Lady Slipper interpretive sites open
The Lady Slipper Scenic Byway just got more scenic.
The sites were created for residents and tourists traveling the byway, which starts in Blackduck on Highway 39/10, to appreciate Minnesota’s state flower, the Lady Slipper.
The rest areas include interpretive plaques for visitors to learn about the orchids at the south site, located near the Mississippi River, and the north site features a boardwalk where they can be viewed up close.
The Lady Slipper Scenic Byway board played a large role in the creation of the sites along with Beltrami County and the Chippewa National Forest.
The board formed in 2003 as the Scenic Highway Scenic Byway, but a contest to rename the group in 2006 led them to their main focus.
“We had several entries from the local community and there were two entries for Lady Slipper Scenic Byway and so our board got together and we chose that as the new name for our scenic byway,” explained Nancy Salminen, board treasurer. “So it occurred to me that that whole name change really was the evolution of a changing attitude for our group.”
At the time of the name change, the byway was also about to undergo a transformation. The board realized that they wouldn’t be able to be the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway if construction to the highway destroyed the Lady Slippers.
The talk of construction prompted the group to collect an inventory of the Lady Slippers along the byway. The inventory was done by a crew from Camp Rabideau, also located along the byway, with Forest Service equipment over the next three years.
When the inventory was complete the board began researching other successful transplants that had taken place and also applied for grants. They received a transportation enhancement grant from the Federal Highway Administration and another for $50,000 from the United States Forest Service.
With the grants, crews were able to dig up Lady Slippers on a 14-mile stretch of the byway. The plants were then stored until 2012 when they began placing them into the newly constructed sites.
“We monitored the success of our transplant and we were really pleasantly surprised,” Salminen said. “We found almost every colony that we had transplanted, except for, I think, two.”
Some leftover Lady Slippers were also transplanted to the side of roadways entering the Pennington Bog Scientific and Natural Area, which is only accessible by permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
“Our byway board realizes this is a long-term project,” Salminen said of the future. “We’re not quite sure when the highway is going to be constructed but we feel really confident that we’re going to be successful in our efforts and that they’re going to survive once we transplant them.”
Mike Smith, a senior Ojibwe Spiritual Leader also gave a blessing during the ceremony and Ojibwe flutist Jared Chase performed a song.
Other members of the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway board include President Mike Supan, Vice President Shirley Gilmore, secretary Judy Rossi, Sally Fineday, Deborah Davis Hudak, Steve Ross, George-Ann Maxson and Joe Rossi.
Salminen said that the relocation of the thousands of surviving Lady Slippers wouldn’t have been possible without the Forest Service, the Highway Department, Beltrami County, Camp Rabideau, Minnesota Conservation Corps, the Minnesota DNR, Beltrami Electric and more.
Bruce Hasbargen, Beltrami County Highway Engineer, was also present for the ceremonies.
“What made this possible was a transportation enhancement grant,” Hasbargen said. “The grant paid for these sites and really what these sites do is allow for the travellers to stop on their way by and enjoy a couple of the important, unique features along the scenic byway.”
Hasbargen said that this was the first time the Highway Department had been invited to a ribbon cutting ceremony for a project.
Jack Frost, County Commissioner, who was also at the ceremony, reminisced to the first time he drove down the byway.
“The first time I drove up the scenic highway going to Blackduck and I was driving a ‘39 Ford,” Frost said. “I’m an old car guy and I thought you know what this is the quintessential form of motoring.”
The commissioner remembered attending a meeting to discuss the initial reconstruction of the highway that entities with competing interests attended including the Forest Service, Army Corp of Engineers, the Chippewa National Forest and the byway board.
“I thought to myself this will never happen,” Frost said. “I don’t think we can ever collaborate for progress and come to a consensus and find a balance to get this project done, but we did and look what we have today. It is beautiful.”