Avid photographer, who died after struggle with cancer, leaves legacy; Maplewood’s ‘mountains’ remind Nepalese visitors of ‘home’

This distinctive photograph was taken by the late Brad Swenson, an avid photographer who chose Maplewood State Park as one of his cherished shooting environments. He died in May at age 51, after a struggle with cancer, and requested that memorials be sent to the “Friends of Maplewood.”

The magnetism of Maplewood State Park was vividly revealed last week, by several stories of unique visitor experiences.

One a story of “New Americans” from Nepal who experienced the beauty of our natural resources; and one a story about a cancer victim and accomplished photographer who was captivated by the visual wonders of Maplewood. He died in May, and left a legacy to all of us by requesting memorials to the park.

Avid photographer Brad Swenson, Moorhead, was only 51 when he succumbed to cancer last spring. One of his favorite activities was taking his boys to Maplewood State Park where he would find the perfect objects to photograph.

His story was recounted Sept. 7 at the annual Friends of Maplewood State Park meeting by Friends president John Nordstrom. Swenson wasn’t known to the Friends, nor was he a member–the Moorhead attorney was simply one of thousands of visitors who quietly and reverently enjoyed the park and its natural wonders. His photography website reflects his bond with the park, as there are many images from Maplewood.

Unbeknownst to Maplewood Park officials or the Friends, Brad’s obituary requested that memorials be sent to Friends of Maplewood. A total of 30 memorials were received–with more than $2,500 in donations.

Another “Maplewood Story” was recounted by park manager Don DelGreco. A group of more than 70 Nepalese families converged on the park. There is a large community of immigrants from Nepal in the FargoMoorhead area, and they love to come to Maplewood.

Why? Because of the “mountains.” Nepal is located beneath Mt. Everest in the Himalayas, Nepalese know about mountains.

Though the elevations of Maplewood can hardly be defined as mountains, the terrain “harkens back to the lands they came from,” said DelGreco.

These Napalese aren’t the only group with a hunger for nature. A Chinese-American organization also makes an annual picnic trip to Maplewood–among many others.

We lost a unique connection to Maplewood in 2016: Cecil Femling.

“As a Friend of Maplewood, Cecil was a wealth of information about Maplewood State Park, as he grew up on land that is located right next to the park,” wrote Nordstrom in the fall “Friends” newsletter. Cecil never missed a “Friends” annual meeting. “He could tell stories from years ago about how people used the land that became Maplewood…his ready information about Maplewood will be missed.”

Five families have memorial contributions, in memory of Cecil: Cliff and Phylis Knutson, John and Bonnie Nordstrom, Bonnie and Don DelGreco, Ed and Sharon Fjestad, and Dick and Phyllis Rossow.

These, and hundreds of other untold stories reflect the unique bonds that are developed with this remarkable natural resource.

With record visitation at the park in 2017, and more to come Sept. 23-24 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1 for “Leaf Days,” these special connections to Maplewood will continue to flourish.