A Community Priority – the History of the Highway 61 Project in Grand Marais

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, please sign up for our local project email list at http://eepurl.com/dnRzq1 or notify City Hall at cityhall@boreal.org 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 1000 interactions and input. We would also like to thank the Grand Marais City Council for their continued leadership on this important project.



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
Cara and Paul Sporn, My Sister’s Place
Maren Webb, Safe Routes to School



Stay Tuned! 2018 Great Place Project Coming Soon

Cook County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Jim Boyd, and Local Artist, Betsy Bowen, at Como Oil & Propane’s 2014 Great Place

Soon the fifth annual Great Place Project will kick off, looking for applications of your great idea to create a Great Place in 2018. Thanks to a fundraiser spearheaded by Jim Boyd and the Cook County Chamber, $11,000 of funds will be available for mini-grants. Stay tuned!

Walk Left, Ride Right Back to School and Work

The new school year has begun, with students, parents, school staff, and the whole county getting back into the school year routine. As the weather holds, many children and adults are making use of their feet and bikes to get to and from school, work, and other destinations. To help us all be safer, whether behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or using our own power, the Safe Routes to School Committee is sharing a reminder: “Walk Left and Ride Right.”

While a catchy little phrase, it also has great significance in keeping everyone safe while sharing roadways. When there is no sidewalk or trail option, by walking on the left side of the road, against traffic, people on foot are able to see oncoming vehicles and establish eye contact with drivers. Wearing brightly colored and reflective clothing also helps make pedestrians more visible to others using the roadway, especially at dawn, dusk, and other low-light hours. As fall progresses into winter, darkness will be the new norm for the main commute hours, making visibility even more important. Parents and other adults are encouraged to share these safety lessons with the children in their lives, to help make for a safe and active fall.

“Both pedestrians and vehicle operators have a shared responsibility for safety. Pedestrians must be aware off their surroundings especially when traveling on roadways without sidewalks. Drivers must be aware of all pedestrian traffic and in areas where it’s higher or there is more congestion, give the roadway your full focus,” said Cook County Sheriff, Pat Eliasen.

Just as motor vehicles stay on the right, bicyclists also need to ride on the right hand side of the road. Bicycles are considered vehicles, so when riding on the street, traffic laws apply. Riding against traffic, on the left, increases risk of collision with vehicles, especially at intersections where drivers are not expecting a fast moving bicycle riding on the left side of the road. Over the past three years, 3rd graders at Sawtooth Elementary and Great Expectations School have learned the importance of “Ride Right” through in-school bike education. A relaunch of this program, with 4th grade students, will be coming in the 2018-2019 school year.

The Safe Routes to School Committee works year-round to make it safer and easier for children to walk and bike to and from school. Studies have found that physical activity, such as walking or biking to school, allows students to concentrate better during the school day. And while many students in our county do not live in Grand Marais, many walk or bike to an afterschool destination in Grand Marais. In September, Slow Down lawn signs, school zone speed enforcement, and other efforts were all at work reminding our community that school has started and drive carefully to keep students safe. International Walk to School Day will be celebrated on Wed., October 4th, with three routes of Walking School Buses in Grand Marais accompanied by law enforcement and community volunteers. For more information, visit the event page.

Cook County Safe Routes to School (SRTS) strives to improve the health of kids and our community by making walking and bicycling to school safer, easier, and more enjoyable. For more information about Safe Routes to School Walk to School Day, to volunteer, or for a Slow Down lawn sign, contact SRTS Coordinator, Maren Webb, at 218-387-2330 or maren@sawtoothmountainclinic.org.

Originally published in the Cook County News-Herald, September 9, 2017.