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Boat Dock Road through Refuge is much improved

“For what it’s worth, the Boat Dock Road is open right now,” Chad Zorn, refuge manager of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, announced Thursday.

12/07/11 (Wed)

In its best shape ever . . . The Boat Dock Road northwest of Kenmare
along the west side of the Des Lacs Lake has been widened, reshaped
and built up following heavy damage last summer.


By Caroline Downs

“For what it’s worth, the Boat Dock Road is open right now,” Chad Zorn, refuge manager of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, announced Thursday.

The news is welcome to area residents, as well as to Zorn. When he arrived to begin his position at the refuge in June, he discovered a mess from saturated ground and slumping hillsides that damaged railroad tracks owned by Canadian Pacific Railway adjacent to the refuge. Repairs made to those tracks in turn damaged refuge property and roads further.

One part of the agreement between the refuge and CP to resolve the situation was to overhaul the northern portion of the Scenic Lake Road, also known as the Boat Dock Road. With Harris Construction of Kenmare contracted for the project, the road was closed to the public through the summer months into the fall hunting seasons.

“Harris Construction pulled all their equipment early last week and the gates are open,” Zorn said.

Improvements to the road will quickly become apparent to drivers. The roadbed has been widened and reshaped, with the speed limit remaining at 30 miles per hour, and new culverts have been installed. “This is much improved over what we had,” Zorn said. “Two people can pass on the road relatively easily.”

New scenic
overlooks added

Visitors to the refuge will also enjoy the fact that two existing overlooks for the lake have been widened, and two completely new overlooks created along the road. “Now, people can view the lake from a couple of different angles,” said Zorn.

The old coal mine road, veering northwest from the Boat Dock Road, has been rebuilt and gated for use by refuge personnel.

A second road, beginning a few hundred yards north and running parallel to the tracks for about 3/4 of a mile, has been created for use by the railroad. “This will give railroad crews a quicker, easier way to get across refuge ground than they’ve had in the past,” explained Zorn. “It will be a service road for the railroad and accommodates them a little bit better.”

That road is gated and locked, and will not be opened for any public use.

Refuge visitors will also notice at least four large bare sites on the hillsides immediately west of the Boat Dock Road. “The trees and vegetation were totally removed,” said Zorn. “It has been seeded to native grasses, but we’re thinking about some native wildflower plantings there. It could be a demonstration area and may bring some life back to those hillsides.”

The entire cost for the project has been paid by CP. “All the work the railroad wanted to get done this year has been completed,” Zorn said, “including the roads and rehabilitation to the refuge ground that was disturbed.”

Zorn added that CP may have their crews finish pluming some of the track’s culverts next year so run-off remains underground past the railroad tracks and below the Boat Dock Road.

CP may also continue to monitor the vegetation recovery and potential soil erosion problems in the damaged areas. “My guess is that CP Rail will have to do some maintenance on this in the future,” said Zorn.

New gates will stay
The road’s closure, marked by temporary barricades for most of the summer, has been a source of contention and frustration for refuge staff, construction workers and local residents. The barricades were often ignored or moved to the sides of the road to allow equipment to drive to the work site. Trespassers damaged some equipment belonging to Harris Construction during the summer, as well as some of the rehabilitation working being done.

Metal gates were installed at both ends of the road earlier this fall, and Zorn noted the gates would remain as a permanent fixture. In fact, the gates will be closed each winter after the road becomes impassable because of drifted snow and will stay closed to motorized traffic until the road is dry enough in the spring to prevent damage from vehicles.

Refuge personnel do not maintain the Boat Dock Road during the winter and early spring months. The road will remain open to foot traffic, such as snowshoers or cross-country skiers.

“If it’s closed, there’s going to be a reason for it to be closed,” said Zorn.

In a related matter, track owned by the Northern Plains Railroad on the east side of the refuge just north of Kenmare will be addressed next year. “We’re still going to have some railroad work out here in the spring,” said Zorn. “The hillsides are coming down onto the tracks.”

A portion of that damage, below the Kenmare Country Club, was repaired in 2011, but further work needs to take place.

South Lake Road work
Work on Phase II of the South Lake Road paving project was finished, with a final walk-through and inspection occurring on November 22nd and all barricades removed.

“It turned out well,” said Zorn. The roadbed and drainage were improved and new gravel laid down. The parking area at Munch’s Coulee was also improved by creating more space for vehicles and a better surface.

According to Zorn, Phase III is still planned for fiscal year 2012 and will improve the next 3.5 miles north from the end of Phase II. “They’re also very interested in replacing the wood plank bridge where the road crosses to the bottom of the Brickyard Hill,” said Zorn.

Kenmare Township owns the bridge, rather than the refuge, and Zorn plans to discuss the matter with township officers in the coming weeks. “That bridge causes problems because we can’t take our heavy maintenance equipment across that,” he said. “It’s always been a concern.”

Work on Phase III of the South Lake Road project should begin next summer. Like the Boat Dock Road, refuge personnel do not perform winter maintenance on the South Lake Road, so that road will remain open to drivers this year as long as weather and snow conditions allow.

Zorn invited the public to take a look at the improved Boat Dock Road as soon as possible. “Everyone is welcome to drive it before the snow flies,” he said.

Anyone with comments or concerns about the road is welcome to contact Zorn at the Des Lacs refuge by calling 701-385-4046 ext. 225.

“Now, we cross our fingers and hope for a drier spring,” he added. “I do not want a repeat of Spring 2011. Neither the refuge, the railroad nor the public wants to go through this again!”