The tidy parking lot off Hwy. 23 near New London, Minn., is no bigger than a football field. Easily missed. But not easily forgotten.
The battle to get it built along a rural state trail once pitted slow-moving state bureaucracy against the unwavering determination of the parents of a fallen soldier.
Tracy and Rick Clark fought 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 conceived in 2003 by their son, Ryane, who was 14 at the time and concerned about public safety after a friend was killed on the highway.
As a boy, Ryane would often mow the stretch of ground where the parking lot now sits a few times a summer so cars could park safely. The family was gently warned to leave state property alone, but Ryane did it anyway.
He wanted to make construction of the lot his Eagle Scout project, and he would later ask about its progress in calls home from Afghanistan while serving in the Army. It was made more pressing and poignant after Ryane was killed in action in 2010.
After battles with the Department of Natural Resources and other bureaucracies, the SPC Ryane Clark Memorial Park was dedicated two years ago. Last weekend, the park was completed with the dedication of a bronze bust of Ryane in his Boy Scout uniform and a “story stone” telling his tale, with pictures of Ryane and Cody Berg, the young friend whose death started it all.
About 75 people showed up for the ceremony. In addition to the bust and the stone, there are three flagpoles and a black stone bench etched with an image of Ryane. Supporters have purchased pavers, many with inscriptions honoring loved ones.
“I’m just really relieved that it’s completed and people are using it. Almost every day there are vehicles in that parking lot,” Tracy Clark said. “It’s a positive and a plus and I’m sure Ryane is very happy to see his dream come true and people are using the DNR trails.”
Tracy Clark reflected on the time and toll the project has taken.
“Persistence, that’s all it was,” she said. “We always say ‘Don’t mess with the Gold Star parents.’ ”
It was an especially emotional week for the Clark family. On Wednesday, Ryane’s dog, Ozzie, was put to sleep. He was 13 and was constantly at the side of the Clarks as they made plans and prepared the site.