Township turns spot into public rest areaPublished 10:44am Wednesday, September 12, 2012
To most people, the new County Highway 88 Rest Area will simply be a place to relax and see wildlife, a couple of picnic tables and a grassy area off one of the ponds in the Fergus Falls State Wildlife Management Area to the northwest of town.
To Vic Petterson, the rest area is a testament to community teamwork and togetherness.
Though he’s quick to defer credit for the creation of the rest area (off County Highway 88, not far past the I-94 Speedway), the grassy space was Petterson’s brainchild. A semi-retired grain and beef farmer in Fergus Falls Township, Petterson often drove into the city past the formerly overgrown alcove with one thought on his mind: “It’s such a shame that that spot was let go to heck.”
It wasn’t always like that. For a while when life-long Fergus Falls resident Petterson was still in school, the site was kept up by the State Hospital Sportsmen Club. The group, explained Petterson, had maintained the area as a small park-like spot, particularly on Sundays when the rest of the town “rolled up the streets.”
By the time Petterson graduated in 1957, however, the site was already falling into disrepair.
“What really hurt it was when the interstate opened up and more businesses were opened on Sundays,” he said.
Two years ago, Petterson decided to try to make something of the property. He contacted Shelly Becklund with the local DNR office and eventually won the department’s approval to open a park of sorts at the site. Then he needed someone to clear it.
“It was weeds, buckbrush; it was terrible,” he said.
Petterson ended up contacting the county’s sentencing to service program; the local jail inmates involved with the program cut down the brush and made the area more park-like.
Petterson then got a couple of heavy duty picnic tables from Kevin Langbehn of Fergus Tire, a sign from the M-R Sign Company and the Elizabeth Sportsmen’s Club and the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club to help with upkeep. He’s glad for the support the project has gotten from those groups and from others, and he gives them the credit for getting the rest area off the ground.
“It wasn’t who I was, it was who I knew,” he said.
The rest area is now open. There are possible plans to plant flowers and to even out some of the ground, but Petterson said modern facilities won’t likely be installed (an old bathroom facility remains on the site).
“We’re going to keep this in a natural state,” he said.
People already seem to be responding. Petterson has seen many cars parked in the area since it opened last weekend.