Construction along U.S. Highway 169 just to the south of Garrison has been ongoing since last summer. In the first week of this June, some results of that work have come to bear. Restoration of the Garrison Pedestrian Underpass, a feature of the highway near the Garrison Public Water Access, has been completed. Built just over 80 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this bridge is a recognized historic feature of Mille Lacs’ roadways, and no shortage of effort has gone toward maintaining it, as Kirk Allen, construction project manager, explained.
According to the Historic Bridge Database found on the Minnesota Department of Transportation website, the Garrison Pedestrian Underpass was first built in 1938 by the Mille Lacs Lake Highway Wayside Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, located just north of the bridge’s current location. The underpass was among other development projects undertaken by the Corps in the Mille Lacs area. Design for the bridge is credited to H. O. Skooglun, of the National Park Service. Skooglun had designed three other bridges and the Kenney Lake Overlook as part of the Mille Lacs Lake Highway Development plan, according to MNDOT’s structures inventory.
The structures inventory also details the Mille Lacs Lake Highway Development plan, which ran from September 1935 to March 1940. Planned by the state highway department and national park service and completed using CCC labor, the plan aimed to complete projects for recreational and commercial purposes. While the project was never completed to the full extent planned, the inventory states, it did result in at least seven completed roadside projects in the Garrison area.
MNDOT’s records also indicate that the granite used in the bridge’s construction likely came from a quarry located in the Isle area.
According to both Kirk Allen and MNDOT’s online records, the culvert of the bridge was originally meant to provide pedestrian access to a lakeside rest and picnic area, near the current public water access. However, the installation of a dam on the Rum River near Vineland had raised the lake level, causing the underpass to remain flooded to this day.
Work to preserve the landmark bridge has been ongoing since July of last year. As the mortar between the bridge’s blocks had been deteriorating, Allen explained that each brick had to be removed, labeled, cleaned and returned to its original position. This portion of the restoration process had taken place last year.
Allen explained that the pouring of a new concrete path over the bridge had been postponed to May of this year, as doing it in the late season of last year risked exposing the concrete deicing chemicals. This exposure would risk the concrete having opportunity to properly set. “It’s proved to be an excellent decision,” Allen said. “As we had snow and ice events early on last year.”
The job of pouring the concrete had been done in about two weeks over mid-May. In addition to the new pavement, a new metal railing had also been added to the bridge. Allen said this railing would help protect vehicles, as it would be safer for them to strike than the bridge’s granite block. In turn, the railing also protect the bridge’s historic stonework.
A span of 80 years separates the construction of the Garrison Pedestrian Underpass. While the park area its submerged path originally gave access to is now overgrown, it remains a significant landmark of a bygone area. MNDOT’s now completed work has preserved that legacy for years to come.