Letter: People love Hwy 34 for the 'northwoods feel' that it provides

The byway is unique because of the change from the prairie grasses and wetlands to mature majestic stands of pine trees, including Norway Pine trees estimated to be over 100 years old.

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DETROIT LAKES — The Minnesota Department of Transportation has begun a roadway project on Highway 34 east of Detroit Lakes.

MnDOT states that the goal of this project is to increase safety by removing a significant amount of trees along the highway from east of Detroit Lakes toward Park Rapids. Work has already begun and many trees have already been removed, with more extensive cutting planned for later.

This stretch of roadway has been designated the "Lake Country Scenic Byway" for many years because of its natural beauty and unique and extensive stands of pine trees.

Generations of Minnesotans have traveled this route. It is known to be a gateway to Itasca State Park and for the "northwoods feel" that it provides. Many resorts dot the land, providing tourism. The roadway is also popular in the autumn months to countless people enjoying the fall colors and the variety of deciduous and pine trees the area has to offer.

The topography of the byway is unique because of the change from the prairie grasses and wetlands to mature majestic stands of pine trees, including Norway Pine trees estimated to be over 100 years of age.


MnDOT’s stated purpose for the project is to protect the safety of travelers on wintry roads, and everyone can agree with that goal. Their concern is that the tree cover leads to icy spots on the roadway. While driver safety is important to all, there has been much disagreement about how best to accomplish this.

Alternatives to removing the forest could include slower speed limits with strict enforcement by law enforcement, and other less invasive measures.
Working together to find an alternative before the drastic altering of Highway 34 would be to the benefit of all.

The greatest causes of traffic crashes in Minnesota are excessive speed and distracted drivers. We all know that wintry conditions in Minnesota lend themselves to more caution and reduced speed when driving. While MnDOT is concerned that the tree shadows cause icy spots on the road, it can also be said traveling west out of Detroit Lakes in the open country causes greater safety risks with whiteout conditions than does forested Highway 34 heading toward Park Rapids.

A group of people known as the Scenic Byway Project Committee, comprised of concerned citizens who live along or near Highway 34, and many people who drive this roadway on a daily basis, have formed a group attempting to negotiate with MnDOT to find an alternative to the excessive removal of trees and plant life along this roadway.

These people are residents of the area who care about the land that they live on and care very much about this pristine stretch of land. A number of people recently attended a meeting in Detroit Lakes to discuss this issue.

Efforts by this group to meet with, and discuss alternatives with MnDOT officials have too-often been met with indifference or disregard. MnDOT is determined to press ahead with this project despite much public opposition in the area.

The Scenic Byway Committee has acted in good faith to discuss their opposition and expressed a willingness to invite MnDOT officials to their meetings. MnDOT officials have declined those invitations.

If the Highway 34 project proceeds, this beautiful stretch of highway will be changed forever. Your public input is greatly needed through contacting your local officials, MnDOT and local news media. We can work together to keep our roadways both safe and beautiful.


A great number of people oppose MnDOT’s plan and want to stop this project, and their voices deserve to be respected and heard!

(Sue Riley is a summertime resident in the Detroit Lakes area)

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