As protracted as the 12-year process has been, the parking lot off Hwy. 23 near New London is not the most complex of construction projects: painted white lines on black asphalt for parking, a bench and three flagpoles.
But it would be hard to find a more meaningful one.
Tracy and Rick Clark have battled for years to get their son’s dream realized: a spot along a bike trail that would allow users to safely park off the busy highway nearby.
It was an idea first dreamed up in 2003 by their son, Ryane, who was 14 at the time and was concerned after a friend was killed on the highway. He wanted to make it his Eagle Scout project. Later, he asked about progress during scratchy telephone calls home from Afghanistan while in the Army. It was made more pressing and poignant when Ryane was killed in action in 2010.
After battles with the Department of Natural Resources and other bureaucracies and personal fundraising that has taken a toll, the parking lot has been accepting cars and an official dedication for the SPC Ryane Clark Memorial Park is scheduled for Sunday.
“How emotional this has all been,” Tracy Clark said. “How many 14-year-olds see something like this, that wouldn’t benefit him at all, but saw a need for the community?”
A year ago, the dream could only be found on the Clarks’ kitchen table, with various layouts of plans and reams of correspondence from various government entities telling them why it could not be done. DNR officials never dismissed the idea outright but always seemed to caution that it had to fit in their larger land plan.
“The DNR promised to make that a parking lot and they never did it. After Ryane passed away, Rick and I said, ‘Why are they not doing this?’ That’s when we started pestering them.”
In a gesture of reconciliation, a sign went up this week at the parking lot, announcing that it was “a cooperative project” between the Clark family, the City of New London and the Minnesota DNR.
Ryane got the idea when a friend died in 1999 after being hit by a car while riding his bike on the road. Cars speed around a bend on County Road 31, a shortcut between Hwy. 23 and town; bicyclists and hikers often parked their cars on the side of the road for access to the Glacial Lakes State Trail.
As a boy, Ryane would often mow the stretch of ground a couple of times a summer so cars could park safely. The family was gently warned to leave state property alone, but Ryane did it anyway.
Groundbreaking was last year. Last month, volunteers helped erect the three flagpoles. Cars are now parking in the lot every day, Tracy Clark said. A black stone bench etched with an image of Ryane stands nearby. The family has begun a campaign to install pavers around the site, which can be purchased through the SPC Ryane Clark Memorial.
There is still some money to be raised, including a $10,000 to $12,000 payment to the DNR for the memorial site.
A sculpture of Ryane in his Boy Scout uniform was recently sent out to be bronzed and will be installed in 2016. A memorial stone will be added next year with images of Ryane and Cody Berg, the young friend whose death started it all.
“We’ve always been behind-the-scene people. And now we’ve been forced to be out there and get this done,” Tracy Clark said. “With this coming to a close, there’s been a lot of emotions, a lot of anxiety. We’ll be glad when it’s over.”