by Dennis Dalman
Q: How many Girl Scouts does it take to transform a neighborhood park?
A: Four Girl Scouts – Scouts with vision, determination and hard work.
Thanks to the four Scouts, the Huntington Park neighborhood park in south Sartell is receiving a new-and-improved look. The Scouts are Kali Enstad, Emily Hoppe, Ally Haas and Jessica Mergen – all of them 14 years old and the only four members of Sartell Girl Scout Troop 783, led by Ally’s mother, Wendi Haas.
More than a year ago, the four Scouts had been thinking of doing a community project to earn their “Silver Awards,” the prestigious honor between a bronze award and a gold award.
As soon as they saw Huntington Park last September, the girls’ visions clicked in. The park, they decided, was woefully lacking in certain amenities. It could, for instance, use a few benches on which parents could sit and watch their children play. The landscape fabric was showing under the playground equipment. The park badly needed some restful, shady areas landscaped with trees. There could be some exercise “stations” along the paved trail through the park. The girls also decided the park playground could use a couple more equipment games, such as a “Toss Up” and a “Twist” climber.
The girls’ vision that day was partly inspired by a visit they’d just made to the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud. Wendi Haas had driven them there to see an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the national Girl Scouts organization. On the way home, they drove by Huntington Park and decided to stop and have a look. The girls, incidentally, do not live by that particular park.
That’s when the ideas – and lots of excitement – started flowing.
The girls call their project the “Healthy Park, Healthy People Project.”
Once the girls had an image of a new-and-improved park, they began to brainstorm around the topic, “How to do it?”
Fundraising was obviously a priority. Ally made brochures about their proposed project and the need for funds and other help. The girls, with help from their mothers, posted the brochures in the park, throughout their neighborhood and at St. Francis Xavier Church.
To the girls’ surprise and delight, funds began to trickle into Girl Scouts headquarters.
Soon, they had enough to purchase some trees, with discounts offered by Thomsens Greenhouse. After consulting with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the girls were told the best trees to plant would be birr oaks and elm trees. The girls planted six trees so far and will plant four more, since their goal is a total of 10.
The biggest donation so far has been a couple pieces of equipment donated by the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education department. One is a leg-platform exercise machine; the other is some push-up, pull-up exercise bars. Each has been installed at two of the planned five exercise stations along the hiking-biking trail.
So far, the girls have put in at least 50 hours each working at the park, which is the minimum to earn a Silver Community Service Award. Ally alone has spent about 80 hours on the project.
They are still working. They want to raise about $10,000 more to add two pieces of playground equipment, plus the exercise equipment for three more stations along the trail.
Hard-headed realism caused the girls to drop a couple of their ideas: planting a garden there, replacing landscaping fabric under the playground equipment (the fabric must be there for safety purposes).
The girls have started to brainstorm to do a series of fundraisers for the project. One of those fundraisers will take place Tuesday, Sept. 17 at the Sartell House of Pizza. If people dine there or take out food from 5:30-8:30 p.m., a portion of every sale will be donated to the scouts’ Healthy Park, Healthy People Project.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the Huntington Park project can send a check to “Girl Scout Office,” 400 2nd Ave. S., Waite Park, MN 56387. Be sure to write “Sartell Park Project” on the memo line of the check.
For ongoing information about the park’s progress and upcoming fundraisers, see the four girls’ blog at: healthyparkhealthypeople.blogspot.com.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.