Roads, parks, forests and a bridge, Beltrami County commissioners toured a series of works completed and in progress Tuesday.
Commissioners Jim Lukachick, Joe Vene and Jack Frost, guided by County Engineer Tyler Koos, Natural Resource Manager Greg Snyder, Recreation Resource Manager John Winter and Administrator Tony Murphy, spent about five hours traveling from site to site. Commissioners Quentin Fairbanks and Jim Heltzer did not participate in the tour.
The first stop was at Rognlien Park near Wilton. The 3.5-acre park has seen major renovations in recent years.
"It's a small piece of property, but it's the highest use in the county," said Winter. "Fourth of July, cars are parked here (in the lot) and all the way up the hill."
A feature added two years ago that has made the park cleaner and more family friendly is the presence of park hosts. Winter said he advertised in camper and RV magazines and had 20 applications. He did background checks and interviews and invited retired couples to move into a special camping site in the park.
"Hosts are extremely important, and all we provide is the campsite," he said. "They stay until freeze-up."
The current hosts are Marlys and Arlen Lindquist from Minneapolis. They mow the grass, pick up trash, clean the pit toilets and even furnished garbage cans.
The plan for next summer is to renovate the memorial to the Rognlien family who donated the land for the park and install a fishing pier. The pier would be funded by $20,000 from the DNR and $5,000 in county money.
The junction of Beltrami County Roads 20 and 21 near Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge had been a dangerous corner with at least one fatal accident having occurred there. Koos pointed out the new turning lane that gives drivers better visibility. Part of the funding came from a local road safety improvement grant.
Koos also directed the commissioners' attention to County Road 57, an unpaved road that serves as access to heavy equipment hauling aggregate from three gravel pits. He said in the past, the road had to be graded two or three times a week. Application of a new dust-control chemical has stabilized the gravel road so the grading can be reduced to two or three times a year.
Winter and Snyder led the tour of Movil Maze County Park.
Winter showed the new trail marking signs and pit toilet at the trail head. The map signs illustrate the various trails with different colors for easy, intermediate and difficult cross country skiing challenges. Winter said Movil Maze lives up to its name and skiers can get dangerously lost. Now, with intersection numbers, "you are here" markers and arrows pointing the most direct way to the parking lot from each trail junction, trail users should be able to keep better track of their positions.
Snyder led the tour to a newly timbered site to show how selective cutting leaving many trees standing is more aesthetic and pleasing to park users. He said the loggers took out the overly mature timber and retained young trees 6 inches in diameter and smaller to maintain forest diversity.
A project still under way is the replacement of the County Road 305 1938 Civilian Conservation Corps one-lane bridge over the Turtle River. Koos said the bridge had an inadequate railing and was approved for 10 tons or less. He said school buses weigh about 10 tons and loggers who would like to use that route couldn't drive over the bridge.
The replacement will be two lanes and built with pre-stressed concrete beams.
The stop at a large timber clearance in Three Island County Park generated much discussion among the commissioners. Snyder drew attention to one cutting where large red pines and other species were left standing to present a pleasing aspect to park visitors. However, the clearing operation was entirely of overly mature jack pines that he said would begin to fall over in the next two or three years.
Lucachick said the scene culminating in a large slash pile destined for chipping as biomass doesn't strike the balance he seeks in parks. He said clear cutting can be appropriate for the remaining 98 percent of the county's 147,000 acres, but the public would prefer parks to be left looking more natural. That means letting a percentage of trees fall and be wasted as timber.
"In a park, wouldn't it be nice to rely on Mother Nature a bit more?" he said.
Snyder said he disagrees, and that the county lost about 25 percent of the timber by waiting 15 years too long to harvest it.
"The timber industry is not going to rise or fall over the timber we take out of our parks," said Vene.
Murphy urged Snyder to work on regeneration to maintain diverse, healthy forests.
The commissioners next bused to the area of Three Island Park under development for recreation. The site by the Turtle River dam is under construction as a picnic area.
Fish ladders made of a series of boulder barriers were installed below the dam to allow walleye to return to spawn. Picnic tables and fire rings are in place, and plans are under way for a shelter for use by picnickers and cross country skiers. Winter said wooden decking 10 feet wide across the dam will enhance the crossing for skiers.
Prior to construction, archeological examination of the site discovered Woodland Period artifacts with Blackduck Ware pottery dating from 800 A.D. to 1400 A.D. Because of these finds, Winter said the parking lot and road would be reconfigured farther back from the river than originally planned.
The tour concluded with tours of improvements made this summer to three more county roads.
Four miles of County Road 23 was repaved using 100 percent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
Two miles of County Road 35 was repaved and a box culvert was installed under the road between Blackduck Lake and Crandall Lake.
County Road 22 is gravel at each end but has new paving, curb and gutter in the 1.2-mile middle section. Because of the contour of the land, a high retaining wall was part of the job. Koos said the supplier of the pavers to build the wall, Rochester Concrete Products, gave a 40-year warrantee and agreed to service the blocks with a special moisture barrier coating every five years.