The community of Pelican Rapids is going back to its “rocky” beginnings.
The recent 3-2 vote by the city council, in favor of a resolution, which requests removal of the Mill Pond Dam by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, ends a long chapter in the history of the Otter Tail County city.
The dam was built on the river in the city in the 1880s as part of a private enterprise. It has been a fixture in Pelican Rapids ever since. The identity of Pelican Rapids has been closely tied to the river and the dam.
For more than six decades the “World’s Largest Pelican” also known as “Pelican Pete” has been waiting to gobble up fish in the churning waters below the dam. The 15 1/2-foot-high bird, now a stately 62-years old, has become one of the county’s most famous symbols.
The mid-town tourist attraction has also been a hit with many generations of anglers. The same fish the big pelican terrorizes below the dam have ended up in buckets and stringers.
Pelican Rapids Mayor Brent Frazier knows that while “Pete” is not going anywhere the DNR does have plans to remove the dam with a rock rapids.
“Before the dam was built there was a natural rock rapids which we’re now returning,” Frazier said. “The pelican statue will stay in the same place as it is now.”
It is not a tourist attraction the DNR wants to take away from the city, it is a natural migration of fish up the Pelican River they want to restore – a migration of fish up the Pelican River that is presently impeded by the dam.
In addition to implementing a partial rock arch rapids up to 5 feet high in the city limits, the DNR has plans of building a rock rapids on the south end of Prairie Lake, located north of the city on the Pelican River chain.
The question of making changes at the famous landmark has not been an easy one for some residents of the city to get behind according to City Administrator Don Solga. A couple members of the city council were not comfortable with the wording of the resolution adopted April 30. Yet their first vote on getting rid of the dam was 5-0.
“It’s not just fish migration it will bring back other aquatic life,” Frazier said. “It will bring more recreation to the river – kayaking, canoeing – I personally see it as sort of an economic development feature for our city.”
Frazier is counting on the expertise of Luther Aadland, a member of the Fergus Falls DNR office, in building a rock rapids in the city.
“Luther has done many of these river restoration projects throughout Minnesota and he has also done some in Southern states so he is very knowledgeable,” Frazier said.
While Frazier expects Pelican Rapids to bear some of the burden for the DNR-led effort, he also sees the savings it will create for taxpayers.
“The last time it was repaired, back in 1988, it was close to a half a million dollars,” Frazier said.
Repairing the dam now would cost the city over $1 million according to Frazier and another repair effort would have to be mounted in 30 years.
“The DNR wants to remove the dams in Minnesota and so the DNR will paying for the majority of the costs,” Frazier said.