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One year later: Moose Lake rebuilds

This aerial photo taken June 21, 2012, shows the extent of the flooding around Moose Lake's Riverside Arena. Although the building flooded, it was (mostly) repaired in time for the hockey season. Photo courtesy of Dalene and Donny Sommers

When Guyal Nelson arrived at Moose Lake's Riverside Arena on the morning of the flood of 2012, he knew something was wrong.

"The water was over the road already," the rink manager said. "I had never seen it like that before."

Entering the rink at 7 a.m, Nelson knew there was trouble ahead with water already in the building.

He made two calls -- first to the local Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) group leader, made up of inmates from the Willow River correctional facility, which was already coming to clean the building as part of a planned visit.

Nelson told them they'd want to fill sand bags instead.

The second call was to Athletic Director Dave Louzek, who is also the football coach.

By 8 a.m., most of the Moose Lake-Willow River football team was on hand, working alongside the CIP workers, and the battle to save the building had begun.

Although the building flooded, the battle was eventually won -- Riverside Arena hosted the Rebels' varsity this winter -- but like all battles, it was won at a cost.

Insurance made no payment to help fix the damage, so the building, which is owned by the city of Moose Lake, is being fixed with public funds.

"That was the story everywhere, that insurance didn't pay for it," Moose Lake City Administrator Pat Oman said. "It was due to the damage being caused by flooding and most people didn't have flood insurance."

"The city did everything," Nelson said. "Players' benches, the boys locker room was a total loss, the concessions stand was destroyed, we were worried about our compressor, everything."

Trevor Howe, who coached the team last year, said last winter that the arena's status may have affected the decisions of some players not to come out for the team. Howe, who is no longer employed with the district, declined to comment for this story but Nelson was firm in his belief.

"We were lucky, very lucky to field a team this winter," he said. "We had a great community turnout to help restore the building, and that helped. Our forefathers who built the place used some foresight by putting in extra rebar and good sand that wouldn't wash away if it got wet."

Other Moose Lake area athletic facilities weren't as hard-hit, according to Moose Lake School District Business Manager Linda Dahlman.

"Our school building had a lot of damage, but as far as facilities for athletics, no," she said. "Our baseball field needed a new irrigation system and that was covered by FEMA grants, but most of the damage was to our school building."

The football team plays its games in Willow River and its practice field in Moose Lake is above the flood plain so damage there was minimal.

"Every time it rains, I worry a little bit," Dahlman said.

Unlike in Esko, voters in Moose Lake voted down a referendum, though the focus of the referendum in Moose Lake was different. The Moose Lake measure would have raised $33 million for an entirely new school.

Yet the voters' decision in Moose Lake showed no less commitment than the voters' decision in Esko, according to Nelson, who is a city employee. The way the hockey rink was fixed proves it.

"Our reaction to the flood speaks very well of the community," he said "We have a great football program down here and it goes farther than just playing football. They worked throughout the flood. They kept going. The community pride was amazing. We had people from Coon Rapids and Anoka, from their teams, come up to help too.

"We do have the strength to overcome," Nelson added. "We do take pride in our arena. We use it for more than hockey now. We have events like flea markets, gun shows and even the Moose Lake Mafia roller derby is here now."

Oman agreed about community pride. In his former role as director of economic development for Carlton County, he saw that pride all over the area.

"My office did a public infrastructure inventory as the first step toward getting FEMA grants and other state assistance," he said. "We saw that price everywhere."

While the city awaits health department approval to begin serving concessions again in the building -- for now, you have to use vending machines if you want something to eat -- Nelson is optimistic that better days are on the way.

"We are going strong," he said.

Be There

Moose Lake is hosting a music festival on Saturday, June 22, from 2-10 p.m. with all of the proceeds going to the Flood Homes With Hope Regional Flood Fund. The Moose Lake Area Music Festival will be held on Elm Avenue in Moose Lake between Third and Fourth streets. The event will include music, vendors, games, a beer garden and raffles. Bands scheduled for the event include Chmielewski's Funtime Band, Uncle Lucky and The Jacks.

There is a $5 cover charge, with anyone under age 5 admitted free.