Rebuilding St. Peter - One Playground at a Time
By Erin Galbally
April 27, 2001
It's been three years since a tornado wiped out Saint Peter's famous canopy of trees. A new playground is going up to mark the spot where one of the town's huge trees grew. More than a 1,000 volunteers are transforming an empty spot into a scene out of 19th-century river town life.
Thanks to more than 1,000 volunteers and donations from 70 percent of the town's businesses, the playground is near completion.
(MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)
AS THE FIRST SHIFT OF VOLUNTEERS hammer away, organizer Martha Morrow says this is an opportunity for Saint Peter residents to work together in the tornadoes aftermath; not out of necessity, but out of joy. Eventually this storm-damaged park will be home to a log cabin, one-room school house, even a child- sized steam ship.
"This tree was enormous," says Morrow, "an enormous, enormous tree was at the site of where the playground is being built, or pretty close to it. That's where the name came from; that we were the TREEmendous playground. The trees that we lost and then just the symbolism of the tree, with it just being a grassroots fundraised thing and what will come from it is what's happening now."
The idea started with Morrow more than 18-months ago. Thanks to more than 1,000 volunteers and donations from 70 percent of the town's businesses, her vision is being completed.
High school senior Marely Sutton helps lead the construction team.
"The big goal yesterday was to get all of these poles in and obviously we got more than just the poles done. We got the poles done, some of the framing done. We had people digging holes for the fence outside. They just started digging and digging," Sutton says.
Across the way, Stan Benson's down on his hands and knees, a Sherlock Holmes pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth with a power screwdriver in reach.
People with a range of experience have taken on the construction effort. Equipped with construction goggles, power-tool novice Lisa Dirks drills her auger into a log, the foundation of what will become a chain-link climbing bridge.
People with a range of experience have taken on the construction effort. Stan Benson's specialty is the power screwdriver.
(MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)
All of the tools come from a trailer set up on the edge on the site. Nathan Eitald, a self-described "wood butcher extraordinaire" is in charge of handing out borrowed equipment and occasionally helping a lost volunteer find their way.
"I can tell the people that are coming. I know if they know what they're doing or if they're a little lost. I can get them the right tool," Eitald says.
Out in front, Shirley Mellama mans a long table; home to buckets of screws and nails, which she hands out to needy volunteers.
"Time is of the essence. We just want to get this done as soon as possible and, hopefully, the kids will get to get out here soon," Mellama says.
By the time the last nail is hammered, organizers expect close to 2,000 volunteers will have spent time on the project. After three years focused on rebuilding, this project is all about creating something new.