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The year in review: events of 2009 show promise for 2010

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It's been a tough year economically across the nation, for our state, as well as locally, and the Enterprise has been here to cover the good and the bad, the tragedies and the triumphs throughout the year.

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In 2009, the Park Rapids lakes area has seen its share of ups and downs yet there is a lot of promise for 2010, with momentum for the Main Avenue construction project and new restaurants and businesses on the horizon.

Here's a few of 2009's highlights.

We saw some growth despite the struggling economy, with the completion of the new J&B Foods near downtown and the move of Ace Hardware to a bigger location on Highway 34. St. Joseph's Area Health Services and Innovis Health completed a major renovation. We saw new restaurants, such as The Good Life Café open up, adding life to downtown.

The struggling economy also hit home, though, with Pamida closing in January, and Teamworks, Chrysler and others shutting their doors.

We saw downtown businesses coming together to plan for a Main Avenue reconstruction and revitalization project in 2010. Cracker barrel sessions were held throughout the year to learn about how to survive and thrive during the construction next year. A mascot named Parker premiered before Christmas and will continue to promote downtown Park Rapids throughout the construction process.

Federal stimulus dollars came to the area with work for cabinetmakers, additional CEP jobs for youth and money to help Park Rapids Area Schools complete improvement projects this next year. The county received stimulus dollars to complete bridge work.

We saw our share of tragedy in the suicide of Colleen Conaway this summer while attending a James Arthur Ray seminar in San Diego. Her family is looking for answers to her mysterious death.

We also saw the justice system at work. Richard Derek Wright, a Michigan pipeline worker, admitted to the sexual strangulation of death of Sonya Hennagir last year and accepted a plea agreement in August. He was sentenced to 499 months in prison.

Robert Louis McGrath was sentenced on charges of drunken driving and Criminal Vehicular Homicide in the wrong-way accident Jan. 21 that took Dale McDougall's life east of Park Rapids. McGrath received 58 months and must serve a little over three years before he is eligible for supervised release.

Stephanie Ann Wehmas will spend at least 72 months behind bars in the shootings of two men in 2008 at a rural cabin in Hubbard County. She was sentenced to 110 months in prison. She must serve at least two-thirds of that sentence with good behavior before becoming eligible for supervised release.

Hubbard County welcomed in a new sheriff, Frank Homer, after Gary Mills retired. The county has also been working on a space needs study for the courts.

All this came as the state made cuts to Local Government Aid, forcing cities and the county to enact hiring freezes and tighten budgets even further. Akeley and Nevis have cut back on their police departments.

Schools also felt the squeeze and the Park Rapids School Board made the decision to phase out the German program and eliminate a principal position to make the budget.

Students continue to thrive at area schools despite tighter budgets.

Rachel Thelen, a senior last year, was chosen as the state champion of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest for her painting of a cinnamon teal duck.

Nevis students built a robot to compete in a game called "Lunacy" at the University of Minnesota. The construction was intense, over six and a half weeks.

We will miss those who passed away in 2009. We will remember former superintendent Terry Bartness for his support and leadership in building Century School and Swede Nelson, former county commissioner, for his colorful, charismatic personality.

Cougarmania struck again in 2009 when a male mountain lion was struck and killed by a motorist south of Bemidji in September.

Despite all the struggles, we continue to see good in people. During the holidays, we saw generosity in giving as the need has increased for many charities in the area. We know 2010 will be a great year for Park Rapids.

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