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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published June 22 2012

Reopening of Minot park heralds hope after flood

MINOT, N.D. – When Ron Merritt saw Minot’s Oak Park after the peak of last summer’s Souris River flooding, he despaired about making it normal again. Water had reached the eaves of the park’s picnic shelters, river sediment was everywhere and a 60-foot ash tree had toppled across its band shell.

“I had a hard time believing this day would come a few months ago,” the director of the city’s Park District said.

The day came Friday, with the help of donated money, goods and sweat. Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman, former Minot banker and current U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and a group of other dignitaries began a “Weekend of Hope” anniversary celebration by reopening Oak Park, one of the city’s largest and hardest-hit by last summer’s floods.

More than 300 people attended the ceremony, held with children playing on park equipment a few hundred feet away.

“It’s a great place to walk,” said Mike Wilz, of Minot, who was a regular Oak Park visitor with his wife, Dorthy, before last summer’s flooding. “And they have the Canada geese. They’re fun to watch.”

Minot has more than a dozen parks, most of which were submerged for a month or more last summer when the Souris River, swollen by melting snow and heavy spring rains, hit record levels and overran a series of emergency levees.

More than 4,100 homes were damaged, and 12,000 people were forced to evacuate. The flood destroyed two schools and forced the closing of a U.S. Highway 83 viaduct, which made it difficult to travel between the north and south halves of the city.

During Friday’s ceremony, Zimbelman noted that thousands of former city residents were still displaced. The Federal Emergency Management Agency made more than 2,000 mobile homes available as temporary housing, and more than 1,300 are still being used, Zimbelman said.

“This means we still have a long way to go,” he said.

The Souris, also known as the Mouse River in North Dakota, crosses from Canada’s Saskatchewan province near Sherwood, in northwestern North Dakota, and flows past Burlington, Minot and Velva before turning north and re-entering Manitoba northeast of Westhope.

Oak Park covers about 90 acres and is named for the bur oaks that grow there. Its band shell has hosted weekly concerts, and the park has markets where farmers sell fresh produce twice a week in the summertime. At Christmas, a local civic club sets up displays of Christmas lights.

Merritt said almost all of the parks have been cleaned up and readied for summer, although the most heavily damaged park, Roosevelt, which is adjacent to the city’s zoo, still needs extensive work and has not reopened.

More than 200 of the zoo’s animals are being kept in about 15 zoos around the country and a wildlife park in Wichita, Kan.

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