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Volunteers clean up mess at Mouse River Park while looking ahead to next year

Two strands of barbed wire strung across the east entrance to Mouse River Park were taken down Saturday, August 13th.

8/10/11 (Wed)

Road work ahead . . . Large sections of the west access road into
Mouse River Park have washed down the river during the past four
months.  The road was designed to serve as the spillway for the river
outside the Park, but the water's intense action since April eroded
the asphalt and road bed, leaving gaping holes, small waterfalls,
driftwood and new sandbars in its wake.  Drivers should plan to use
the east access entrance into the Park the rest of the season. 


Space for the mountains of garbage . . . Connie Howell and Vonnie
Nielsen, at right, bring in their last bag of trash picked up from the
south campground at Mouse River Park during the volunteer cleanup
day.  The dumpsters at left and growing appliance pile dwarf the two
women, but the debris and trash left behind by the Mouse River flood
are slowly getting hauled out of the Park.  Two additional 30-yard
roll-off dumpsters are also available to Park property owners.  At least
eight of the roll-offs have been filled so far.  "We'll try to keep
the roll-offs here until they get where they're not being used
very much," said Darrell Iverson, Park caretaker.



By Caroline Downs
Two strands of barbed wire strung across the east entrance to Mouse River Park were taken down Saturday, August 13th.
That allowed volunteers wearing bright orange T-shirts with the words “Mouse River Park Flood Recovery 2011” to clear trash and debris from the area and start making the Park ready for recreational use again.
The orange shirts stuck out in contrast to the drab brown and gray vegetation of the Park, the grass and shrubs either killed by long exposure to high water or covered in a layer of silt.
Renville County Emergency Manager Kristy Titus and Park caretaker Darrell Iverson welcomed the work of nearly 80 volunteers, many of whom arrived with backhoes, Bobcats, pickups and trailers, ATVs and other types of equipment. “Our goal today was to remove as much debris as we can with the volunteers that we have,” Titus said.
That debris ranged from whole decks and docks knocked loose and moved by the river to baby diapers, according to Titus, and was scattered through the campgrounds, roads, ditches and central gathering area of the Park around the café, bar and gazebo.
But not any more, not after volunteers of all ages from both sides of the border finished.
Connie Howell and her mother Vonnie Nielsen of Norma hauled the last, partially-filled garbage bag from the south campground shortly after noon that day. Neither of the two women owns property at the Park, but they wanted to help.
“I have friends who camp down here, and I come to see them,” said Nielsen, who also helped with sandbagging efforts before the Park flooded in June. She paused and glanced around. “It looks better in places than I thought it would.”
“This is just a nice little park,” Howell added. “I have things to do at home, too, but I felt I could give a Saturday morning to help the community.”
Chuck and Janet Leet and Larry and Jo Raap, all of Kenmare, do own property at the Park and have been working to clear their cabins and yards as time has allowed. On Saturday, however, they teamed up to clean the east camping area and piled logs, landscaping timbers and even a child-size wooden rocking chair onto the Leet’s trailer.
“It’s nice to see the activity here today,” said Janet Leet. “For the Park, we need this. We want to totally get back to what it was.”
She laughed as she described her original plans for the summer at the Park, which included planning and overseeing the popular kids’ games she and Chuck organize for families during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. “We have tubs and tubs of games and prizes we bought this year,” she said, adding that those items were hauled out of the Park to stay safe and dry. “We even bought bingo cards and a bingo machine for the kids this year. We thought it would be something different for them.”
Then she shook her head and smiled. “Well, we have it for next year,” she said.
The idea of “next year” at Mouse River Park was prevalent among the property owners and other volunteers on Saturday. Some of the Park’s visitors were making their first trip back to the area that weekend and starting the job of gutting cabins and trailers as they tried to comprehend the damage, but Joe Engh, who lives on the east side of the Park’s boundary, has witnessed all the events of the flood.
Engh was relentlessly cheerful during Saturday’s workday, even as he described the flood itself. “We were sandbagging when they evacuated the Park, so everybody was in my yard,” he said. “We were standing there talking, watching the water.”
More water than
anyone ever imagined
He said his mother’s house, which is slightly downslope from his, had about three feet of water in the crawl space under the building, but his house and basement stayed dry.
While the Park was being back-flooded, Engh and his friends measured the river’s progress by placing sticks upright in the ground at various places, only to see those submerged and the water keep rising. “There was more water than anyone ever imagined,” he said.
Engh made his yard available to some of his Canadian friends from the Park who needed a place to store boats, golf carts and other recreational equipment away from floodwaters. After the river levels dropped, he discovered several spare tires in his backyard, so he stashed those until the owner comes to claim them.
On Saturday, he was buzzing around in his pickup, hauling trash and making plans to use his boat to collect some of the debris still floating and bobbing in the river through the Park. He was certain that visitors would be returning next year.
“As long as people from the area stick together, the Park will get back in shape,” he said. “This Park isn’t going away, not if I can help it. The roots run deep enough in the Park.”
Chuck Leet agreed. “We grew up here. Our parents grew up here,” he said. “In this whole region, if they didn’t camp down here, they at least came down to fish and picnic.”
Blake Iverson, age 16 and the son of Rob and Vanessa Iverson, lives at the Park year-round. He and his brother Kolby took their turns walking the dike through April, May and June, watching for seepage and keeping muskrats, ground squirrels and other rodents from digging holes in the soft ground.
After the flood, he helped monitor the pumps used to drain the Park, as well as gut and clean the first floor of his own house. Since then, he has cleared garages and other buildings for Park property owners who have hired him. “It’s hot, but that doesn’t bother me,” he said with a grin.
He has also assisted Titus with several jobs around the Park and looks forward to seeing the county buildings repaired. “The bar and café are big attractions down here,” he said. “Hopefully, everything will get back to the way it was.”
Kent and Ali Bahl of Sherwood were also positive about the Park’s prospects. Kent Bahl actually operated the Mouse River Park Café in 1978, then bought property in the Park a year later. “We all have the same problem, and it’s the common denominator right now,” he said, “but all the people helping us are just wonderful.”
He described the Park as a melting pot for the area, first for residents from the Mohall, Kenmare, Sherwood, Minot and Tolley communities, with Canadian citizens joining the mix in the past few years. “The core will be the same,” he said. “The Park will look different for a while, but this is probably drawing people together. This Park goes back for generations. It’s got wonderful history, and it will have more history.”
His wife Ali called his attention to the present as she described her plans for the afternoon, which included a quick trip back to their house. “Then, we’ll meet you on the dike!” she said.
Clearing the sandbags from the dike became the rallying point of the day, one of the final jobs to complete for several of the workers. Other volunteers devoted time late in the day to assist individual cabin owners dispose of soggy mattresses, furniture and appliances.
Iverson and Titus have organized debris removal from the Park as much as possible. A small trailer holds scrap metal. The regular Waste Management dumpsters are available for other garbage, along with two 30-yard roll-offs that have already been emptied eight times. A temporary site for burnable items has been established behind the softball field.
Iverson was pleased to see several owners had already been at the Park to clean their sites. “It doesn’t take too long to fill those dumpsters up when there’s a bunch of people,” he said, “but quite a few of the property owners are all done, and a few of the residents have had their electric boxes inspected and their meters put in.”
Saturday’s efforts encouraged Iverson. “Everything looks like it’s getting done as well or better than we could have done it,” he said. “Faster, anyway. This outside stuff is probably the most important. Every day I come to work, it gets a little bit better.”
With the debris eliminated and the grounds looking cleaner, Iverson and Titus can turn their attention next to the county facilities. “The bar and café are pretty damaged,” said Iverson. “I haven’t seen anything that looked good.”
The bathhouse in the center of the Park was operational on Saturday, including the showers. However, other bathroom facilities around the Park still have to be repaired or even gutted, not to mention the other buildings.
“I just finished with the FEMA inspectors this week,” Titus said, adding that the agency also reviewed damages to roads in Renville County. “They’re putting together estimates on how much it’s going to take to repair the buildings.”
All the electrical camping pads will have to be replaced in the Park campgrounds, as well as toilets, sinks, walls, hot water heaters and partitions in the bathrooms. The auditorium will be professionally cleaned, with few repairs expected in there, but the café and bar sustained more extensive damage.
Titus didn’t have the FEMA estimates as of Saturday, but she predicted the total to approach $500,000. “FEMA will help with the buildings and with preventive measures, but they won’t help with the cost of replacing trees and grass,” she explained. “And we can count our volunteer time toward the county’s cost share.”
Renville County is expected to cover 15 percent of the expenses, so those volunteer hours are valuable. “FEMA will pay us per volunteer per hour,” Titus said, “so we’re trying to track our volunteer time as much as we can.”
To help with the costs, collections for the Mouse River Park Flood Recovery Fund were jump-started with sales of the $15 orange T-shirts and the $5 “2011 Mouse River Park Flood” CD of photos from the flood-fighting efforts compiled by Jessica Fitzsimmons. Annette Morris of Sherwood served concessions at the Park Saturday, with proceeds from those sales also donated to the recovery fund.
“Those and any other donations will be used basically for the county facilities down here,” Titus said.
Cheryl Overby of Mohall, and Park resident, designed and ordered the T-shirts which have been popular. “People have been buying them even if they don’t want to wear them,” she said. “They say they want a piece of history.”
She was happy to be down at the Park on a sunny Saturday. “It’s nice to able to walk around down here now,” she said as she commented on progress made by the other volunteers. “It is still the Park to me. I can’t wait to get down here each time. Even though it’s ugly right now, it’s still the Park.”
Titus understands. “It’s hard for the volunteers and the residents to stay away, no matter how bad it is,” she said. “They just want to help.”
She shook her head and admitted she couldn’t get accustomed to the sour smell from the rotting vegetation or the lack of green grass. “I said to my husband, ‘I just think I’m going to go down there one day and it’s all going to be gone,’” she said.
However, she keeps returning to work there every day, and she was inspired by Saturday’s results. “It does look a lot better, just to get stuff picked up!” she said. “Renville County appreciates all of the help from the volunteers today. We couldn’t have done it without you!”
Additional T-shirts and CDs will be sold at the Renville County Farmer office and Diane’s Snip-n-Go Salon, both in Mohall, with all proceeds given to the Park’s flood recovery fund. Donations can also be mailed to the Renville County Treasurer, 205 Main Street East, Mohall, ND 58761, with checks written to “Renville County” and a note specifying the money is for the Mouse River Park Flood Recovery Fund.

Still welcome at Mouse River Park . . . Even after enduring
floodwaters at depths ranging between 6 and 16 feet in the Park,
the Mouse River Park sign remains standing near the gazebo.
Shrubs and flowers palnted around the gazebo died after being
submerged, but Sonja Stromswold of the Flower House and
Garden Center in Mohall provided the two baskets of blooming
pink flowers now hanging in the sign.  "She told me we needed
color," said Mouse River Park caretaker Darrell Iverson.  "We
looked kind of drab."

Jumble of decks and docks . . . With river flows approaching
30,000 cubic feet per second in the Mouse River during the flood,
several decks, docks, small buildings and other types of structures
were carried off by the water and deposited at the bridge on
the south end of the Park.