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Labor of love - Community garden project begins to take root in Alexandria

A manmade stream is one of the main water features in Maritime Gardens. A waterfall and foot bridge are upstream from where these landscapers worked.1 / 2
A local manufacturing firm underwrote the cost of this copper-roofed gathering space. An area service organization contributed funds for another shelter in the garden.2 / 2

Eventually, it will be a place of beauty, tranquility and solace - a place for the entire community to enjoy.

Now, it's a lesson in self-less giving and an opportunity for some local tradesmen to create a work of art on nature's canvas.

The Maritime Gardens, located on the campus of the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria, started out as some simple sketches on a piece of paper.

Slowly but surely, those sketches are coming to life.

Area landscape contractors came together to design and coordinate the garden project last spring. Since then, they've been joined by numerous other businesses and individuals who have worked hard to make the dream a reality.

"I've worked with a number of community causes through the years, but I've never been involved with something like this," said Bruce Olson, Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum director. "This has been a very exciting project."

Olson explained that what is unique about this effort is that it is bringing together business competitors to not only work side-by-side, but also to plan, share ideas and appreciate each other's talents and strengths.

"These people are using their skills in combination with the skills of other professionals to create something really unique," he said. "There is no competition involved - they are doing what they do best and working hard to put out high quality work.

"They really seem to enjoy being part of something that is unique that will have long-lasting results," he added. "This is something visible and permanent that can be visited for generations."

Their enthusiasm is evident even in the project sketches, which depict a grand scale two-acre landscape complete with pavered paths, shelters and seating areas, a variety of water features and many varieties of annual and perennial plants, trees and shrubs.

The enthusiasm was contagious, and others began pledging their support of the project.

"We've had some major contributors and lots of volunteers come forward to help with this," Olson said, citing a few examples:

• A national nursery supplier donated $5,000 of supplies at wholesale cost.

• A local nursery offered $5,000 of annual plants each year for five years, along with a person to care for them once a week for five years.

• An area landscaper volunteered to install the complete irrigation system.

• A service group donated money to pay for a shelter.

• A local manufacturing firm offered to underwrite the cost of a copper roofed multi-sided gathering space.

• A local couple donated thousands of dollars to be used as needed.

But, Olson admits, more help is always needed.

"This is a big project, and of course it costs a lot of money," he said. "We've been blessed with so many people stepping forward to volunteer the labor and we've had some companies donating materials, but we still have a lot of needs to make this a reality."

Olson said that the project will take about 10,000 square feet of pavers. The labor is being donated, but the pavers need to be purchased.

There is irrigation piping, pumps, sprinklers, rebar, playground equipment, landscaping materials and many other items to be purchased for the project to be completed.

The unusual weather patterns experienced locally last spring and a rainy summer also held the project up.

"We aren't as far as we had planned to be, but that's OK," Olson said. "When you have volunteers willing to help out, you gladly accept what they can give you when they can give it to you.

"We can't have a rigid timeline with something like this," he added. "We had an unusual spring, and contractors got 30 to 40 days behind in their own jobs. They've got to do their work first and help us out whenever they can."

Several of those contractors came together for a full day of volunteer work on a recent Saturday and good progress was made.

"It really was something to see," Olson said. "There were seven Bobcats and a mini excavator all going at the same time. It was satisfying work. Everyone was smiling at the end of the day."

The hope is that Phase I of the three-phase project will be completed this fall, with Phase II being completed by fall 2012 and Phase III sometime in 2013.

"We're doing the best we can," Olson said. "The main thing is the project is moving forward and the volunteers are enjoying what they're doing, and when it's all done, the community is really going to have something here to be proud of."


Financial donations may be sent to: Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum "Garden Project," P.O. Box 1216, Alexandria, MN. For more information, call Bruce Olson at (320) 759-1114.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211