Rendering of the proposed dam modification. It has not been decided exactly where Pelican Pete, the “World’s Largest Pelican,” will reside but he will remain at the site. This computer illustration shows Pelican Pete relocated to the south side of the river, along with a pedestrian bridge where the dam walkway currently exists. (Rendering by Luther Aadland, DNR)

City damsite project coming in focus

Mill Pond water levels will be slowly drawn down this summer, as a prelude to the Pelican Rapids City dam river restoration project. 

Based on the proposed timeline, dredging and construction will begin as the ground hardens in the fall. Construction and landscape plantings will proceed through spring and summer of 2022.

Objectives of the project are to restore river connectivity by modifying the dam into a rock arch rapids and recreate the historic nature of the river. The dam project is also aimed at providing additional fish spawning habitat—and DNR officials contend that fishing along the river, within the city, will actually improve because of free fish movement up and down stream. 

The modification of upstream dams on Pelican Lake, Lizzie and Prairie have opened up much of the Pelican River to fish movement. The Pelican Dam project would extend the free-flowing water way to Elizabeth—where a dam is also being considered for modification. 

The much anticipated project was met with some initial opposition in the community, but concerns appear to have been less pronounced. 

Some Pelican city officials remain concerned about the impacts on river shoreline, which will shift as the river is opened up and the waters meander through city limits. 

Pedestrian bridge remains uncertain for funding 

Some questions remain, however, including the placement of a pedestrian bridge to replace the present walkway across the dam—which connects the south side of the river to the city park network. 

The pedestrian bridge has been identified by downtown merchants and the city as crucial to complete the dam project, and maintain pedestrian access to businesses and the park system. 

Last week, the Pelican Rapids City Council voted unanimously to seek funds from the 2022 Minnesota legislative bonding appropriations. 

Though viewed as something of a “long shot,” the city hopes to convince legislators the importance of pedestrian movement—while opening up dozens of miles of the Pelican River to free movement of aquatic species. 

Because of the highly visible location of the dam and riverfront, Pelican Rapids may be viewed as something of a statewide “model” for river restoration. 

River scientists tout environmental benefit

The DNR river scientists contend that the project will improve safety and recreation at the dam site and eliminate dam maintenance permanently.

The project objectives include:

• More than 30 miles of riverine habitat for fish and native mussels will be reconnected

• 53 fish species live in the Pelican River watershed, 14 of which are not found above this dam. Fish passage will be restored here to compliment other passage projects in the watershed such as Fish, Lizzie ,and Prairie Lakes.

• The project will address current maintenance and safety issues.

The design is a “rock arch rapids” consisting of a base rock ramp and 10 boulder arches will step the water down 5 feet from a lowered reservoir level to the river elevation downstream

Areas by the fishing pier and near 2nd St. NE will be dredged to provide a deep pool and backwater habitat.

The rock arch rapids will be designed to provide a navigable route for experienced tubers, canoeist, and kayakers.

Flat stones will also be placed along the banks to be used as fishing platforms

The project is funded with Clear Water Land and Legacy Amendment funds by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.