WADENA, Minn. -- Fighting for your attention these days are many heavy things. Elections, a pandemic, old man winter breathing down your flannel shirt. People need places to escape the chaos and find some peace and quiet. Green Island could be that place for you.
Tucked between Wadena's largest car dealership and a mix of commercial and residential properties is a gravel driveway leading to one of Minnesota's oddities, a 60-acre natural playground within a city. The property owner Kent Scheer, has created a natural wonderland for contemplation, meditation and relaxation by repurposing his childhood home and family farm. Trails adorned with art, orchards, wildflowers, and a Kuti -- a special hut dedicated to meditation await visitors to this hidden gem.
What's so special about this private property along the Highway 10 corridor is it's open to the public. Scheer said the idea to open the property up came about many years ago as some people were already sneaking into the property. Opening the land up allowed people to venture into the forested area in daylight hours to lawfully enjoy the trail system that winds through pine trees, deciduous forests and lowlands filled with cattails, sumac and chest deep grasses. The open access gave the community more stake to respect and appreciate the land for what it is.
“We just said ‘let’s turn this around, let’s let everybody feel invited,’ and therefore people will have some sense of interest in this area so maybe they will be concerned enough to help prevent vandalism,” Scheer said.
Even being open to all, he expects just a few hundred people visit each year and rarely more than a couple candy wrappers are found from the traffic. The kind sharing of the land seems to get respect and appreciation in return.
“We get the satisfaction that we are creating something for the city of Wadena that is a novelty not seen elsewhere,” Scheer said.
Those heading north on Highway 71 in Wadena can spot the large “Green Island” sign just before leaving town. As the name suggests, Green Island is a largely evergreen place even under inches of snow because of its many pine trees. Its location allows locals or out-of-towners quick access away from all the noise and busyness. Park the car, and in under a minute you are on the way to peace and serenity. The start of the journey takes you past metal artwork and apple trees. Many trees are identified so people can get to know the particular species that seem to thrive under the watchful eyes of the caretakers.
Private gardens are fenced and marked as such, and you may even find the property owners busy caring for the hundreds of varieties of plants grown here. Past that point you’ll continue on the forest loop that welcomes you with a dozen points of poetry along the way. Unlike most indoor venues right now, you don’t need to be concerned about social distancing or browsing time. You’ll likely be the only one there. Take your time.
The poetry is part of a project led by Wadena County Historical Society director Lina Belar. Minnesota poets were invited to submit original poems of hope and reassurance to help sustain people through the current pandemic earlier this summer.
“Poetry is often used as a tool of challenge, to point out a need for improvement,” Belar said in her request for poem submissions for this venture. “The poetry that is needed for this emergency is one that shows what is right and what can be nurtured if we have the words. Our communities will survive if we band together in spirit even as we stay apart in space. Poetry can be a way to bind us together.”
Aside from the poems on the trail, there are two opportunities for the public to add their own poetry or commentary. One at a magnetic board within the woods with a variety of words users can string together to create sentences or sayings. As people exit, there is a chalkboard where people leave many of their positive comments about what they saw, heard or enjoyed about the outdoor space.
“When people are out here they are usually looking for a little quiet and some chance to just kind of be alone,” Scheer said. He doesn’t often interact with people on his property where he lives with his wife, Vicki Chepulis, but he loves to read their comments on the board.
The poetry walk is similar to the story walks put on at Green Island. This program places pages from a book along the trail to get school children to read while walking in the outdoors.
Belar received nearly 50 poem submissions. Most have been displayed for a month at a time since August. She believes they’ll continue to be displayed through November. She said the response from poets and the public has been very positive and she hopes to be able to expand the project further if more funding is available.
“It’s been the perfect vehicle,” Belar said of the arts-related project showcased outdoors. With nothing to touch and few people to see, it’s a place largely void of restrictions. “Hopefully it gives people a little lift,” Belar said.
Scheer said the poetry walk has been a creative solution to the problems created by COVID-19.
“It’s an important novelty to have creative answers -- a creative solution to COVID,” Scheer said.
In one of the poems displayed on the trails, “After the Rain,” poet Judith B. Miller compares how nature works together with how humans have to work together for a solution, or miraculous end to COVID-19.
“The Covid storm, a global travesty
binds us together like hyphae
in ways seldom seen or understood.
Medics, scientists technologists,
folks work behind the scenes,
sharing knowledge, searching for a cure.
Like the droplets of rain clinging
to leaves, they hope,
from the detritus, a miracle will arise.”
The trails remain open here year round and kick sledding and snowshoeing are typical winter activities here. Once a solid pack of snow is in place it can become too slick for walking but perfect for kicksledding. Kicksleds are provided, also free to use.
Care to share a poem
Submitted poems can be on any topic. Poems could be for your neighbor or the business down the street, they could be for anyone, anywhere, who is being affected by Coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, Belar said.
Send submissions through the “Submit a Poem” page at www.LinaBelar.com.
This project is supported in part through the Community Emergency Relief Fund, a partnership between Emergency Arts and Springboard for the Arts to support creative leadership to address urgent community needs. Find out more about the Community Emergency Relief Fund at http://www.springboardforthearts.org/cerf and more about Emergency Arts at https://emergencyarts.net/.