Webster County towns: Volunteers make an impact

New housing is on its way to Badger, Vincent

-Messenger file photo
by Hans Madsen Then-Badger Mayor Chris Wendell, at left, City Clerk Nadine Odor and city worker Dave London carry the city’s full complement of gold shovels on Sept. 12, 2017, during a groundbreaking for the new Badger Ridge housing development in Badger.

Throughout Webster County, volunteers who care about their towns are working to make them a better place to live.

Badger’s new mayor Amanda Gascho said her town has a new way for neighbors to connect.

“One new thing I’ve implemented is the Next Door app,” Gascho said. “That’s an app neighborhoods can download for free to communicate with their neighbors. We have 92 members so far — so that’s exciting — and it’s growing by the day.”

It’s kind of like a private social network, Gascho said. Only neighbors can join, and then they can post items they might be selling, warn others if there have been break-ins of cars, post pictures of pets in case they would get lost someday.

Other than that, Gascho said she’s been spending her time getting acclimated to her new role.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari Louis Taylor, 3, of Fort Dodge, runs through an inflatable obstacle course during the Otho Fourth of July celebration.

Badger broke ground on its new housing development this fall. Badger Ridge will be situated on a 24.5-acre site on the southeast edge of the community. When completed, the addition will have 35 lots available.

The first phase of construction will complete 16 of those.

At the groundbreaking in September, then-Mayor Chris Wendell said that the city has already received inquiries about buying lots there — even one call from Hawaii.

He said the plan calls for construction of the entire infrastructure to be completed by June 30, 2018. A few of the lots, due to their proximity to existing utilities, might be available before then.

“Everything with our housing development is kind of on hold, obviously, until spring because of the weather,” Gascho said.

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari Gracelynn Harris, 3, of Otho, is all smiles as she plays with Nala Joe in the Otho City Park during the town's 2017 Fourth of July celebration. The dog belongs to Rachel Stanberg, of Otho.

Another project three years in the making was completed in October 2017, when Badger opened its new BMX park.

The park on the north end of town has a small track and jumps for kids in town to ride on. Several boys have been working on the idea since 2014 because, they said, they didn’t have much to do for fun.

After the kids made presentations to the City Council in 2014, not much was done for another year, said City Clerk Nadine Odor.

It took a lot of fundraising and finding sponsors, including the city of Badger, the Badger festival committee, W & H Co-op, Steve Johansen, Badger Lion’s Club, Gail Higgins and her business, said Lori Gascho, who is a grandma to some of the boys.

“We had children canvassing the city twice,” Lori Gascho said. “We drove around with a hog trailer and collected pop cans, twice. We raised almost $900. Our goal was $1,000. So we reached out to our sponsors again to make up the difference.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Lehigh Mayor Phil Richardson poses next to an aging building in downtown Lehigh which was once a drug store, in this March 2017 file photo. The city owns the building now, and has put on a new roof and removed the asbestos.

In Lehigh, the city is offering incentives to bring businesses downtown.

“The Main Street, that’s a big one,” said City Council Member Kirk Kelley. “The City Council has come up with incentives to help get businesses to move in.”

Lehigh will offer 30 percent off city electric, water and sewer for the first year, he said; 50 percent off the deposit when buying the building; and a pro-rated property tax abatement for five years.

“We’re also in the process of trying to remove those fences on Main Street. We don’t know what the timeline is yet,” Kelley said.

Several buildings over 100 years old were fenced off last year for safety reasons, after debris fell from them during a storm. The buildings have a rich history in Lehigh, with residents remembering the grocery store that stood there for years, Viv and Skip’s diner next door, and a building which started life as a bank and is remembered today as the office of Dr. H.F. Kiesling.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen The new Dollar General store, located on the north side of Dayton, opened for business in December 2017.

Lehigh’s Betterment Committee has been hard at work updating the ball park shelter, Kelley said.

“They put a fence around, put a playground up,” he said. “They’ve been remodeling the shelter itself. Hopefully the interior will be done this year.”

Thanks to volunteers getting involved, there were more activities in Lehigh last year, a trend Kelley thinks will continue.

“We had a movie in the park last fall, and we’re talking about doing another one. We had pretty good turnout,” he said. “They had a big Halloween party at our community center. They had indoor trick or treat. All the businesses in Lehigh, even though there’s very few there are some, each one had a table set up and kids could walk through, they could make their own cupcakes.

“There are a lot of volunteers in the community who are very active, and we love that. They’re doing a good job bolstering Lehigh. There’s more people going to events. There are more events. We have the lion’s club pancake breakfast, we have the women’s club, and we have the betterment committee.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Cayden Gascho, 13, hits one of the jumps at the new Badger BMX park after the October 2017 official opening. Students like Gascho brought their idea for a park to the city council, and worked to find sponsors and raise the money for it.

“Only one person can only do so much, but there are so many people active right now in our community, and that’s really a plus,” Kelley added. “We now have people in town that want to make a difference. We see what can happen.”

Otho elected a new mayor this year. Jason Hamburger said his first month in office has been going pretty well.

“I’m learning a lot,” he said.

While there’s not a lot new in town, Hamburger said once again it’s the volunteers who make the difference.

“The Otho Betterment Committee has a lot of good things going on with the bingo night. That’s been a big thing for Otho,” he said. “We’ve had people coming down from Fort Dodge for that.”

Bingo is held Wednesday nights in the community center, and just started up in November, Hamburger said. The town is seeing a resurgence in interest in its betterment committee, with positive results.

“There were a couple years where some people had left, and nobody had really taken over,” said Hamburger. “Now we’ve got a good group, and they’re doing some good things

“They do some lunches. They’ll be doing the Easter egg hunt. They did an awesome ‘pancakes with Santa’ right before the holidays. That was a lot of fun.”

In the coming year, the Otho Fire Department hopes to replace its brush truck, Hamburger said.

The city itself is still working on a new water project, on which he hopes work will start this year.

“I know a few projects in mind, some painting of city buildings, and some cleanup and stuff,” he added.

Vincent also is moving forward with a projected housing development.

By demolishing an old school a couple summers ago, the town has made room for 11 new homes, Mayor Lyn Adson said.

“At this point we are in the phase of getting out the bid request to developers,” she said.

Over 90 percent of the old building was recycled, Adson said. The city took it down with help from an Iowa Department of Natural Resources derelict buildings grant.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for Vincent because we’ve been in a landlock — we’re just surrounded by agriculture,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for our community to have a chance to grow inside itself, which you don’t get very often.”

There are also community beautification projects going on.

About two years ago, Adson said, ownership of the community hall passed from a hall board over to the City Council, “which was a super exciting opportunity for us because then we could levy tax dollars and do some of the updating needed on the inside.

“The council has been diligently doing updates to make it a great facility for family and friends to gather,” Adson said.

With help from NEW Co-op, they’ve had a new roof put on, she said. And more recently they’ve received support from other businesses and organizations to do some inside work — new tables and chairs, a new handicap accessible restroom, kitchen updates.

“We’ve gotten a lot of great support from different businesses, in making donations to our community hall,” she said.

“We’re projecting to do a beautification project with our park that’s right next to it, so then it’s more like a venue when it’s rented for a wedding,” Adson added. “It’s a win-win situation for us because it’s the main street going through town so when people drive through, it will look really nice.”

The town of Dayton saw a new Dollar General store open in December 2017.

When the store opened John Skoglund, who is president of Dayton’s Community Club as well as the owner of Skoglund Auto and Power, said the new business is a welcome addition to the town.

“We’re a small town but we’ve got some stores and businesses,” Skoglund said in December. “Anytime you add to that it brings people to town, which helps everybody. Businesses need traffic. It brings people to town.”

Skoglund said increasing the diversity of products available at local stores benefits residents of Dayton and those who live nearby.

The same theme was struck in a statement from the Dayton City Council provided to The Messenger about the new store:

“The opening of Dollar General will help residents to get all or most of their basic needs in town. Between the grocery store, pharmacy and Dollar General all basic needs will be met.”

In Moorland, a group is doing work on its Community Center, as well.

When they saw how the community center was falling into disrepair, six women on the park board banded together to clean it up, said board member Jody Pirie.

“We’ve been working on the community center for a year and a half, raising money,” Pirie said in September.

Last year the group insulated the building and got the windows replaced, she said. This year, the plan was to install a new furnace and air conditioning.

“Never underestimate the power of a park board woman,” Pirie said. “Because everybody in town said getting this building fixed up would never happen. But I got us a grant from NEW Co-op, fundraisers — we’re getting there.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Tyler Glesne, 14, center, and Brenden Harrison, 16, try out the new Badger BMX park which has become a reality after three years. Glesne said the boys in town wanted the park because there’s not much to do.