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By Caroline Downs
Visitors to the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge should be prepared for some road closures, but work on the projects should be completed by mid-August.
Refuge manager Chad Zorn announced Phase III of the Scenic Lake Road rehabilitation project was scheduled to begin July 9th in a joint effort between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration.
The project covers 3.01 miles of the Scenic Lake Road south of Kenmare, starting immediately north of the Munch’s Coulee parking area. “This phase involves rebuilding the rest of the road the refuge owns,” said Zorn.
The project contract also includes work on an eight-mile stretch of the Auto Tour Route on the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge. Plans call for re-graveling that road and creating more turnouts on the route for wildlife observation opportunities.
“They plan on having the Des Lacs Refuge project done by mid-August and hope to be over at Lostwood by mid- to late-August,” Zorn said. “They should be done at Lostwood by November.”
He noted the crew would start on the Des Lacs Refuge in order to allow piping plover nests on the Lostwood Refuge to hatch and fledglings to leave the nesting sites. Piping plovers, which are listed as a threatened bird species, have been observed nesting on the gravel roadway of the Auto Tour Route this year because high water levels on the Lostwood Refuge have prevented them from using the shoreline of lakes and prairie potholes.
Total cost for both road improvement projects is $1,921,272.80. Bell Contracting, Inc. of Columbia, Missouri, has the contract for the projects, and local residents will see their employees in the area during the next few months.
“They’re bringing most of their own people and most of their own equipment,” Zorn said. “They did find local housing for the project.”
He added that Farden Construction in Kenmare may be sub-contracted for local product delivery. Danny Johnson, who served as the onsite inspector for Phase II of the Scenic Lake Road project in 2011 for the Federal Highway Administration, has returned in that role and is living at the Des Lacs NWR.
Zorn was pleased with both the project timeline and the cost, given the three miles of roadway on the Des Lacs Refuge to be improved. The road is scheduled to be widened, graded and regraveled, with replacement of box and cattle crossing culverts as needed.
He noted that soft spots plaguing drivers on the current roadway would be dug out to a depth of two feet. “They’ll bring in new material to fill those,” he said.
The route will be completely closed to public traffic once construction begins. “It’s going to be barricaded where they are working,” said Zorn. “Going south out of town, you’re going to hit a dead end pretty quickly.”
Munch’s Coulee and the southernmost two miles of the Scenic Lake Road can be accessed from the south entrance to the refuge off U.S. Highway 52.
Work on the Scenic Lake Road is taking place in anticipation of paving the entire segment from Kenmare to U.S. 52 at a later date, as funds become available. Phase I of the project was completed in 2009, beginning at the southern end of the road and working north about one mile.
Phase II was finished in 2011, with another 1.1 miles of the road rehabilitated just past the parking area for Munch’s Coulee.
The road will be opened to the public again as soon as Phase III is completed.
Phase IV involves
Plans for Phase IV of the project, covering the 1.4 miles between the refuge and Kenmare, have yet to be determined, according to Zorn. That segment of the road is owned by Canadian-Pacific Railway.
“The road becomes part of their right-of-way,” Zorn explained. “I continue to work with CP Rail regarding the ownership issue.”
The delay in planning Phase IV could allow refuge staff to add a bridge repair to the project. “We’re working with the Federal Highway Administration to hopefully replace the wood plank bridge to Brickyard Hill,” said Zorn.
He explained the refuge had been discussing the project with Baden Township officials, after damage to the bridge occurred from high water last summer. “In working with the township, we assumed and they assumed the bridge was owned by the township,” he said, “but in extensive research going back to 1919, we learned the chunk of road the bridge is on is actually owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Where the road turns to go up the hill is where it becomes the township’s road.”
The bridge provides one of the few places refuge maintenance crews can cross the Des Lacs Lakes and access both sides of the refuge. Local hunters use the bridge as well to access the west side of the refuge below Tasker’s Coulee during deer, pheasant and wild turkey seasons.
“We figured that bridge was built in the 1950s,” said Zorn. “It’s served us well, but it’s time to get it replaced.”
on Boat Dock Road
Local drivers have again been enjoying the Boat Dock Road on the refuge north of Kenmare after that route was closed most of last year because of water damage.
However, Zorn advised that public traffic could encounter an occasional “Road Closed” sign in the coming weeks as finish work for those repairs is completed.
“We’re working with CP Rail on the schedule for that,” he said. “There needs to be some general road grading, fluming of the culverts and repairing the soft spots. It’s the finish work they never really got done last fall.”
Drivers may have observed some erosion taking place near the newly-installed culverts. Zorn said those culverts would be dug into the hillsides to prevent that problem.
He also noted some of the hillsides damaged by sloughing last year would have to be reseeded. “They were seeded last year, but we had a pretty poor catch in most areas,” he said. “We’re going to work with CP Rail on getting a good mix of forbs and wildflower seed for that.”
Zorn asked drivers to be aware of the heavy equipment that could be used for the final projects on the Boat Dock Road. “There could be a day or two when that road is closed depending on where the equipment is working,” he said, “but I don’t foresee a long-term closure.”
Persons with further questions about the road projects on the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge can contact Zorn at 701-385-4046 ext. 225.