Post flood, Duluth awash in volunteersSAM COOK: At Chester Bowl, volunteers toted debris, hauled logs, shoveled dirt, raked creek banks, carried pails of topsoil and filled flood-caused gouges in the ground.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
They came walking up Skyline Parkway toward Chester Bowl on Monday night as if they were walking to a concert in the park. They came from every direction — whole families, young couples, kids, senior citizens. But the instruments they carried told you this wasn’t concert night.
They carried shovels and rakes and loppers. Some pushed wheelbarrows. They came to clean up the park they loved, more than 400 of them, according to Cheryl Skafte, volunteer coordinator with the city of Duluth. They came to fix what the previous week’s flooding had left in its wake.
Once in the bowl, volunteers toted debris, hauled logs, shoveled dirt, raked creek banks, carried pails of topsoil and filled flood-caused gouges in the ground. They crawled over that park like ants on an ant hill, chatting and lifting and lugging and laughing.
It was like that song, “The Power of Love,” said Thom Storm, executive director of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club. “I’m just convinced that people love this park.”
It was cool. It was beyond cool. It was like a barn-raising in the pioneer days. Some of the park’s neighbors had baked cookies for the volunteers. Grandmothers worked alongside 5-year-olds. Teenage girls plowed calf-deep into Chester Creek to pass branches up a 30-person human conveyor belt. Kids and grown-ups slopped through boot-sucking muck the flood had left behind to remove tree limbs.
“I think this is quicksand!” one kid hollered.
“It is quicksand,” said another.
Dana Ludwig stood aside from the spectacle for a moment, gazing upon the outpouring of volunteer spirit.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” she said.
It had happened the previous weekend at the Lake Superior Zoo, where so many volunteers had shown up that some had to be turned away, said Lynn Habhegger, director of operations. More than 300 volunteers showed up there on Saturday and Sunday to help the zoo dig out, said Sarah Glesner, volunteer manager.
At Hartley Park on Sunday, 80 volunteers turned out to move a bridge, lug boardwalks and spread gravel on washed-out trails.
And no doubt, the same spirit is alive in hundreds of untold ways where neighbors are helping neighbors across town.
For a moment in time, all of us have put our differences in a drawer. We have put away the divisiveness and polarization that seems to plague our society. We have put away our territoriality and our ideology.
It turns out, those are luxuries affordable only in a world where we choose to engage each other from a distance. When the rains came and washed all of us downstream in one way or another, we woke up and realized we are not so different after all. We by gosh need each other. So, we stood in long lines, passing mucky gunk and big limbs to the person up the hill, getting dirty together and wet together and tired together.
And we discovered something else. It was just plain fun.
When it was over, we all left Chester with shovels on our shoulders, thinking about hot showers.
On Tuesday night, there was a concert in the park.
Sam Cook is a News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samcookoutdoors.