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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 25 2010

Fargo Park District celebrates centennial

Enjoying a Fargo park, trail, tennis court, pool, playground or baseball diamond this week? Take a second to say happy birthday.

The Park District is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its creation.

The party starts with a German folk fest today and ends Thursday with a celebration at the grandpappy of the city’s parks, Island Park.

“The 100-year anniversary is really something to celebrate,” said Park Board President Mary Johnson. “In 1910, Island Park was the only park, and now we have somewhere around 90 parks and 2,100 acres.”

“I think it’s very exciting. We have a tremendous park system. The facilities are top-notch,” Park Board Commissioner Ron Sorvaag said.

The land for Island Park – long considered the jewel among Fargo’s parks – was donated to the city in 1877 by Northern Pacific railroad, said John Bye, director of the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University.

Local historian David Danbom said the park – known for a time as Lincoln Park – really was an island during Red River floods, and much of it was a slough. The railroad thought it had no value, he said.

But it was valued by the city’s residents.

After the big fire of 1893, those left homeless camped in the park, he said.

The city created the Park District in November 1910. Island Park was officially turned over to the district in 1911, Bye said.

“In the first 50 or 60 years of the city, Island Park was where you’d have major city events. If important people came to town, that’s where they’d speak. If there were big parades, that’s where they’d end,” Danbom said.

Since its inception, the district has grown quickly and adapted to the times:

Carolyn Boutain, the district’s director of cultural activities, said Fargo residents always treated parks as necessary to good living.

“The parks have always been important. There’s been that commitment to having parks,” she said.

Fargo Park District events this week

The Fargo Park District is celebrating its 100 years of operation this week. All events are free and open to the public.

Early years of the Fargo Park District

Here’s a peek at the early years of the Fargo Park District drawn from board meeting records.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583