Staples, Minnesota – Todd and Wadena Counties

March 26, 2024

Staples, Minnesota

The City Pulse of a Thriving Region


A Dynamic City at the Center of Breathtaking Landscape

Staples cradles itself amidst rolling hills, their contours like ancient secrets etched into the earth. Pine forests reach up, prickly needles tickling the cloudless blue sky. The air carries the scent of resin and adventure, eliciting deeper exploration.

In the heart of Todd and Wadena counties, the charming City of Staples beckons with its serene landscapes and rich history. As the Empire Builder train glides through, it pauses at the Staples Amtrak station, connecting distant horizons. Here, life’s tempo slows, inviting you to wander its 12.12 square kilometers (4.68 square miles) of enchantment.

Born from the heartbeat of a sawmill, Staples’ roots dig deep into the soil. Two lumberman, King Stapes and Howard C. Mealy arrived with a vision and  saw the potential in the area. Two years after they laid foot in the town, a mill was set up.

Over the years,  the town prospered, transitioning from its original moniker, “Staples Mill,” into a strategic railroad point for Northern Pacific. The small saw mill town enabled the railroad giant to shorten their preexisting route and thus turned the town into a ‘Railroad Division Point’. Growth continued over the ensuing decades evolving into the dynamic municipality it is today.

Staples now boasts noteworthy leadership that extends across crucial sectors, such as healthcare and education. A strong Council and Tourism Board work tirelessly to create a welcoming and irresistible environment. Ron Murray, the Mayor of Staples, concurs, stating, “It is one factor that attracted me to this area.”

Lakewood Serves Up Healthy Choices

As Staples’s primary employer, Lakewood Health System (LHS) boasts a 1,000-strong workforce, with the majority living within a 30-mile radius. The organization encourages employees to settle within the hospital’s boundaries.

In the realm of rural healthcare leadership, roles often extend beyond internal affairs towards civic outreach. Understanding that people need more than health treatment, Lisa Bjerga, President and CEO, Lakewood Health System, says, “We realized over the past decade the bulk of a patient’s healthcare does not happen inside four walls, it happens outside of the healthcare system.”

“After the school district failed referendums, we pooled our funds. Instead of basic code upgrades at the high school, we enhanced the outcome by combining our resources,” explains Bjerga. “The end product is Lakewood Nest.”

Overlooking an expanded gym, multi-purpose area, renovated student weight room, and community activity center, Lakewood Nest includes a 1/10 mile walking track. Bjerga remarks, “The school extends community memberships, and LHS’s employees receive complimentary ones.”

This is an employee benefit and assists patients with post-surgical rehabilitation. It encourages residents to be more active, emphasizing a preventive approach to health.

A barrier arises when a new hire, unable to find housing in Staples, opts to buy property in a neighboring locale. Staples and LHS want their staff to live within the municipal boundaries and school district limits.

Bjerga states, “A University of Minnesota (U of M) extension study indicates a family spends $100,000 annually, so the economic impact is large.” Addressing this issue head-on, Lakewood and Staples built 13 residences in the last eight years.

As Bjerga puts it, “A stronger city, a stronger Lakewood; a stronger Lakewood, a stronger city.”


Residential and Commercial Development

With a population of 2,998 (2021), a persistent challenge for the City of Staples remains the limited housing options for new occupants or those seeking to transition from their current living arrangements. The demand also calls for student accommodations with access to Central Lakes College (CLC) and affordable market-rate single and multi-unit dwellings.

Lakewood partnered with a local builder and Central Building Supply to secure reduced or favorable pricing on city land, resulting in more homes to meet recruiting demands. Another benefit is providing electricity, water, and wastewater through the town-owned utility company.

“We operate a municipal electric, so the City of Staples or Todd Wadena Electric provides the power for new construction,” states Jerel Nelsen, Staples City Administrator.

Ongoing and completed projects include constructing 145 units, now at full capacity, and a development featuring 14 modular homes available for purchase this spring. Melissa Wyman, Staples Economic Development Director, says, “If that project goes well, they intend to bring in more in the future.”

“We received a $950 thousand Small Cities Development Grant to improve 20 single-family homes, five single-family rental units, and five commercial buildings,” says Murray. Combined with Staple’s match, the total investment is just over $1 million. This will affect all sectors of the population and improve visual attractiveness and infrastructure.

Despite these undertakings, a study showed a persistent vacancy rate of less than 2%, far below the healthy recommendation of 5%. Securing adequate shelter is a tricky feat for municipalities, making Staples fortunate in its successful efforts to combat this basic crucial need. The city has 21 homes and vacant lots on the market, with prices ranging from $89,900 to $569,000.

Like the housing crisis, childcare is also an issue. The childcare center doubled childcare spots from 30 to 60 but required 230. Bjerga explains the ingenuity of officials helping ease the problem, We relocated our durable medical equipment warehouse to the industrial park, and converted the existing facility into a daycare center.”

Downtown Revitalization

Following a project that rerouted the highway away from the core, Staples experienced traffic flow improvements. However, this venture triggered a need for revitalization.

Small towns face business fluctuations and strive to fill vacancies by improving the downtown aesthetic. In pursuit of this goal, Staples secured a $100,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to growing resourceful, inclusive rural communities .

Using the Blandin funds, improvements include artful murals, enhancements to flower planters, and banners on light poles. “Businesses moved, so we created green spaces in the vacancies,” says Murray.

An important endeavor involves introducing way-finding signage to improve the visitor experience when navigating Staples. Murray states, “We pulled together 40 individuals who formed three committees. They improve downtown and work to bring people into the core.”

Staples commercial growth over the last eight years comes from increasing its Highway 10 presence. At the opposite end of town from Lakewood, Essentia Health is developing another clinic alongside the artery. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railways (BNSF) travel through the district, and the company built an extra space.

Casey’s gas station is situated along Highway 10, accompanied by a recently constructed medical building featuring dentists and eye doctors.

A modern 15,000-square-foot multi-use facility reached completion and hosts two anchor tenants. One is a pharmacy purchased by LHS with a 60-year private ownership history. This illustrates Lakewood’s contributions to resolving societal challenges. The second anchor tenant is Twin Cities Orthopedics as well as houses 11 apartments on its second floor.

The Timberlake Hotel arrived in Staples in 2017, prompting officials to institute a 3% lodging tax, the maximum in Minnesota. “We formed a non-profit tourism board and received tax-exempt status, which benefits the tourist and sustains impactful work,” says Wyman.

Annually, $40,000 from taxes plus funds from grants supports the $70,000 tourism budget. This modest amount broadened the annual Railroad Day celebration—an event crucial in drawing visitors.


A Place to Let Go, Unwind, and Socialize

A city’s responsibility does not end at the residential and commercial levels. A healthy lifestyle incorporates fresh air, family time, and recreational options that incorporate both.

Staples offers all-level, all-encompassing outdoor adventures and invites you to embrace its serene beauty while exploring nature and socializing among friends. Whether a carefree traveler, an urban dweller contemplating a move, or a resident, this town promises activities to suit everyone.

Witness the dramatic morning fog as it rolls across Minnesota’s longest fishing pier at Dower Lake Recreation Area. Wooden planks stretch 612 feet over the water’s glassy surface. Spend the rest of the day swimming or diving off a boat.

Soothe your soul drifting in a tube down the Crow Wing River. Let the gentle current carry you past the sun-dappled banks as deer, herons, and turtles gather with curious, watchful eyes. For a hassle-free experience and a nominal fee per person, reserve at Wahoo Valley Bar & Grill. They offer put-in/takeout service and rentals.

Post-tubing, savor Wahoo’s top-notch pub fare. Tee off at the Joel Goldstrand-designed 18-hole championship public golf course. Hugging the curves of Crow Wing River, the Vintage Golf Club welcomes seasoned players and beginners, and offers a full-size driving range and practice areas. During summer, the clubhouse entices locals and visitors on Friday nights with live music and Flaming Larry burgers.

Connect to nature’s rhythm while meandering through 10 acres of fragrant blooms and native plants at the Living Legacy Gardens. Or relax on a festival blanket in Northern Pacific Park as breeze-carried harmonies immerse the crowd at the live summer Music in the Park Series.

As the sun sets, casting a warm glow on the historic town, Staples whispers its tales of families playing horseshoes in city parks, and the memories made while kayaking the Crow Wing River.

Shed the big-city routine, if only for a weekend, and discover small-town life at its best.

Let the City of Staples intertwine its story with yours.


The City of Staples, Minnesota

WHAT: A relaxing playground that marches to its own beat.

WHERE: Todd and Wadena Counties, Central Minnesota



Staples Economic Development Authority –

From idea to business launch, SEDA has the resources and experience to help bring your business to life. SEDA works to partner with Staples’ business community for long-term success: attract and start new businesses; assist existing businesses with expansion needs; and utilize financing and incentive programs where possible.

Lakewood Health System –

Lakewood Health System has announced the development of a state-of-the-art cancer center in Staples, MN. More than just a medical advancement – this center is a commitment to bring top-tier oncology care to rural Minnesota.

The impact of this project extends beyond the immediate healthcare benefits. It signifies a commitment to the long-term well-being and development of central Minnesota and the communities Lakewood serves.

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