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LETTER: Orchids on Hwy. 34 warrant study

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 sgeisen@parkrapidsenterprise.com or mail it to Park Rapids Enterprise, 1011 1st. ST. E., Suite 6, Park Rapids, MN 56470.

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It is not a mistake that State Hwy. 34 from Snellman to Osage is a “Scenic Minnesota Highway.” This conifer-lined corridor has an abundant crop of native orchids every June. As I described several years ago in an article for the Forum, there are a variety of orchid species in Minnesota. Along Hwy. 34, there are three orchid species: large yellow, small yellow and showy (pink and white).

The showy orchid (Cypripedium reginae) in the Hwy. 34 roadside ditch reigns as the queen of orchids, as indeed it is Minnesota’s state flower. Of the other 49 states, only New Hampshire has an orchid (pink stemless, also occurring in Minnesota) as its state flower.

Orchids, as those who grow plants know, have unique soil, water and sunlight requirements. Similar requirements are true for the showy lady’s slipper in the wild. There are clumps of showy lady’s slipper in the Hwy. 34 south ditch that are possibly 100 years old. That environment has some things that lady’s slippers seem to like. They like shade, and they like it when the snow melts off the ditch late in the spring. Very few orchids grow in the north ditch, which is clearly sunnier and drier earlier in the spring.

In the practice of medicine, treatments for medical disorders need to be evidence based. MnDOT has postulated an unproven proposal for tree removal on the south side of Hwy. 34 ditch to prevent snow and ice buildup. This is not evidence based. MnDOT has no science, no precedent nor anything approaching supportive data for endangering Minnesota’s state flower and many other wildflowers that find their homes in these ditches. This is a “shoot-from-the-hip” approach. MnDOT’s unproven notion is that, by removing trees, there will be more sunlight so less ice and snow, and therefore road salt won’t be needed any longer and therefore fewer accidents.

First, the ice and snow are not the genesis of the problem. Drivers who drive drunk, drive distracted, go too fast on ice/snow and drive when they should stay home are the problems. The MnDOT and Minnesota State Patrol have data on why these accidents occur. They have no data that the trees along the ditch are the problem.

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This erroneous thinking is filled with so many variables, it cannot be believed. Are Minnesotans to now believe that by cutting down trees along wooded road ways, icy roads will not happen anymore? I doubt it.

Secondly, MnDOT must be aware of alternative options like non-NaCl products. Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), similar to antifreeze-ethylene glycol, is available for melting ice and snow.

MnDOT has not done their homework. MnDOT has failed to investigate and trial NaCl alternatives. Just Google road salt alternatives.

There are other rather obvious safety engineering alternatives, like lowering the speed limit on icy curves, that do not cost $9 million.

It would be pretty naïve to believe that once a salt-sand truck gets rolling that there would not be salt put on the road. But if the truck is carrying PVA, there is much less damage to the roadway.

Removing the tall trees on the edge of Hwy. 34 that shade the lady’s slippers in the south ditch may or may not harm these orchids. Running over orchids with heavy equipment is never good for these orchids. Taking down these trees could unbalance the sun/shade wet/dry habitat and lead to their extinction.

I challenge MnDOT to study this issue before taking down these trees. MnDOT could use the scientific method to evaluate this proposal in vivo on the road. It is irresponsible for MnDOT to spend $9 million without any evidence that what is proposed could actually be accomplished.

Lastly, the Minnesota DNR needs to get involved in evaluating this project. This project warrants an Environmental Assessment Worksheet before proceeding, and likely qualifies for an Environmental Impact Statement.

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Editor’s note: Both the Hubbard County DFL and Hubbard County Republicans are invited to write columns for the Enterprise’s Opinion page.
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 sgeisen@parkrapidsenterprise.com or mail it to Park Rapids Enterprise, 1011 1st. ST. E., Suite 6, Park Rapids, MN 56470.
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 sgeisen@parkrapidsenterprise.com or mail it to Park Rapids Enterprise, 1011 1st. ST. E., Suite 6, Park Rapids, MN 56470.
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 sgeisen@parkrapidsenterprise.com or mail it to Park Rapids Enterprise, 1011 1st. ST. E., Suite 6, Park Rapids, MN 56470.