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Opposition mounts against tree cutting plan on Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids

A proposed Minnesota Department of Transportation construction project on busy Minnesota State Highway 34 east of Detroit Lakes has some property owners there asking the department to scale back the plan. The reason? As part of construction, trees too close to the road are scheduled to be removed. MNDOT says the move could help clear ice from roads that are often in the shade.

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A yard full of signs protesting the cutting of trees to make room for construction of Highway 34.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Anyone traveling the Lake Country Scenic Byway between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids will recognize this stretch of Minnesota State Highway 34, where the trees just seem to hug the route. A palace of pines.

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Drone footage of Minnesota Highway 34. There is opposition to plans to cut down trees to make way for improvements.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

"It is just, eye candy. Let's put it that way," Al Newman, who lives on Highway 34 near Snellman, said. Lady slippers (Minnesota's state flower) grow in the ditches near his house.

MnDOT is preparing for road construction on Highway 34 next year, and the plan has sparked opposition. The department says it will cut trees along a 21-mile stretch of the highway. Those opposed say too many trees will be lost.

"The impact will be devastating," said Wick Corwin, who opposes the plan.

In some places, trees would be removed 65 feet in from center line. Other limited spots, trees will be removed 150 feet from center.

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"They are the resource that once covered this area, in a literal sense. We have a population (of pines) that is just getting back to where it should be and resembling what was once here, and they want to cut it down. It makes no sense," Corwin said.

There are now yard signs up indicating people's opposition to the tree cutting part of the project.

More from WDAY's Kevin Wallevand
It was exactly 25 years ago that WDAY News brought the story of Ottertail dairy farmer Pete Thalmann patiently waiting for a new heart at Mayo Clinic. He waited six months there, his heart barely functioning. Time was running out until Thanksgiving in 1997, and a nearby family's unselfish gift of life.

"They have been there for years. The highway is a scenic byway and to change that would be, in my mind, a sin," Al Newman said.

Despite meeting with those who opposed the project, MnDOT says the project must move forward over safety concerns. MNDOT says the move could help clear ice from roads that are often in the shade.

"We have sympathy and compassion for the people who want to save the trees, but it is MnDOT's stance that it is for the safety of our staff and the public," said MnDOT project manager Joeb Oyster.

Lady slippers also grow along the route. MnDOT says they will not be damaged, and extra care will also be taken with the stately red and white pine that line Highway 34.

To learn more

Friends of the Scenic Byway will host a special informational meeting Thursday night, Sept. 15, in Osage. More information about the organization can be found at the following link:

https://www.facebook.com/Lake-Country-Scenic-Byway-Association-103852352197507

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MnDOT is also hosting a public meeting on the issue Tuesday, Oct. 4, at M-State in Detroit Lakes. For more information visit:

https://www.dot.state.mn.us/d4/projects/hwy34/index.html

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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