CROSBY-It was Minnesota's worst mining disaster, but out of the tragedy that killed many local miners near Crosby many decades ago, something beautiful eventually came out of it.
Crow Wing County hosted a grand opening Wednesday of Milford Mine Memorial Park, which honored the 48 miners working in the Milford Mine Feb. 5, 1924-most of whom died. Some of the miners' relatives were also on hand for the grand opening of the park located about 4 miles north of Crosby along Highway 6.
"My mother grew up here, and I heard about this from her when I was a little girl, so I've always had it sort of in the back of my mind," Carol Brezina said at the park. "It was very interesting."
The miners were working, but about 15 minutes before their shift ended, water and mud flooded into the mine at such a rapid rate that all the levels, including the 200-foot deep shaft, were filled to within 15 feet of the surface in less than 20 minutes, according to county officials.
"I had no idea about the whole story behind it," said Sharleen Munsch, a 52-year-old Costco employee and Brainerd resident who read about the grand opening in the Brainerd Dispatch.
She and her husband chose to check out the park on her day off because she had never been even they love to go bicycling in the "quaint" Crosby area, she said.
"I had no idea that it even existed," Munsch said. "But we wanted to come and explore the new park and see what it was all about."
The county board approved the memorial park concept in 2007. Phase 1 of the project was completed in 2010 and included an access road, parking area and walking path construction.
Carol Brezina grew up in Crosby but now lives in Deerwood Township with her husband Wayne. The husband and wife, who are in their 70s, spent an hour in the park Wednesday.
"We had been here a couple of times before, but it was not completed," Carol Brezina said.
"We had been just as far as that first parking lot way down the road, and there's a commemorative billboard down there, and we thought that was the park," Wayne Brezina added.
A sign was erected at the park entrance, a picnic shelter with three picnic tables and two cooking grills, a small lakeside picnic area, benches and a bike rack were built in 2012.
Aimee Anderson of Ironton and her 12-year-old son Enoch had never been to the park before Wednesday's grand opening.
"We wanted to see what the park looked like and learn more about the history of our area, so we are going to read the signs and learned what happened here," Anderson said.
Construction work continued at the memorial park in 2016 and included a boardwalk, trails, kiosk construction and interpretive displays.
"I loved the boardwalk. You walk over to the other side, and it has the names in alphabetical order of all the miners who perished, and at the end they have the names in alphabetical order of the seven miners who survived," Carol Brezina said.
Other plaques in the park include detailed information about the miners, such as their age, residency, whether they were married and more.
"I was on my way to Brainerd, but I timed it so I could stop here," said Susan Osell, 64, of Mountain Iron in St. Louis County.
"My grandparents and my parents would talk about this mining disaster, and I remember years ago some relatives saying that one of my uncles worked at this mine," Osell said. "He either worked the shift before this mining disaster or scheduled to work the one after this mining disaster."
Final work in 2017 included a permanent outhouse, covered shelter and canoe landing.
The park recently achieved status as a park of regional significance from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission and has received two grants totaling $339,000.
"I think the thing that was most heartfelt was the walk ... where the miners came from and how old they were and their young children that they left behind. That really brought it home," Munsch said. "They really did a fine job laying out and explaining it very tastefully."
The site of the mining tragedy has been transformed into a natural and man-made habitat-"a place of recreation, reflection and community to be enjoyed by families, residents and future generations," according to Crow Wing County officials.
The Minnesota Historical Society listed the park in 2011 as a site on the National Registry of Historic Places.
"Everybody should come and learn about the history of our area. This is a very fascinating place," Anderson said of the park. "This is important stuff."
To view additional video, visit www.brainerddispatch.com/news/4327598-remembering-miners-milford.