IT'S OUR TURN: Trees on Hwy. 34 will be missed

Enterprise reporter Lorie Skarpness reflects upon the beauty of trees along State Hwy. 34.

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Ever since I was a young child, I have loved trees. Growing up in Iowa, there were many to climb along the banks of the Upper Iowa River. We had a variety of trees in our yard, too. Majestic Dutch Elms shaded the street and lilacs and plum trees perfumed the yard each spring.

When we moved to North Dakota, the lack of trees was jarring. There were a few rows of trees in shelterbelts planted by farmers, but much of the landscape was treeless prairie. Whenever it snowed, it blew across the open country and there were blizzards. If it was above freezing, that blowing snow stuck to the road and made ice.

The beauty of trees is one reason I chose to move here. When we went on family vacations to Itasca State Park or Bemidji when I was a child, we traveled up State Hwy. 34. Back then it was just a two-lane road. The highway was dappled with splotches of sun amidst the mysterious shadows and majestic tall pines swayed in the breeze. Through the open car window a scent of pines wafted in on the cool breeze. We put down our comic books and watched out the windows to see if we could spy a deer hidden among the trees.

When I moved to this area, Hwy. 34 looked much as I remembered it, like a time capsule. The same trees, the same mysterious shadows. I drove the road often on trips to North Dakota to visit my parents or friends in Fargo.

In the spring, trees were bright with leaves. In summer, I watched for showy lady’s slippers blooming along the road. During autumn drives, the roadsides were ablaze with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, and in winter snow-capped pines were like a Thomas Kinkade painting. The beauty of this stretch of highway earned it the designation “Lake Country Scenic Byway.”


The widening of Hwy. 34 to add passing lanes and turn lanes between Park Rapids and Detroit Lakes a few years back changed the look of the landscape, and now more changes are coming. As part of the MnDOT Hwy. 34 resurfacing project, selective logging is planned on part of the highway beginning later this fall as well as the creation of a clear zone that is supposed to make the road safer for drivers by improving visibility and removing some of the shaded areas to improve snow melt and lessen the need for chemical treatments during the winter.

While this resurfacing project has reasons behind it, I will miss the trees that will be removed on Hwy. 34 as I do in other areas where they have been cleared to make way for new homes and businesses. Trees are a big part of why people live and vacation here. Without them, it wouldn’t feel like our north woods home.

Willis Mattison with the Save the Trees Coalition is calling on Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and others to intervene with tree removal along a scenic byway.

Related Topics: IT'S OUR TURN
Opinion by Lorie Skarpness
Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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