Mille Lacs Scenic Byway

Sharing a great Story published in the Milacs Messenger

The byway that should have always been

Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2018 6:00 am

by Evan Orbeck eorbeck

New local route approved on July 16

As of July 16, The Minnesota State Scenic Byways Commission has officially designated a five-road route circumnavigating Mille Lacs Lakes a state scenic byway. The Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway Steering Committee held a celebratory meeting for the designation on July 31. In addition to their celebration, the group also discussed plans for moving forward with the opportunities presented by this designation.

Representing the committee at this meeting were Penny Simonsen, Jamie Root-Larsen, Karrie Roeschlein, Angie Moen and Steve Dubbs. According to the press release from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, work for this designation began when the East Central Regional Development Commission, represented by Simonsen on the steering committee, and the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission began grassroots efforts to spur local support. The steering committee further elaborated that this August marks the third year of these efforts.

Simonsen briefly elaborated on the designation process. The state byways commission, she explained, consisted of a small group with members from MNDoT, Explore Minnestoa Tourism, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Department of Natural Resources. While there wasn’t any pushback from the comission, Simonsen explained, a historical society member did question if there could be more representation for the historical aspects of the route among the byway’s steering committee. Simonsen that she would be reaching out to the historical society through the Mille Lacs Indian Museum to further follow up on this. Describing the designation’s approval as whole-hearted, Simonsen said that one of the State Scenic Commision members observed on his way out the door, “This is the byway that always should have been.”

The committee is already preparing for next year. The annual Minnesota Scenic Byways Workshop for this year’s meeting was already scheduled to be held in Fergus Falls. Simonsen volunteered that next year’s workshop be held in the Mille Lacs community. Details for this workshop are as of yet unplanned.

The scenic byway route follows Hwy. 169 along the west side of the lake, Hwy. 18 along the north, Hwy. 47 along the east, and Hwy. 27 along the south. The county-owned Shakopee Lake Road, running from Onamia through Mille Lacs Kathio State Park to Hwy. 169, will also be included as part of the route.

Among several subjects touched on by the steering committee, the first was the process of getting signs along the route. Simonsen explained that the signs would be 24 inches square and installed and maintained by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. In total, there would be 25 signs along the route, two of which would be placed along Shakopee Lake road. Simonsen observed that November posed a natural deadline for getting the signs into the ground due to frost. She also added there was currently an effort to get new signs for all state byways; however, Mille Lacs was as of yet not queued for installation this year. “Next year, we are certain to be in it,” Simonsen said, “but that doesn’t get those dang signs in the ground for almost two years.” She was currently working toward opportunities to get the signs installed as soon as possible.

Steering committee chair Steve Dubbs said, “I would make sure MNDoT knows the sense of urgency. The reason this started was to help the lake and help the businesses. … This is to help business, so don’t make us wait on this.”

The steering committee members put forward the advantages that the byway would offer the local community. In general, the byway was seen as a means to promote local tourism. Wahkon City Clerk Karrie Roeschlein described the byway as a cohesive plan to draw people to all parts of the lake’s community. The byway designation also presented funding opportunities around the lake. New signs for the City of Wahkon and potential work for the Garrison concourse were both examples put forward.

The committee came to a consensus that focus would be put toward a photography contest to highlight aspects of the area along the byway. Details for such a contest will be forthcoming. Additionally, the committee also planned to eventually host “neighborhood meetings.” These meetings would visit individual communities along the byway route, seeking input for how these communities would want to engage with promoting the byway. Another future opportunity the committee discussed was eventually aiming to become a National Scenic Byway.

Simonsen further added that the steering committee was always looking for new membership. Those who were interested in helping guide the future of the byway could reach out to Simonsen at (320) 679-4065 (extension 23). Further information about the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway can also be found by visiting the official “Mille Lacs Scenic Byway Committee” Facebook page.