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Volunteers gather in Medora to renovate Children's Park

About 80 volunteers visited Medora on Saturday to help refresh the wooden children’s park downtown — which stands as a symbol for the power of volunteerism in Medora.

Three generations of Cullens volunteer their time to help retouch the wooden Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022. From left, Myron, Charles "Chuck," Nicolas and Quinn Cullen.
Three generations of Cullens volunteer their time to help retouch the wooden Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022. From left, Myron, Charles "Chuck," Nicolas and Quinn Cullen.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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MEDORA, N.D. — From staining wood to raking in rubber mulch, about 80 volunteers — even some multi-generational families — gathered in Medora this weekend to help give Children’s Park a new, fresh look.

The wooden park, which was constructed in 2001 in less than five days, underwent a total makeover with the power of volunteerism on Saturday. Once the wood was power-washed, groups got straight to work and began staining wood at about 8:30 a.m.

Charles “Chuck” Cullen, 87, and his wife were one of the many volunteers who partook in constructing the Medora Children’s Park in 2001. Located in Bismarck, Charles Cullen came back more than 20 years later with his son Myron Cullen and grandsons Nicolas and Quinn.

“It’s rewarding,” Charles Cullen said. “God is good — makes it all possible.”

A man volunteers his time on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Medora Children's Park, staining wood to help give it a new, fresh look.
A man volunteers his time on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Medora Children's Park, staining wood to help give it a new, fresh look.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Myron Cullen noted that this park is a focal playground that many North Dakotan families come to visit in the summer as they make a stop in Medora before venturing into Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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“It’s just great to meet all the volunteers. We’re just four of all of these folks here,” Myron Cullen said, adding that he met some Minnesotans while raking. “So that’s great, it attracts people from that far and wide.”

Volunteer Coordinator Peggy Gunther, with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, said that since February, this project has been in the works, from sending out a volunteer application to organizing a full day of work with about 80 volunteers. She noted that she’s had volunteers in Medora for two weeks. A group of six men have been working about six to eight hours every day, power-washing the wood in the playground before adding a new stain on it. Another group of volunteers also helped with prep work, removing all the old mulch off the ground.

“We staged everything, got the duties setup, had team leaders in each section to be able to know what they’re doing because we’ve divided the park off into sections and they’ve just been going to town, working like little busy bees here,” Gunther said.

When the park was about to kick off the ground in 2001, there was nothing but posts, Gunther said. But within a week, volunteers transformed it into a park that’s been a destination spot for many years to those who visit Medora.

Shovel by shovel and rake by rake, a group of volunteers level out piles of new rubber mulch at Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
Shovel by shovel and rake by rake, a group of volunteers level out piles of new rubber mulch at Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

People from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana pitched in their efforts Saturday. Some volunteers have donated their time for the past two decades, Gunther noted, adding that they’re not just visitors when they come to the park.

“It warms your heart in many ways,” Gunther said. “A lot of these people come to Medora year after year and it’s that hard to explain. Medora, even though it seems like it’s a tourist town, people will often come out here and they’ll say this is my happy place or I love my husband and just going around, I heal. And there’s something about the atmosphere, our employees and the organization and the townspeople of Medora where they just feel like we’re home.”

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A bird's eye view of the volunteer work being done at Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
A bird's eye view of the volunteer work being done at Medora Children's Park on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Back in 2001, Shirley Holzer worked at Target and she came out with her husband, Bob, and a group to help establish the wooden park in Medora. Being that her husband is a carpenter by trade, he helped build the structure, Holzer said, adding that she worked with the sand and bark. Now that they’re retired, the Holzers decided to sign up once they caught word of the volunteer event.

“I think it’s wonderful. Our names are on the plaque over there, and every time we come to Medora, we always take our picture by the plaque,” Holzer said. “So it’s a wonderful place.”

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation President Randy Hatzenbuhler remarked on how fortunate they were to receive a large turnout of volunteers.

“It’s awesome. People love the Children’s Park. I just got in early this morning myself and I know the weather kept some people away, but this looks like an army to me,” Hatzenbuhler said. “When we built this 20 plus years ago, we had 344 volunteers and they gave 10,000 man-hours in four and a half days. There wasn’t one piece of wood that was pre-cut or pre-drilled and it grew out of the ground and it needed to be refreshed. And so, it’s awesome that all these people come out and help us.”

A crew of 12 representatives from Bravera Bank, who helped sponsor the facelift of the park, were also present in Medora, lending a hand in the staining process.

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“When you look at what Medora does, not just for southwest North Dakota but for all of North Dakota, we really wanted to be a part of it,” Bravera Bank Chief Marketing Officer Cill Skabo said. “We have branches all over the state of North Dakota and we have some in Montana and… we just branched out to Minnesota, and it’s just amazing to see how many people this is a destination for visitation and we want to be part of that… I have four kids and when you think of Medora, what do you think of? The wood playground. So what a great partnership, so it’s been really good for us.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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