise, it was better for us to use that building for the bar, rather than build a new one."

Work began earlier in the summer through Tafelmeyer Construction of Sawyer, with Reon Bernsdorf hired as contractor. A portion of the FEMA money was used to pay for a concrete overlay of the auditorium’s asbestos-containing floor tiles. According to Iverson, the new footings and rebar used for the floor actually stabilized the 60-year-old auditorium walls.

Then power saws started buzzing and walls went up. "Tom Witteman laid it out," Iverson said as he laughed about the ever-evolving floor plan for the facility. "We cut and add as needed. When we got started, we could see things that should be included."

Two 12’ x 16’ rooms were constructed inside the auditorium’s entrance, one for storage and one to hold meetings or host a private gathering. The 8’ x 30’ cooler runs along the right side of the auditorium, with a 12’ x 40’ bar facing it.

"It’ll be about the same size as the old one when we’re all done," Iverson said

The bar itself will have a metal facing, but the counter will be made of the red fir benches that once lined the walls of the auditorium. Iverson removed those seats after the flood, power-washed the planks, then cut and sanded the pieces. The old nail holes contrast against the smooth red-gold surface of the wood.

"Here, you got history," Iverson said.

Tables and chairs will be scattered along the left side of the auditorium, with a dance floor laid out in front of the stage. Two handicapped accessible restrooms are under construction off the right side of the stage. Concrete for a deck area was poured along the auditorium’s east side, and two sets of doors for that deck wait in their packaging to be installed.

Other doors, windows and trim are stacked and propped inside the auditorium, while various tools lay scattered along the bar. Iverson pointed to two plastic bags filled with tubes of paints he purchased for Saskatchewan artist and Park visitor Marylin Carter. She intends to recreate her painting of the Park’s central facilities and bridge as a mural on the wall behind the stage.

"I told her I was looking for an artist," he said. "She’s excited to do the work, and she’s already had $300 in donations toward the mural. That’s good, because I’ve got $300 worth of paint!"

Park guests are well aware of the bar project, and they often stop by the auditorium to check the progress.

"They can’t wait till the doors open," Iverson said. In fact, he had phone calls asking about the bar’s status for Labor Day weekend. "Sometimes, they think we’re kind of slow, but it’s to the point now where things are starting to show."

Iverson plans to continue working on the trim and bar counter as he can. The Health Department has approved the project, but requires the walls of the auditorium to be coated with a polyurethane treatment to protect against bacteria harbored in the bare wood.

Other aspects of the project are a matter of scheduling. "We’re still waiting for a plumber and electrician, like everybody else," Iverson said. "We hope to have it ready for next year."

The new bar hasn’t been named yet, but Iverson pointed to a large metal frame stored in one of the bar’s separate rooms. "I saved the old bar sign," he said. "I had [Duane] Ingerson sandblast and powder-coat it, and we had new inserts made for us."


Old is new again . . . The old frame for the bar sign (left)
has been restored to new condition and new panels (right)
made to match the old sign.


Cafe plans now underway
Titus noted that FEMA funds also helped pay for cleaning the bathrooms at the Park and buying new windows for the auditorium. The bar project started with a budget of $65,000, but that estimate has grown.

"We know that’s low," she said. "We’ve added some things that will be beneficial in the end, things we know we need like the patio and the handicapped accessibility ramp. We want to make sure we have a nice facility to provide to people."

She emphasized that to access any of the $257,000 in ND Land Trust funds granted to the Park, the county has to match the same amount. The deadline for use of those funds is June 2013, so preliminary work is underway now to plan and design a new café.

"I would guess it will go where the [old] bar was," Iverson said. "I would like to see a fair-sized building with a café on one side and an auditorium on the other for wedding receptions and family reunions, something that could opened up for the café overflow on weekends."

Titus explained a new building for a café was essential to meet North Dakota Department of Health regulations for eating establishments.

"We knew we’d never be able to convert the auditorium into an eating facility because the rules are so much different now," she said, "so the [county] commissioners have talked about putting up a new café facility."

No budget has been determined for the café project yet, although the Land Trust grant would match up to $184,600. Titus recognized the county’s share of the payments could be limited. However, she was pleased by the commissioners’ interest and efforts to restore the Park facilities so quickly.

"People don’t want to walk away from the Park after the flood," she said. "They want to watch it come back. Now is the most important time for people to invest their time and resources in it."

Persons interested in contributing to the projects at Mouse River Park are welcome to send donations to the Renville County Auditor, 205 Main Street East, Mohall, ND 58761, with a note designating the funds for the rebuilding efforts.

"Contributions are still being accepted," Iverson said. "I just had two people hand me $500 each to be used toward anything we wanted down here."

New campers and
trailers this summer,
a return to Park
activities next summer
Most Park residents are cleaning and restoring their own properties as well. "Just about everybody’s doing something," said Iverson. "There are some people who flooded both here and in Minot, so they have to fix their houses before they fix up down here."

Some of the damaged cabins have been replaced by campers or trailers. "But one guy who has a camper is building a three-season home," Iverson said, "and another one has a new camper but they want to build a more permanent structure. It may be a few years down the road, but you’re gonna see that happen."

He noted turnover in ownership in the Park didn’t seem to increase after the flood, with three properties changing hands and another set of lots under one owner sold to a new buyer. "That’s almost automatic every year anyway," he said.

Chuck Leet, president of the Mouse River Park Association, agreed with Iverson about progress seen in the Park’s residences. "For the whole area, I think we’re a year ahead of where we thought we’d be," he said. "There are two new cabins that are going to be built and one brand new mobile home."

Only two major events took place at the Park this summer, including the Renville County Old Settler’s Association annual gathering and a surprise 70th birthday party for Iverson, but that schedule is expected to get busier next summer.

"Nobody’s had time to conduct any formal activities this summer," said Leet as he spoke about the normal 4th of July, softball and Labor Day festivities that have been popular for several years. "But next summer, we’ll get back into our schedule of events again. This is the only recreational area we’ve got in the county."

Iverson plans to continue in the auditorium as time allows, with some of the finish work saved until the winter months. The traditional camping season ended with Labor Day weekend, but he’ll keep the south campground open as usual through hunting season, depending on weather. "And then, I’ve got 120 picnic tables to fix yet from the flood," he said.

Iverson may sound like he’s complaining when he talks about those picnic tables, but the truth is he’s happy to be back to regular Park tasks instead of dealing with road repairs and debris removal.

Like Iverson, Titus was pleased with the progress she’s seen with the Park’s recovery in just one year. "As time goes on, different grant programs have come along and that’s helpful, too," she said.

She noted signs of the 2011 flood were visible at the Park, but those damages are becoming less noticeable. "I think people will always be able to see remembrances of the flood," she said. "You still see stuff laying around, but it’s getting better."

"A year from now,” Iverson added, “we’ll be all the better yet.”

A lovely summer season . . . Mouse River Park has welcomed

visitors back this summer, following the 2011 Mouse River flood that
devastated the Park and its services.  This year, the flags fly again,
flowers bloom, the grounds are mowed, and recovery efforts
continue.  Park caretaker Darrell Iverson said about 50 campers
have been using the Park at any given time througout the season,
with the campgrounds open until winter weather intrudes.