By Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press
MAPLETON — Two new memorials are being planned for Mapleton and Mankato as bookends for Victory
Memorial Highway, the stretch of Highway 22 between the two cities that has been a living monument to military veterans since just after World War II.
The $50,000 initiative aims to ease some of the pain felt by area residents when witnessing crews topple 600 trees that had been planted along the highway, each one in honor of a family member who served in the armed forces.
“There’s so many trees dedicated to the veterans, and those are coming down,” said Jeff Annis, chairman of the Mapleton Area Foundation. “Very controversial.”
The trees were removed as part of a reconstruction of Highway 22 occurring this year and next — partly for safety reasons and partly because some of the trees were in poor health, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. More than 1,100 trees were planted along the roadway after World War II with 400 more added as replacements for dead trees in the 1990’s.
A total of 10 monuments are being planned, split between the park/ wayside rest on the north side of Mapleton and a new veterans memorial on MnDOT land on the southeast side of Mankato. Each site will have five monoliths made of Kasota stone — one for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. On each will be a panel provided by Sports Pix showing a service member and the name of the military branch on one side, with the creed or motto of the branch on the other.
Annis, working with former Mapleton Mayor Jim Swanson, has been seeking $10,000 donations from each of the three major construction and consulting firms on the $27 million Highway 22 project.
The city of Mankato and Blue Earth County are being asked to make similar donations.
“We’re pretty close,” Annis said of reaching the goal.
Vetter Stone and Sports Pix made very generous bids on their products, allowing costs to be minimized, he said. And all five of the organizations being asked to donate have indicated strong interest.
“Once we understand what the full financial commitments are, we’d take it to our grants committee,” Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said.
The city will likely need to spend about $10,000 more to add walking paths and other improvements to the memorial site, which would be on rightof- way at the very end of South Victory Drive,
The Mapleton park is already slated for $100,000 in upgrades to be financed with $75,000 from the city and $25,000 from MnDOT, Annis said. And MnDOT, working with a landscape architect, is planning plantings along the route. The shrubs, prairie grasses and ornamental trees won’t be as lofty as the 600 lost trees, but they aim to reflect the original concept of a living memorial to veterans.
The sandstone memorials on each end of the Victory Memorial Highway aim to ensure that drivers realize they’re on a unique stretch of roadway.
While they are first and foremost aimed at honoring the veterans, they will also serve as a reminder of the volunteer efforts of the patriotic tree-planters of the last century, Annis said. The attractiveness and the durability of the monuments will make those volunteers and their descendants feel a little better about the loss of the trees. “They already do,” Annis said, recounting reactions from people who have seen the mock-ups.
A total of 10 monuments, each reaching 8 feet in height, are being planned for each end of the segment of Highway 22 designated as Victory Drive or Victory Memorial Highway. Five each — one for every branch of the military — are slated for Mapleton and for Mankato.