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Boreal Community Media

Letter to community on history of highway 61 project

Mar 16, 2018 07:02AM ● By Editor

From staff reports from The Cook County News Herald - March 16, 2018

For years, even decades, the Grand Marais City Council has been hearing community concerns about the unsafe crossings on Highway 61. Doing something about that serious challenge has consistently been placed on their list of priorities.

Six years ago, the City of Grand Marais initiated a process to broadly engage the community and hear the community’s needs and interests around Highway 61, which included safe pedestrian crossings, traffic safety, pedestrian accessibility, parking, and storm water management. This proactive approach enabled the city to successfully apply for funds to assist with the project. It was done so, in part, to make sure that when Highway 61 was rebuilt through our community, it would be done so in a manner that would truly be in our community’s interests, and not just another cookie-cutter highway project.

Throughout the six-year process, there have been multiple public convenings and meetings, open houses, and numerous opportunities for community members to help chart a vision for Highway 61 that reflects our community’s needs and priorities. The reason for the engagement, and the large public response that resulted from the engagement, makes sense when you think about it – Highway 61 is truly the physical heart of our community.

Both MnDOT and community leaders engaged in this effort have heard loud and clear that Highway 61 shouldn’t be a barrier but rather a connector, no matter if you are a child or senior on foot or a driver trying to make your way through town in a large truck. Citizens have also made it abundantly clear that Highway 61 should be something more than just another highway cutting through yet another Minnesota town – it should reflect the truly special place that Grand Marais is.

The most recent open house on the Highway 61 reconstruction project made clear not only the importance of this project to our community, but also the community engagement that has brought us to this point. Roughly 90 residents attended the meeting with the vast majority being satisfied with the process and supportive of moving forward. As with any community project of any size and scope, there will always be different ideas and disagreement over approaches – that’s always to be expected and this project will not be an exception. However, the large amount of support and satisfaction that exists is testament to the process that has taken place and the importance to our community of finally fixing what we have long known to be a serious challenge to how people get around and through town.

Project construction on Highway 61 will start in 2019 and we want it to be the best it can be for our community—today and for decades to come.

If you are interested in hearing about future project updates or input opportunities, sign up for our local project email list at or notify City Hall at [email protected] or 218-387-1848.

We want to express our sincere thanks to the community for your involvement in making this a truly community focused project with over 1,000 interactions and input. We would also like to thank the Grand Marais City Council for their continued leadership on this important project. 

Signed: City of Grand Marais, Cook County Chamber of Commerce, Cook County/Grand Marais EDA, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, Visit Cook County, Frances Jarchow, Community Member, Ron Piercy, Yellow Bird Fine Art, Paul and Cara Sporn, My Sister’s Place and Safe Routes to School Coordinator Maren Webb.

You can watch a animated video of the proposed project improvements here.

High 61 corridor animation

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here