To the Editor,

For 80 or even one hundred years, white pines, oaks, maples, aspen and the Pink Lady Slipper lined the Hwy. 34 roadway between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids. That road has been widened in a few places and repaved but largely left untouched until this week when MNDOT declared native and even protected vegetation of no value. In a decision made by Detroit Lakes MNDOT employees, the North Country Scenic Byway was deemed the perfect place to carry out an ill-conceived plan to strip the roadway of trees and lady slippers in hopes that the sun will melt the snow. 

Common sense and an abundance of experience proves how unsuccessful this scheme will be. Ever drive to Hwy. 10 between Fargo and DL on a snowy day? Then you know that clearing the trees doesn’t help. Ever look desperately for sunshine in January? Then you know there’s not much (more than 60 percent cloud cover). Ever notice how long the shadows are in winter? Then you know that the sun is low, not overhead beating down on asphalt. Ever notice that when logging occurs, saplings pop up and provide food for deer? Then you know that you’ll see more deer near the road. 

The MNDOT officials in Detroit Lakes responsible for this fiasco are Shiloh Wahl 218-846-3603 and Joeb Oyster ( 218-846-3505. This week concerned citizens gathered from across the nation via zoom and at MState to learn more about what MNDOT is doing and to express their concerns and ask questions. Sadly, not a single MNDOT official showed up. It was among the worst acts of cowardice by a public agency that I’ve ever experienced.

MNDOT’s excuse? They had already had “numerous meetings.” What they actually held:

One zoom meeting, 60 minutes of presentation, public input only received by typing a chat box. No discussion, no answers.

One open house after the plan was finalized at which numerous stations were set up but not necessarily staffed and no means of recording public input. Key project managers could only be identified by asking around. Hiding in plain sight.

A public meeting promised to the Becker County Commission never materialized.

Wahl and MNDOT seem to be confused about gathering public input and responding to taxpayer concerns. They acknowledge meeting privately with a few concerned citizens representing the Izaak Walton League (which has done yeoman’s work on research, education and communication) but, most people attending the meeting are not members. That small group is appealing to them for common sense study before slaughtering the Byway. Taxpayer requests for vegetation management plans, reasonable alternatives to reducing auto crashes (only one of which has been recorded and MNDOT’s “clear zone” plan would not have prevented it).

Instead, it appears MNDOT has entrenched themselves in a corner and the only way out they can find is to whip out their chainsaws and clear cut. Taxpayers, tourists and even the wildlife deserve better.

It may be too late for the Hwy. 34 Scenic Byway, but it’s not too late for the public to insist that MNDOT take steps now to protect the other scenic byways in Minnesota. Our tourism dollars and small-town economies rely on these destination journeys. Our tax dollars pay for MNDOT’s devastation. This is a prime example of future generations having to pay for the thoughtless actions of MNDOT. 

How can you help? Go take a drive out to Snellman or the Smoky Hills. Then speak out, call MNDOT, call your elected officials, write letters. It’s either act now or weep at what we lost next summer when our road ditches are barren of the Pink Lady Slippers and the trees are gone, reduced to pulp. 

Terry Kalil, 

Detroit Lakes