Project is being funded by Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

A couple years after receiving state grant funds to enhance various access points to the Red Lake River in and around Crookston, one of the bigger projects, improving and making safer the river access at the “Gentilly bridge” on Polk County Highway 11 a few miles east of Crookston, is going to get done this year.

After putting the project out for bids last fall and discussing the latest developments in the project at this week’s Ways and Means Committee meeting, the Crookston City Council is poised to award the bid to Lyle Wilkens when they next meet on Jan. 27.

Although the components of the project are being tweaked as more agencies and stakeholders weigh in, City Finance Director/Interim Administrator Angel Weasner has advised the council to approve the bid so that the project can get on Wilkens’ construction schedule for the spring or summer in 2020.

The river/canoe access at the bridge is considered “primitive” in nature and it will still carry that designation once the project is finished. But the major improvement, explained presiding Mayor Dale Stainbrook, an avid canoe enthusiast, will be increased safety.

“Right now, it’s a challenge there,” he said.

There will be access points from the highway on the north and south sides of the bridge, with a gravel surface looping around to an improved access on the east side of the river. Initially, Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates engineer Rich Clauson said, the river access was going to be on the west riverbank, but Polk County officials were concerned about a lack of visibility for traffic on the highway when people were re-entering the road from the river, so the access has been moved to the east riverbank.

A gravel surface will lead to the river, and there will be a gravel space for a few vehicles to park. The entire scope of the project is within the county’s right-of-way, Clauson noted, so no land has to be purchased.

At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten, concerned about keeping the grass and weeds at bay and keeping litter under control, expressed his concerns about maintenance at the site. Stainbrook said maintenance should be minimal, and added that any places populated by the public are going to require that some litter be picked up now and then.

Vedbraaten questions the river in that area getting more use once the project is finished, something Stainbrook and other river and outdoors enthusiasts have long claimed.

“I’ve heard that for years, but I’ve crossed that bridge for 30 years and have never seen a single canoe on that river,” Vedbraaten said.

Stainbrook said he canoes the Red Lake River frequently, and sees others doing the same. He estimates that it’s a three to four-hour trip from the Gentilly bridge access to Central Park in Crookston. If stops are made along the way, “you can make a day of it,” he added.

The City of Crookston, along with several other cities, counties and agencies along the Red Lake River, belong to the Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Group and have a joint powers board. With Crookston being the most advanced in its funding requests, the majority of state funds awarded so far through the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission over the past few years have been for projects in and close to Crookston. The biggest chunk of money was awarded to Crookston last year, more than $1 million, for a new RV campground in Central Park.