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Letter: Act now -- Hwy 34 logging bids in Smokey Hills set for September

Also, most egregiously, the plan is to selectively remove trees beyond the 65 feet by 150 feet on the south side of the seven miles encompassing the Smoky Hills State Forest from Snellman to the Shell River.

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The appearance of the Lake Country Scenic Byway is about to be changed forever.

MnDOT plans to remove trees and vegetation on a 21-mile stretch between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids. The plan is to remove trees and vegetation 65 feet from the center of the road for both sides of 21 miles of the Lake Country Scenic Byway from County Road 29 to the Shell River east of Osage.

Also, most egregiously, the plan is to selectively remove trees beyond the 65 feet by 150 feet on the south side of the seven miles encompassing the Smoky Hills State Forest from Snellman to the Shell River.

The project description states that the cut area is less than 4% of the project. Yet this is deceptive in that the trees to be removed are through the Smoky Hills.

The Lakes Country Scenic Byway was designated in 1999. The public is betrayed in that this designation does not provide protection to one of the most scenic forest drives along the 67-mile stretch from Walker to Detroit Lakes.

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Advertising this stretch of highway, a State of Minnesota brochure reads:

Visitors will see remarkable changes in vegetation in a relatively short distance as you drive through prairie grasslands from the west to deciduous forests and coniferous forests as one travels east along the byway. Look for the Showy Lady's Slippers in June along the south side of Hwy 34 prevalent from Height of Land Lake area to east of Snellman. Admire the stands of mature red and white pines … in winter, and their deep green spires jut among colorful hardwood leaf foliage in the fall. Take a break among the majestic pines at the roadside rest west of Osage.”

The reason given for removing such a significant stretch of forest and scenic beauty is to provide for more sunlight on the roadway during the winter in order to reduce the amount of chloride required for icy roads and to provide safety. Selectively removing the trees may be ineffective in reducing road ice as the sun is so low in the sky in winter, and it is often cloudy. To lose this tree-lined drive is too great a sacrifice.

With the current proposal, drivers would likely be less cautious and drive faster. Also, invasive weeds such as Buckthorn will grow unabated. Spraying invasive species would be more harmful to the environment. Instead of stately red and white pines and deciduous trees, there would be eroding ditches and open views of pastureland. The delicate Showy Lady's Slipper areas would likely be damaged beyond recovery as they require shady forest areas to thrive.

Minnesota Tourism Center's 2010 economic impact study estimated expenditures by travelers visiting the Lake Country Scenic Byway to be $29.3 million annually. To take the “Scenic” out of the Scenic Byway may have a negative impact on the communities along the Byway.

MnDOT, in a very successful project a few years ago, installed passing lanes on Highway 34 which has made the highway much safer. This was done with minimal impact on the trees and Lady Slippers. The resurfacing project is important, but it is unnecessary to remove vegetation and trees along the Lake Country Scenic Byway to improve the roadway.

Bids for logging during fall/winter 2022 will be let next month. Your response now is urgent.

To express your concern, call or write to: Rep. Steve Green, rep.steve.green@house.mn (651-296-9918) and Sen. Paul J. Utke, sen.paul.utke@senatemn (651-296-9651).

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