Consultants evaluated sites in preparation for their treatment report recommendations.

Implementation + Management
Additional Planning and Research

The study’s final report, Historic Roadside Development Structures on Minnesota Trunk Highways, provided Mn/DOT with a much better understanding of the properties under its jurisdiction. Moreover, it allowed the Department to consider the roadside sites as a single collection of uniquely significant properties rather than as unrelated facilities.

Jackie Sluss, a Mn/DOT historian, noted that, "The report allows Mn/DOT to know immediately if there is a historic roadside property in a project area. Since we will now receive an 'early warning', there is a better chance of avoiding the site. Four historic roadside properties have already been impacted; two will be avoided, but two will be lost. We need to improve that rate."

The report has set the stage for additional preservation planning. First, Mn/DOT retained historic preservation consultants to prepare a treatment report for each of the more than 50 National Register-eligible sites. The treatment reports analyze condition and include detailed information about a site's spatial organization and land patterns; topography; vegetation; circulation; structures, furnishings, and objects; health and safety concerns; environmental concerns; and accessibility considerations. In some cases, reports suggest ways to adapt the site to meet new uses or suggest ways to enhance roadway design (for instance—reducing speed limits for safer access in and out of properties or installing guardrails that meet both safety and aesthetic needs). In all cases, reports include recommendations that will retain National Register-eligibility. Reports also include cost estimates for three comparative treatments: stabilization (critical needs), preservation, and restoration.

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The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties incorporate the terms protection and stabilization into preservation. Mn/DOT began their work using old terms and for consistency has retained these terms. In hindsight using the current terms, preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration, would have served Mn/DOT better when making report recommendations. Rehabilitation--not one of Mn/DOT’s options--is in reality likely to be MN/DOT’s most common treatment method.

The consultants will also rank the sites using priority-ranking criteria developed to help Mn/DOT determine how to allocate its resources. The ranking uses three weighted categories: historical significance, design significance, and integrity. Mn/DOT is ranking the entire collection and creating strategies to manage sites that may not be National Register-eligible, but still contain valuable historic landscape features.


The overlook wall at the Orr Roadside Parking Area was damaged by an errant vehicle.


Implementation + Management
Managing and Restoring the Properties

Mn/DOT will use the treatment reports and priority ranking to create a statewide management plan for National Register-eligible properties. In a frugal-funding environment, the management plan will help Mn/DOT invest wisely and on those properties deemed most significant. Mn/DOT anticipates the plan will recommend which properties to list on the National Register, which merit rehabilitation or special maintenance, and which should be transferred to other caretakers. The management plan will also include guidelines for cyclical maintenance, proper masonry repairs, and vegetation management. Mn/DOT will also develop a standardized method to routinely and comprehensively document maintenance data. These maintenance guidelines should prevent the benign neglect that has inadvertently occurred in the past.



 

(top) Mn/DOT rebuilt a leaning section of the Orr overlook wall. (bottom) The overlook wall at the Orr Roadside Parking Area has been restored as a result of Mn/DOT's study.

Mn/DOT believes the management plan will save time and money. As Mn/DOT's district offices become more aware of their historic resources, the sites will be considered earlier during project development phases. This will allow Mn/DOT staff to better design alternatives that will avoid or minimize adverse affects and to improve other planning and maintenance decisions.

As budgets tighten and competing interests rise, one of Mn/DOT's greatest obstacles will be to find funding to preserve and maintain its most significant properties. Early planning will give Mn/DOT time to identify funding or find financial and maintenance partners. Because the treatment reports include practical recommendations and cost estimates, Mn/DOT can readily calculate the resources needed to implement an alternative. Mn/DOT recently received grant money for work at two properties: the Craigie Flour Mill Historical Marker, located along the Otter Trail Scenic Byway (TEA-21 rehabilitation funds) and the Reads Landing Overlook, located along the Great River Road (Scenic Byways preservation funds).

Mn/DOT is currently preparing National Register nominations for several sites. In recent years, five sites have been listed on the National Register and four additional nominations are underway. The Craigie Flour Mill property and the Reads Landing Overlook are among these.

Mn/DOT is also identifying a "conservation zone" around each National Register-eligible property. The conservation zone is designed to preserve each site's physical and visual setting and help buffer it from elements that may detract from its historic character. In some cases it may include purchasing land or creating easements.

Once the management plan is complete, Mn/DOT anticipates developing a programmatic agreement with its partners such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. Currently, when these agencies review a Mn/DOT project (usually as required under federal Section 106 regulations) it is handled on a case-by-case basis, which is often costly and time-consuming. Once in place, the programmatic agreement will establish preservation commitments for Mn/DOT’s roadside development properties and streamline some individual cultural resource reviews.

Restoration – Applying the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards

During the 2002 construction season, Mn/DOT began its first restoration project since the study’s completion. The Orr Roadside Parking Area, which was designed by A.R. Nichols and built in 1938 by the CCC, is a scenic overlook located on Pelican Lake in northern Minnesota. Mn/DOT rebuilt leaning and missing wall sections, removed encroaching vegetation, restored the wall’s timber railing, restored the stone walkway and curb, tuckpointed the entire wall, and added an interpretive sign to explain the site’s historic significance. The work followed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes. The site has recently been listed on the National Register based on a nomination prepared by Mn/DOT.

A scenic overlook at the Cold Spring Roadside Parking Area appears abandoned and the deteriorating masonry has been vandalized.

Implementation + Management
Applying the Research

Over several months, Mn/DOT received multiple requests to take part in a land transfer that could lead to new construction adjacent to the Pine-Hickory Lakes Roadside Parking Area. The development would likely have an adverse visual affect and possibly an adverse physical affect to this beautiful forested site. Because draft National Register boundaries, conservation zone boundaries, and priority ranking for the site (ranked within the top 10 sites statewide), had been completed, Mn/DOT avoided the potential impact because it was able to clearly justify that the transaction was not in the resource’s best interest, nor would it benefit the public good.

The Cold Spring Roadside Parking Area is another good example of how the study has changed highway planning. The Parking Area is one of the state's most complex roadside facilities. Designed by A. R. Nichols, the wayside rest was built in 1936 by the WPA. It is located on the east bank of the Sauk River in the town of Cold Spring, and is bisected by Highway 23. The elaborate site includes a large granite overlook, a council ring, a picnic area with stone fireplaces, a trail system, spring water outlets, and pools formed by two dams.

 

The Cold Spring Roadside Parking Area was one of the state's most extensive roadside development projects. A.R. Nichols' perspective drawing conveys a complex design that allowed for a variety of activities including picnicking, hiking, softball, campfires, and enjoyment of scenic vistas.

By 1970, the southern part of the site had been closed. Mn/DOT was providing little maintenance and the landscape had become overgrown, obscuring Nichols' original design. Today many of the stone features are in poor condition.

In the late 1990s, an extensive project was underway to improve the capacity and safety of the highway. As originally proposed, the plans called for adding two traffic lanes, widening the roadway, changing the access to the park, closing a pedestrian pathway under a bridge that connects both sides of the rest area, cutting up to 60 feet of the scenic granite outcroppings along the road corridor, constructing an eight foot tall safety wall along the north side of the road, and encroaching on a parking area.

Without the Mn/DOT study and its statewide comparisons, it is likely that the proposed alterations would have taken place. It is even possible that the site might have been demolished. However, once the study revealed the site’s importance, the highway plans were reassessed. Mn/DOT's Cultural Resources Unit and the State Historic Preservation Office concluded that the highway changes would not only have an adverse effect on the property, but would render the site ineligible for the National Register. On-site visits with cultural resources personnel helped decision makers develop an appreciation for the site and led to an agreement that the plans would be modified to keep the site eligible.

While the highway will still be expanded, every effort will be made to limit the width of the road without compromising function or safety. Two critical compromises were reached:

• Changing a 1:4 slope through the granite outcropping to a ratio of 1:1. This will reduce the amount of granite removed and minimize the visual impact of the new road on the wayside rest. The new cut will now be 15 feet from the edge of the curb, rather than the previously proposed 24 feet.

• Decreasing the speed limit from 45 to 40 miles per hour. Even this modest reduction in speed will improve highway safety and allow a reduction in the width of the highway. This will reduce the width of the "clear zone" and the physical encroachment on the north side of the park. The safety wall will be reduced from eight to three feet in height, reducing its impact to the property.

Current plans also call for rehabilitating much of the Cold Spring Roadside Parking Area, including removing an intrusive 1980s restroom building. Mn/DOT plans to place an easement on the property to ensure the site is preserved. And in the event Mn/DOT decides to transfer the property to a local unit of government, the Department has developed a draft preservation plan that will assist the new owner in successfully managing the historic site.

Even though all planning tools have not yet been completed and much restoration and maintenance work lies ahead, Mn/DOT is already seeing benefits from its efforts. As the Pine-Hickory and Cold Spring sites illustrate, well-informed and careful decisions are being made and Mn/DOT’s roadside development legacy and Minnesota’s travelers are the benefactors.

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