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Clara City puts it all together Saturday

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Jeff Johnson removes a stump Tuesday from a well-shaded area of mature maple and ash trees that will become Clara City's Legacy Park North. He worked to prepare the site for the erection of playground equipment Saturday.1 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Jeff Johnson, left, and Josh Neu, with Jeff Johnson Excavating, begin site preparation Tuesday for the erection of playground equipment this Saturday by volunteers in Clara City. A volunteer committee raised $130,000 to equip two playgrounds in the community. 2 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Laurie Dieken, left, and Annette Rosen look over the Legacy Park South site in Clara City where volunteers will be erecting playground equipment Saturday. The Legacy Park South area measures 43 feet by 65 1/2 feet, and the Legacy Park North area measures 88 feet by 72 feet. 3 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Lainie Rieger, from left, Laurie Dieken and Annette Rosen are among nine committee members who led a fundraising campaign that will bring $130,000 worth of playground equipment to two new parks in Clara City. Now it's up to community volunteers to erect the equipment beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday. 4 / 4

CLARA CITY — There's a lot of speculation about the future of small towns these days.

Residents in Clara City will provide their answer Saturday, when they are expected to join in force as volunteers to build two new parks.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, residents will gather at what will be known as Legacy Park North, located next to the Prairie Park Place assisted living facility on Chippewa County Road 2, and at Legacy Park South, in the residential area near the Cenex station.

They will be erecting roughly $130,000 worth of park equipment at the now largely vacant, city-owned sites.

The funds were raised over the past 2½ years in a campaign that organizers believe says a great deal about the community's belief in its future, not to mention a love for kids.

"I think, in my opinion, people have a real heart for kids,'' said Lainie Rieger, a member of the fundraising committee for the project, when asked what led residents to support an ambitious fundraising drive for park equipment.

It came at the same time as a $500,000 campaign was underway for a new swimming pool.

All of this in a community of just over 1,300 people.

Rieger said she is also convinced the support can be attributed to a recognition by people that the park project will benefit the community.

"They are proud of Clara City," she said. "There are good things happening here."

Laurie Dieken, as president of the Clara City Lions Club, first raised the idea of erecting playground equipment under the maple and ash trees that shade city-owned property next to Prairie Park Place. She had brought along her grandson to visit her mother-in-law at the facility, and realized he had no place outside to play as they visited.

Dieken said she thought there was no better place to develop a playground. Children could play, and residents could watch and visit with them, encouraging some intergenerational friendships, she said.

The suggestion quickly found support, and more. Residents on the south side of state Highway 23 asked if park equipment could be installed on a city parcel there as well. Children now must cross the busy highway and BNSF Railway tracks to reach the city's only playground on the north side.

Great ideas, but Dieken said they knew they were in for a challenge when the Save the Pool committee announced its fundraising campaign. She said the playground committee members got together and decided to go ahead under the mantra: "As long as it takes us, it takes us."

Spaghetti feeds, fish fries, collection jars for spare change, garden tours, and the sale of engraved, commemorative bricks for a walkway into the park were among the strategies that followed. Dieken did some grant writing too.

The Lions Club International Foundation matched $65,000 of locally raised funds. The Bernick Family Foundation provided $12,500.

Still, Dieken said they were about $30,000 short of their goal and reaching crunch time when she put together an email telling the playground equipment supplier that they may need to scale back their order. Before she punched the "send" key, a check for $10,000 arrived from a donor.

The next day's mail brought a $7,000 donation. And two days later, she learned of an $8,000 donation on its way.

All of it will make possible two, very well-equipped parks at no cost to the city. Legacy North will include equipment aimed at children ages 3 and up, as well as fitness equipment for adults. Legacy South will include equipment for children ages 3 to 12. A basketball court at the site will remain as well.

The playground equipment will sport the colors of the MACCRAY School District, and include some of the latest in gear. Both parks will include swings on which an adult and child can swing together, facing one another.

Site work has already been completed, and the organizers will have all of the equipment at the sites and ready for assembly Saturday.

"This is not an Ikea moment," joked Dieken when asked how the volunteers will put it all together. Representatives from Minnesota Wisconsin Playground, the equipment supplier, will be on hand to assist and direct the volunteers.

The work will continue until completed. Volunteers need only show up at either of the sites as they can through the day Saturday, Dieken said. Food and beverages will be served and all of the needed tools will be available.

Committee members admit that raising the funds and getting it all together has taken lots of work.

"I thought I was being invited to a committee and we were going to get together and pick out playground equipment. It's been 2½ years of fundraising. I was played like a guppy," Rosen said and laughed.

She said Dieken deserves the credit for keeping everyone on track.

"She never got discouraged," Rosen said. "She had this vision."

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335