Mille Lacs Lake Scenic Byway Designation


Summary

The East Central Regional Development Commission (ECRDC) along with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) propose to facilitate a scenic byway planning process for the Mille Lacs Lake area of central Minnesota. These entities will be referred to as “the RDCs.”
The process will help local stakeholders to determine the feasibility of designating an existing route around Lake Mille Lacs as a scenic byway. The level of designation sought will initially be a State Scenic Byway, but National level status could be a goal.

A Byway Steering Committee of local stakeholders, with the assistance of the RDCs, will develop route possibilities and potential features, estimate implementation costs, help determine a management structure, and garner public input. The result of the process will be a document containing recommended action steps for byway designation, possible route maps, a list of possible features, a proposed logo, and an example of a wayside improvement design.

Background

Spanning 130,000 acres, serving as one of the earliest known archeological sites of human settlement in Minnesota, and boasting a strong history as one of Minnesota’s most popular fishing destinations, Lake Mille Lacs is one of the largest, most historic, and most popular recreational lakes in the State. In addition to its notable aquatic resources, the Lake’s surrounding resources include scenic forests, quaint communities, resorts, campgrounds, two state parks, and a casino/resort.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe ancestors settled their home in East Central Minnesota about 250 years ago, bringing with them a rich culture that today still thrives throughout the Mille Lacs Reservation. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe have ceremonial buildings and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum plus traditional activities such as wigwam construction, sugarbushing and powwows that draw neighbors and friends to the Mille Lacs Reservation each year.

During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps created several now historic bridges and waysides including the Garrison Concourse built in 1936-39 and rehabilitated in 2012-14, and the Garrison Pedestrian Underpass (Bridge 5265) built in 1938 and set for rehabilitation in 2017. Other wayside areas could be created, enhanced or rehabilitated through the process.
By all accounts, Lake Mille Lacs is a treasured natural, cultural, and historic Minnesota resource that should be celebrated. This is why stakeholders believe a ring of roadway around Lake Mille Lacs should be designated as a scenic byway.

Additionally, the Lake Mille Lacs area’s tourism economy has slowed due in part to low populations of walleye. As Minnesota’s state fish its popularity with both summer and winter anglers, have in recent years resulted in reduced bag limits and low catch rates on the lake. In the summer of 2015, the walleye season was shut down mid-summer. Walleyes have been the main tourism driver of the Lake Mille Lacs area for years. The tourism infrastructure (lodging, services) is oriented toward walleye anglers. While the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other stakeholders work to restore walleye populations, the Lake Mille Lacs area tourism economy may need a new focus.
In addition to acknowledging a certain area’s assets, designation of scenic byways have proven to positively impact byway regions economically. In 2009 and 2010, the University of Minnesota studied the economic impact of traveler spending along two of the State’s byways – Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway and Lake Country Scenic Byway – and the investments made in them. Overall, they found that during a 10-year period of investments, the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway generated $631,000 of direct and indirect spending and contributed $271,000 of labor income to the local economy; and they estimated that the Lake Country Scenic Byway in nine years generated $477,000 of direct and indirect spending and contributed $181,000 of labor income. Using traffic data and an estimate of the number of travelers who were specifically byway travelers, the researchers concluded that total expenditures by byway travelers in 2010 were $21.6 million.
Each of the RDC regions currently have designated Scenic Byways, and bring to the process institutional knowledge of the processes relating to designation and maintenance of the byways.


Proposed Area of Study

The initial areas under consideration take in segments of Mille Lacs, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties contiguous to Lake Mille Lacs. Township, city and tribal jurisdictions will be included in the assessment and development process.
Below a map of Lake Mille Lacs shows Minnesota Highways 18, 27, and 47 along with U.S. Highway 169 encompassing the lake. These four roadways are anticipated to form the foundation of the possible byway, with other state and county roads possibly included through the process.


Project Team

Minnesota’s Regional Development Commissions are responsible for providing local government assistance, regional inter-governmental coordination, and a forum for regional discussion to the counties, cities, towns, and tribes in their areas. The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) covers seven counties in northeast Minnesota, including Aitkin County on Mille Lacs’s northeast shore. The East Central Regional Development Commission (ECRDC) covers eastern Minnesota, including Mille Lacs County and the approximate south half of Lake Mille Lacs. The Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) in central Minnesota includes Crow Wing County on the Lake’s northwest shore. However, R5DC will not be a part of the planning team due to current staff workloads and experience levels. They have requested that the other RDCs cover their jurisdiction in this case.

The Planning Team from the ECRDC and ARDC has significant experience in conducting scenic byway plans and helping communities secure implementation funding. Examples of successes around the area include the Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway in Duluth and the North Shore Scenic Drive All-American Road.

The East Central Regional Development Commission (ECRDC) will be the lead agency for the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byways assessment and development process. The ECRDC will administer the project. ARDC will have a sub-agreement with ECRDC to provide assistance. The following is a breakdown of each RDCs roles.

ECRDC:
• Fiscal Manager: Administer contracts, pay invoices, accept payments
• Project Manager: Lead project, ensure progression, make process adjustments, coordinate
tasks, lead decision making, review documents and communications pieces
• Meeting Organizer: Secure sites, dates, times, refreshments, equipment; maintain contact
lists, take meeting notes, develop and distribute meeting summaries and announcements (note
that ARDC will provide assistance for coordinating any meetings that occur in Aitkin
County)
• Meeting facilitator: Lead meetings, ensure participation, ensure all voices are heard,
ensure meeting goals are met, ensure agenda is followed
• Communications specialist: Develop and distribute news releases, communicate with media,
develop correspondence, distribute information to stakeholders, lead communications with
elected officials, create, maintain, and update project website, create and update social
media sites.

ARDC:
• Writer/Publisher: Write document text, organize graphics, publish final documents
• GIS Specialist: Build data sets, design maps, create interactive web map
• Photographer: Take photos of byway features, manage photo library

Another member of the team will be a landscape architect (yet to be identified) who will work extensively with the byway project. The landscape architect will be responsible for leading a process to design waysides, a potential logo, roadside signs, and other visual themes. Additionally, the landscape architect will be asked to lead a design process for one public space on the byway. The resulting design will serve as an example of the types of public improvements that scenic byways can facilitate. ARDC will oversee the Landscape Architect.

Planning Process


Step 1: Establishment of the Steering Committee and Kick-off Meeting

The RDCs will work to form a steering committee to help manage and coordinate the planning process. The committee will provide a focal point for the key individuals who are necessary partners for the byway project to proceed. The committee should represent a wide spectrum of community interests, including residents, business owners, and local government representatives. A wide representation will result in more effective and successful byway planning and greater community ownership of the final project.

As part of the Steering Committee recruitment process, each RDC will contact the appropriate local governments in their districts asking for their support of the planning process and their assignment of an elected official or qualified resident/property owner to the Committee. The communications specialist will develop materials to be used for this recruitment. The recruitment would initially be done by mail/email/telephone unless the local government being contacted requests a presentation. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will also be asked to participate.

Recruitment of other key stakeholders will also occur. These people will represent tourism organizations (such as a resort association), chambers of commerce, County transportation departments, economic development specialists, and others as identified.

Once the Steering Committee is set, the RDCs will organize, promote, and hold the first meeting (MEETING 1). The agenda for that meeting will begin with a request for the Committee to elect a Chair and Vice-Chair from their membership. The role of the Chair is to run the meeting in order to ensure full participation and to be a public spokesperson for the project. The Vice-Chair will be asked to perform that role if the Chair is temporarily unavailable. The meeting will continue with the RDCs describing the upcoming process and notifying steering committee members of their roles. The committee will undertake an exercise to describe existing characteristics and identify the Mille Lacs Lake area’s intrinsic qualities, byway user generators (e.g. resorts or parks), and other important area information.

Step 2: Vision Development
At the second meeting (MEETING 2) of the Steering Committee, the RDCs will work with the group to develop a project vision. This process will include an exercise to identify the following items:
• Background and need for byway designation
• Overall designation purpose, aims, and objectives
• Desired byway connections
The RDCs will work with the group to combine the results of the exercise into a singular, cohesive vision statement for the byway’s development. The group will discuss potential, general route alignments. Information from this meeting will be used by the landscape designer to draft a logo and road sign.
At a third meeting (MEETING 3) of the Steering Committee, the RDCs will present maps of the potential, general byway routes for review and discussion. The information will include an example landscape architecture drawing of a key byway location. The draft logo and signage scheme will be reviewed. The Committee will be asked to propose any changes to the information that they would desire. A draft interactive web map that features photographs, videos, and other graphics will be presented and commented on. Finally, the group will work with the RDCs to determine a public meeting date, location, format, and input process.

Step 3: Public Input
The fourth meeting of the process (MEETING 4) will be a public input session. The RDCs will help the Committee to present their vision for the byway and to garner input on the idea. This session could be in one of many forms (presentation with formal comments, open house, others); the format will be determined by the Committee. The RDCs will record the public’s comments at the meeting. Additionally, the RDCs will maintain a web page that will also promote public comments.

Step 4: Plan Revision and Next Steps
The RDCs will work with the Committee (MEETING 5) to review the public’s input on the byway and to determine if any changes to the project’s vision should be made. The interactive web map will be reviewed. Once the group has made final changes, the RDCs and the Committee will discuss the next steps necessary to begin byway nomination and implementation. The RDCs will propose the tasks, a timeline, and a responsible party for each step. The group will make any necessary changes to the list of steps. The list of steps will become an implementation checklist.

Step 5: Plan Publication and Promotion
Once the implementation checklist is complete, the RDCs will assemble all of the information developed for the process into one document. The document will include the vision, maps, drawings, meeting summaries, and the implementation checklist. The RDCs will print and bind a copy of the color document for each Committee member and will make additional copies as needed. The plan will also be made available for download at the project’s web page. The RDCs will also make a short video describing the byway planning process available at the web page. Finally, the RDCs will be available as necessary (within reason) to present the byway plan to key audiences as determined by the group.


More Information

For more information on this project please contact:

Penny Simonsen
Community Development Director
East Central Regional Development Commission

Email: penny.simonsen@ecrdc.org
Phone: (320) 679-4065 x23