PRESTON — The contrast between what is and what will be on about 50 acres of land in Preston is jarring.
On Thursday, about a dozen dump trucks, bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment had turned the once serene woods and meadows into a swirl of dust, grinding noise, ground-shaking vibration and the smell of diesel.
In a year, that same location will beMinnesota's second veterans cemetery,a green, quiet place where the first of maybe 70,000 veterans and their spouses will be buried.
Fillmore County Veterans Service Officer Jason Marquardt stood on an overlook Thursday where the new cemetery's committal building will be and acknowledged that contrast. But it's necessary because so much work needs to be done.
Most veterans cemeteries, such as the state's first one at Fort Ripley, north of Little Falls, are on flat land and don't need as much ground moving, he said. But the one under construction on the outskirts of Preston is meant to be more serene, more beautiful, more than just rows and rows of identical headstones.
It also will be a model for future state and federal veterans cemeteries, Marquardt said.
"Everyone just thinks it's going to be a beautiful site," he said of the land adjacent to the Root River and Root River Trail. Future cemeteries will mirror Preston's topography and feeling, he said.
Local veterans already have taken note of the cemetery's opening next spring, he said. About 100 have pre-registered to be buried there, and some families have asked to have family members interred there, he said.
As that list continues to grow, he expects a lot of action the first few months the cemetery opens. The veterans cemetery at Little Falls gets four or five committals per day, but the Preston cemetery should exceed that for a few months, Marquardt said.
The noise and turmoil of the earth-moving equipment has one more benefit, he said. You can't hear, see or smell it from U.S. 52 or Preston, he said. That shows that once the cemetery is complete, people at the cemetery won't hear noise from the highway or town.
Fillmore County owned the 169 acres for many years, and the county board finally decided to donate the land, valued at $500,000, to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which had been looking for more places for state veterans cemeteries (Fort Snelling is a national cemetery).
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is spending about $10.2 million to prepare the site, build the committal building, put in sprinklers, install thousands of coffin vaults, create roads and put up a maintenance building.
When it's all done, the cemetery will be ready for the first 10 years of burials, Marquardt said. Future ones will require more work but not as much as that happening this summer, he said.