Hundreds of volunteers turn out to help clean Chester ParkChester Park regularly draws runners, hikers, dog walkers and skiers. On Monday evening it drew the same crowd and more — but they came to rake, carry branches and haul dirt.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Chester Park regularly draws runners, hikers, dog walkers and skiers. On Monday evening it drew the same crowd and more — but they came to rake, carry branches and haul dirt.
The park off East Skyline was hit hard in Wednesday’s storm, including erosion on the trails, damage to park structures, the loss of a pond and the remains of debris left behind from the flood. Last week officials estimated damage at $3 million to $4 million. About 400 volunteers — many of whom claim regular use of the space — stopped by Monday to help with cleanup.
“I think it’s so touching, it makes me want to cry,”
Jubilee Bond said of the turnout. She carried a 9-month-old on her back and had a 3-year-old at her side as she picked up sticks along the side of the creek. “We’re in Chester every day. We play at the park, walk, pick flowers.”
A bucket brigade moved gallons of dirt. A city employee broke down larger pieces of wood with a chain saw. Tree branches were passed from hand to hand to the parking lot. People raked sand from the grass in what was once a picnic area.
Thom Storm, executive director of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club, was in charge of operations, answering questions and handing out assignments. He’s had a relationship with the park for decades.
“The first day I took it like, ‘This is the new reality and I have to cooperate,’ ” he said. “Then I was overwhelmed by it. When I got home I collapsed mentally and emotionally.”
Then Storm started organizing cleanup plans. He sent a message to those who subscribe to the park’s newsletter. Storm said he thought about 50-75 people would show up to help.
Shannon Godsey has been getting involved in as many park cleanup events in the area as she can. The one at Chester Park was a given. She and her husband, Chris, live so close to the park that she refers to it as her front yard. Before the topographical makeover, she knew every corner of it. The Godseys were up early Wednesday morning tending to their storm sewers and then went to the park and took video footage of the storm. The water levels were the first indication of the severity of the situation.
“There is so much to do,” she said.
This wasn’t Kendra Nordgren’s first trip back to Chester Park since the storm. The trail runner said she and her husband, Eric, were at the park on Wednesday clearing culverts and rescuing a portable bathroom from falling into the river.
“It broke our hearts to see the damage,” she said, as she waited in line to sign up to volunteer. “We were trying to save what we could.
“We just moved here this fall and it’s unbelievable the sense of community.”
Wendy Williams, who lives near the University of Minnesota Duluth, called the park an integral part of the community.
“It’s a slice of America with the ski meets, the concerts and the fall colors,” she said.