By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
County residents are invited to weigh in on a proposal for a possible fish passage at Phelps Mill.
The public meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, at the county Government Services Center in Fergus Falls.
This project, if it gains final approval, would provide fish passage for sturgeon and other native fish species at the dam near Phelps Mill and provide protection of the mill foundation,
At the same time, the project would be designed to maintain water surface elevations upstream from the dam at Leon Lake.
The five county commissioners are pursuing the analysis with the Minnesota DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
At issue for some county commissioners and other county residents is the fear of the overall aesthetics of historic Phelps Mill being compromised if the fish passage, on the west side of the dam, moves forward.
Previously, some commissioners have expressed that they don’t want to approve a project that is, in their words, “lower than what is desirable.”
Funding for the Phelps Mill fisheries project would come, in part, from the state of Minnesota. More than 20 miles of river within the Otter Tail watershed would be reconnected upon completion of the fish passage at Phelps Mill.
More about Phelps Mill
In 2019 county board members approved the purchase of 71.8 acres of land just north of the current Phelps Mill Park. This will result in a major expansion, more than doubling the park from its current 51.2 acres.
Phelps Mill Park came into being in 1965 when Otter Tail County purchased the mill and surrounding land as a recreational site.
Located in Maine Township, the mill was constructed in 1889. It was designed to produce 60 to 75 barrels of flour per day.
Phelps Mill was very successful until 1900, but after that year, business gradually declined. The mill was sold in 1919.
By the 1930s the railway was in place, and it became easier for county farmers to ship their grain to Minneapolis. Phelps Mill went out of business in 1939.
Phelps Mill Park is used each summer for the two-day arts and crafts festival, in addition to family picnics and other gatherings throughout the summer. The park also is promoted for attracting visitors to the historic flour mill building.
People enjoy walking across the Phelps Mill pedestrian bridge. Others fish along the banks of the Otter Tail River.