Construction to begin at TettegoucheNext summer, drivers heading north on Highway 61 will be greeted by a new rest stop and visitor center at Tettegouche State Park.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News Chronicle
Next summer, drivers heading north on Highway 61will be greeted by a new rest stop and visitor center at Tettegouche State Park.
A ground-breaking ceremony last Friday marked the start of the project’s construction. The new facility will replace the rest stop and State Park office built at Tettegouche in 1986.
It’s a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources. The $7 million dollar project was funded by Minnesota state bonding dollars and Federal Highway Administration funds.
Dr. Tom Clifford of the Lake County Board of Commissioners, who participated in the ground-breaking, lives just a few miles from Tettegouche. He said that before the first rest stop facility was built there, he used to get unexpected visits from stranded drivers.
“They’d show up asking for help, food, rest, shelter,” he said. “The chief of police used to have a policy that they could stay in jail overnight, and there was a church group in Silver Bay that opened their houses.”
The project received more use than anyone expected when it was built. The number of visitors at Tettegouche has also increased steadily over the years, from 28,000 in 1986 to 335,000 in 2011.
Phil Leversedge, Tettegouche State Park Manager, said that as early as the late 1990s park officials were talking about replacing the building. “We’ve been dreaming about this for almost 15 years now,” he said.
“The current building doesn’t have space for visitors to learn about the park, or linger to plan their day,” Leversedge said. The new facility will be 11,000 square feet. It will include a large room with a fireplace and ample seating, and larger restrooms. There will be an open-air picnic area on the inland side of the building and as well as a plaza looking out over the lake.
The new facility, like the old one, will serve as a park office. It will have expanded interpretative exhibits to teach visitors about Tettegouche.
“It’ll be a place where they can leave their own story,” Leversedge said. Plans are in the works for an interactive “My Tettegouche Story” exhibit where visitors can leave behind a record of their visit and read about the experiences of other park visitors.
The facility is designed to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly. A photovoltaic solar array will generate more than a third of the energy required for the building. The facility will be built with sustainable forest products as well as high efficiency windows and insulation.
State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was present at the groundbreaking ceremony. He praised the initiative taken by park managers. “These projects happen because park managers have a vision,” he said.
Pat Huston, assistant District 1 operations engineer for MNDoT, said that rest stops like this are a crucial part of the Towards Zero Deaths program. The goal is to reduce traffic fatalities on Minnesota’s highways.
“Rest areas like this are an important safety feature,” Huston said.
During construction, the rest area will be closed, though there will be a temporary park office set up and the park will remain open. The nearest highway rest stops will be at Gooseberry Falls and Cross River. The new facility is predicted to open in late June 2013.
“This is truly the heart of the North Shore,” Clifford said of Tettegouche. “It’s a well-deserved investment.”