LETTER: Taxpayers, tourists and wildlife deserve better
The following is a letter to the editor submitted to the Park Rapids Enterprise by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Park Rapids Enterprise. To submit a letter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Park Rapids Enterprise, 1011 1st. ST. E., Suite 6, Park Rapids, MN 56470.
For 80 or even 100 years, white pines, oaks, maples, aspen and the pink lady’s slippers lined Hwy. 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids.
That road has been widened in a few places and repaved, but largely left untouched until last week when MnDOT declared native and even protected vegetation of no value.
In a decision made by Detroit Lakes MnDOT employees, the Lake Country Scenic Byway was deemed the perfect place to carry out an ill-conceived plan to strip the roadway of trees and lady slippers in hopes that the sun will melt the snow.
Common sense and an abundance of experience proves how unsuccessful this scheme will be. Ever drive to Hwy. 10 between Fargo and DL on a snowy day? Then you know that clearing the trees doesn’t help. Ever look desperately for sunshine in January? Then you know there’s not much (more than 60% cloud cover). Ever notice how long the shadows are in winter? Then you know that the sun is low, not overhead beating down on asphalt. Ever notice that when logging occurs, saplings pop up and provide food for deer? Then you know that you’ll see more deer near the road.
The MnDOT officials responsible for this fiasco are Shiloh Wahl (email@example.com or 218-846-3603 and Joeb Oyster (firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-846-3505).
Last week, concerned citizens gathered from across the nation via Zoom and at MState to learn more about what MnDOT is doing and to express their concerns and ask questions.
Sadly, not a single MnDOT official showed up. It was among the worst acts of cowardice by a public agency that I’ve ever experienced.
MnDOT’s excuse? They had already had “numerous meetings.” What they actually held: One 60-minute Zoom presentation and one open house after the plan was finalized.
A public meeting promised to the Becker County Commission never materialized.
MnDOT seems to be confused about gathering public input and responding to taxpayer concerns. They acknowledge meeting privately with a few concerned citizens representing the Izaak Walton League (which has done yeoman’s work on research, education and communication). That small group is appealing to them for common-sense study before slaughtering the byway.
Instead, it appears MnDOT has entrenched themselves in a corner and the only way out they can find is to whip out their chainsaws and clear cut.
Taxpayers, tourists and even the wildlife deserve better.
It may be too late for Hwy. 34, but it’s not too late for the public to insist that MnDOT take steps now to protect other scenic byways in Minnesota. Our tourism dollars and small-town economies rely on these destination journeys. Our tax dollars pay for MnDOT’s devastation. This is a prime example of future generations having to pay for the thoughtless actions of MnDOT.
How can you help? Go take a drive out to Snellman or the Smoky Hills. Then speak out, call MnDOT, call your elected officials, write letters.
It’s either act now or weep at what we lost next summer when our road ditches are barren of the lady’s slippers and the trees are gone, reduced to pulp.