by April Scheinoha
Whenever she sees a family enjoying the Riverwalk, Joan Strong feels a sense of satisfaction. Thirty years ago, Strong was among the GFWC Zehlian Club members who were the catalyst for the Riverwalk.
To celebrate the Riverwalk and the trail improvements made since that time, the Zehlians are hosting a Family Night Progressive Picnic. The free event will be held Thursday, June 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event features a free supper along the Riverwalk and nearby Greenwood Trails. It starts at the entrance to Hartz Park near the campground. Participants will walk 1.7 miles from Hartz Park through Greenwood Trails and back to Hartz Park via the pedestrian bridge. Along the way, they will receive hot dogs, fruit, chips, water and ice cream. Kids will receive a sticker at each stop.
“The whole focus is to draw attention to the Riverwalk and good health,” said Zehlian Carol Ihle.
The Zehlians are hosting the event with support from area businesses.
A similar walk will be held Thursday, Aug. 10 with walkers traveling from Hartz Park to Elks Park. Ihle said the Zehlians are seeking community groups to help sponsor the event.
The two events highlight the Riverwalk, which began in 1987. “It all turned out better than we dreamed,” said former Zehlian member Gretchen Beito.
The Riverwalk began with the goal to connect city parks. It features various pictographs detailing the history of the area and Thief River Falls’ connection to the river.
The first leg of the Riverwalk was constructed at the site of the former Meehan sawmill. The property is now home to Hugo’s. Over the years, apple trees have been planted by elementary school students at the site.
In 1990, the Riverwalk grew to include Elks Park. Members of the Thief River Falls Rotary Club, the Zehlian Club and the community installed the pavers. Later, the Zehlians provided funds for the fountain at the park. It also features benches and perennial flowerbeds, the latter planted by the Pennington County Master Gardeners.
From there, the Zehlians turned their efforts to Red Robe Park and the wooded area near Northland Community and Technical College. Strong noted the historical significance of the latter area. She said it served as a gathering place for American Indians who were traveling on two intersecting paths.
The Riverwalk grew again when the terrace and walking path were built behind the United Methodist Church in 1993. A church committee led by the late Phil Hess and the late John Bornholdt built the terrace and walking path at that location. Strong, a parishioner there, noted that the church provided the funding.
“I think that was one of the biggest gifts we got,” Beito said.
Another noticeable part of the Riverwalk is the pedestrian bridge at Hartz Park. A $145,000 federal grant, awarded in 1994, helped fund the bridge.
Grants and fundraisers, as well as assistance from the city of Thief River Falls, aided the Zehlians in the Riverwalk project. Over the years, Boy Scouts have also improved the Riverwalk with their projects. Strong said, “It’s a real community effort.”