​“The Heart and Soul of Our Community”

​“The Heart and Soul of Our Community”

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

NRD Partners with Beaver Crossing on Improvements to Historic Park

When a massive tornado tore through Beaver Crossing on Mother’s Day 2014, it destroyed or damaged virtually every home and business in the small community, ripped trees out by the roots, and left farm buildings lying in heaps of twisted metal. Powerlines blocked the roads and center pivots with wheels in the air were scattered across fields. 
 
Thankfully, no one in Beaver Crossing was hurt; neither was the community’s spirit harmed.
 
Immediately, residents began the long, slow process of clearing away the wreckage and working together to build back stronger than before.
 
The city park, just a few blocks from downtown, became the unofficial dumping grounds during the clean-up phase. Debris littered what was once the main gathering place for the community. “We wondered if we would ever see green grass there again,” said longtime resident Marsha Barth. “There were huge piles of trees and there was broken glass and nails everywhere.”
 
It took more than a year to finish repairs to homes and businesses before work on restoring the park could begin. Municipal funds were involved in the clean-up, but there wasn’t money in the village’s budget to rebuild the ballfields, grandstands, and other amenities. “It was a labor of love for the whole community,” to bring the park back to life, explained Terry Barth, Marsha’s husband and a lead volunteer on the park renovation. Even older folks who couldn’t do much physical labor came out to help. “With their trembling hands, they would hold the bolts or pass the wrenches,” recalled Terry.
 
It took years to raise the funds necessary and renovation happened in stages, a bit at a time. Thanks to contributions from citizens and businesses, hundreds of volunteer hours, and support from the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, the park is once more a focal point for the village. The latest upgrade included improvements to the park’s main building, which houses restrooms and the concession stand (the proceeds from which support youth sports). Through the Upper Big Blue NRD’s Parks Program, the NRD’s board of directors approved the village’s request to provide 25 percent of the local cost-share up to $10,000 toward the total $80,000 needed for the renovation.

"We feel good about the work that Beaver Crossing has put in to their park as well as the whole town itself in rebuilding," said Roger Houdersheldt, chairman of the Upper Big Blue NRD board of directors. "The amount of  labor and machinery that has been volunteered is remarkable and a testament to the town and surrounding area."
 
Summer 2020 was the perfect time for park improvements, as the pandemic meant the cancellation of regularly scheduled baseball and softball tournaments. The renovation was completed at the end of September, including upgrades to the bathrooms for ADA compliance. “We wanted to make sure the park was accessible for everyone,” said Jere Leif, who has worked with Terry to coordinate funds and volunteers for the project.  
 
“We couldn’t have done all of this without the help of the NRD,” explained Marsha. In addition to funds through the NRD’s Park’s Program, which supported the recent facility upgrades and the installation of a half-mile walking trail around the perimeter of the park, the NRD also supplied trees in the aftermath of the tornado. The NRD’s Storm Damaged Tree Program provided 170 new trees for planting on public and private property throughout the village in 2014.

The NRD Storm Damaged Tree Program provided 170 trees for the community after the tornado.

 

The NRD’s Parks Program offers district cities and villages planning and financial assistance for the development or improvement of natural resources in nature areas, campgrounds, and park facilities that encourage tree planting, creation of wildlife habitat, and open spaces. 

Now fully restored, the Beaver Crossing City Park is used by community members daily. Families enjoy the swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, and playground equipment. Seniors exercise on the walking trail. High school teams compete at the ballfields. A ladies group meets for coffee most days at the picnic shelter. The annual Beaver Daze community festival is held there (though this, too, was cancelled in 2020), featuring live music, a rib cook-off, and other events.

The park is also frequented by visitors who make use of the six RV hookup spots available for a free-will donation. The park is close enough to I-80 to be convenient for cross-country travelers, yet far enough away from the traffic to be a peaceful place to stop. “We hear from campers all the time that they are amazed such a small town has such a great park,” said Jere, noting that many travelers have also contributed funds to the community’s effort to rebuild.
 

Notes left by campers who enjoyed the Beaver Crossing Park campgrounds. Many campers also donated to the fund for park repairs after the tornado.


 

“This park is the town’s heart. It is the heart and soul of our community,” said lifelong resident Johnny Davis. A retired farmer, Davis has volunteered his time, labor, and tractor for park improvement projects since the tornado.
 
The park has been here for more than a century said Davis, reminiscing about the spring-fed, gravel-bottomed swimming pool and the vintage grandstand that used to be on the property. Davis recalled with a smile the memory of practicing with the high school football team at the park many decades ago and getting tossed, pads and all, into the old pool as part of freshman initiation to the team. While the park looks a bit different today, it remains a place where good times are celebrated and memories are made, thanks to the efforts of Beaver Crossing’s citizens and the partnership with the Upper Big Blue NRD.
 
Johnny Davis, lifelong Beaver Crossing resident, with his tractor getting ready to finish some work at the park.