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County ponders what to do with Dunton Locks tram

The tram at Dunton Locks was built to encourage boat travel between Detroit Lakes and Shoreham. The tram has become in disrepair and the county is discussing whether to patch it up and get it operational for this summer, or hold off to make more invested repairs. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Last year, Becker County applied for and was denied state Legacy funding to repair the historic, yet still used, tram between Muskrat Lake and Lake Sallie at Dunton Locks. Now the county is coming up with a plan B.

Discussion is taking place on whether to fix the tram to be operational for this summer, or keep it closed this year to invest more in the project and overhaul the tram.

After not receiving funding, the county contacted Lakes Melissa and Sallie and Detroit Lake associations and seasonal pass holders for support, and received a small fraction of responses back.

“Three responders indicated that they would be willing to sacrifice 2014 if it meant a better system for the long term, and three were strongly in favor of continuing operations in 2014. Four of these responders indicated a willingness to be a part of a fundraising effort,” County Parks and Recreation Administrator Marty Wiley said of the results. Three Lake Melissa residents, he said, didn’t want anything to do with the project.

Two of the options the county is focusing on are basic maintenance to get through the 2014 season or a complete retrofit for long-term improvement.

Option 1 of basic maintenance includes a 20-foot rail on the Muskrat side, rebuilt end pulleys on the Sallie and Muskrat sides, and replacing the cable and using a crane to line up the rail on the Sallie side. Cost estimate is $15,000.

Option 2 is much more costly and is being proposed in two phases. It includes trolley replacement for $12,000; rail replacement for $35,000; and a new motor and drum for $6,500.

The second phase includes automation of the tram and safety enhancements for $25,000-$32,850.

Before the tram at Dunton Locks was in existence, there was the namesake of the county park, Dunton Locks. The locks were named after financier Fredrick Dunton.

In 1881, the city of then Detroit and Pelican Valley Water Navigation purchased the land where Dunton Locks now sits. President of the company, John West, convinced his New York friend, Dunton, to finance the building of locks between Muskrat Lake and Lake Sallie for the purpose of steamboat traffic between Detroit and Breckenridge via the Pelican and Otter Tail rivers.

The plan was to install a series of locks and dams, but the plan fell short. One lock was installed, which has since been removed. In the mid-1970s, a group of local entrepreneurs designed, built and maintained the mechanical boat tram to encourage excursions between Shoreham and Detroit Lakes.

The tram, which was taken over by the county in the name of tourism, operates on the weekends and holidays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

According to the county’s website, cost is $10 per round trip, or boaters can purchase a season pass with unlimited passage for $75.

The County Board tabled the matter of repairs last week and plans to discuss it further at its next regular meeting.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.