Helga Township comes together to add community recreation site

An effort to give families a place to skate in Helga Township has evolved into a full park project for the area near the historic Nary School. Project leaders are now seeking funds and hope to build the park over this year and in 2022.

Construction on a pavilion at Nary Heritage Park has begun as the first phase of a project near the Nary School, located at 25895 County 9, south of Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

HELGA TOWNSHIP -- Since it ended educational operations in the 1970s, the Nary School has been used as a place for the Helga Township community to gather and conduct business.

Now, residents are working to make the area around the building a place for recreation, too.

Local engineer Mike Karvakko and Helga Township Supervisor Kip Reinarz are leading the charge to create a park with several amenities for the public to enjoy. The idea originated from an effort made by Reinarz to help township residents enjoy Minnesota's pastime.

"I've lived out in the area since 1995 and have always wanted to have a hockey rink out by the Nary School," Reinarz said. "A couple of years ago I tried to put ice out but I just had shoulder surgery and it didn't work out, so we bagged it."

Reinarz brought the idea back in winter 2020-2021, though, with better results.


"I talked to the township board and they said I could go ahead with it," Reinarz said. "I had a dozer come out and myself and the Karvakko family flooded it. We built some hockey nets, too, and with none of the rinks in town open because of COVID, it turned out to be a tremendous success. We had 30 to 40 kids there every day, it was a pretty great place for families to go."

With a positive result coming from the ice rink idea, Reinarz said he and Karvakko decided to take additional steps.

"We brought a proposal to the township board for something bigger , with a warming shack," Reinarz said. "From there it took off, and we decided that we should do a full park."

The Nary Heritage Park is now planned to have a multi-purpose pavilion building, playground equipment, a community fire pit, a horseshoe pit, a BBQ pit, sand volleyball court and trails. The park will be built on the land surrounding the Nary School.

Built in the early 1900s, the Nary School was a consolidated facility for students from nearby one-room common schools. In recent years, grants have been awarded to help restore the windows in the building.

The park committee is now working on raising funds and writing for grants to help fund the project on the exterior of the building, estimated at $300,000. So far, $170,000 has been raised, Reinarz said.

"We have the township's blessing, they're investing $100,000, and Mike has graciously donated a bunch of engineering and time," Reinarz said. "We approached Hubbard County, but their budget is set for 2021 so no funds were available for this year. We're working with them for 2022 and they came out for a full tour three weeks ago to look over the site. I'm really confident we'll get support from Hubbard County as well."

Reinarz said the project planners are also looking to get support from the Neilson Foundation, Beltrami Electric, First National Bank of Bemidji and area donations. In kind donations of material and manual labor have also been provided by Voyageurs Expeditionary School, local 4-H clubs and Boy Scout programs, as well as other area businesses and local residents.


The project will take place in two phases, with the first including work on the pavilion this year, and the second to complete the rest of the project in 2022. Once finished, Reinarz said there are plans to rent facilities to help cover upkeep.

"The facility will be free to use by 4-H and those kinds of programs, but there's also interest with people wanting to rent it for a weekend garage sale or use it for a wedding," Reinarz said. "We're pretty confident it can generate the revenue to help with maintenance."

The first phase of construction at Nary Heritage Park includes building a pavilion near the Nary School, located at 25895 County 9, south of Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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