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Raising the road: Floodwaters affect Grahams Island access

The flooding Devils Lake has cut visitation in half this year at Grahams Island State Park, normally the most popular park in the North Dakota system.

Henry Duray
On windy days, Grahams Island State Park manager Henry Duray has operated a snowplow to clear debris on the roadway into the park from Devils Lake. He's eager for the start of a $15 million construction project to raise the only access road by six feet. Herald file photo by Eric Hylden.

The flooding Devils Lake has cut visitation in half this year at Grahams Island State Park, normally the most popular park in the North Dakota system.

So, it's no wonder park manager Henry Duray was anxious this week for the start of a $15 million construction project to raise the only access road by six feet.

The park normally has about 100,000 visitors and 10,000 nights of camping annually. This year, Duray expects visitation to be under 50,000, and camping nights to be below 5,000.

"We need access," Duray said. "Weather and access have been our biggest problems. But the biggest factor is road construction on roads leading to the park."

Grahams Island State Park is located on an island in the middle of Devils Lake. The lone motor vehicle access is a 5-mile paved road from N.D. Highway 19.

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The road has been raised twice, as the elevation of Devils Lake has risen by about 32 feet to a record 1,454.4 feet above sea level this year.

The top of the road is at 1,455 feet. While construction crews have used riprap to build up the road bed in an effort to keep the road dry, frequent high winds in recent months have sprayed water and debris, including large tree trunks onto the roadway, which has created travel hazards.

Park crews used snowplows, sometime five or six times a day, most of the spring and summer to clear the debris.

"We had a lot of tough days, especially the first half the season," Duray said.

The latest project will raise the road to 1,461 feet, three feet above the elevation at which Devils Lake will start spilling naturally through the Tolna Coulee to the Sheyenne River.

The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department did not take camping reservations at Grahams Island for much of the season because of access problems.

Visitation also has been affected by construction along the entire 18-mile length of Highway 19 between the City of Devils Lake and U.S. 281 north of Minnewaukan. That road is being raised to 1,465 feet.

"To get here, you had to go through two construction zones, following pilot cars on dirt in both directions, 24 hours a day," Duray said. "The problem was when it was raining. If you did decide to pull your camper out here, you might do it once, but you didn't do it twice."

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Construction crews started working on the Grahams Island road just after Labor Day weekend, as they built a haul road to a hill, where they are getting dirt for the project. The haul road is built a short distance along an old road between Grahams Island and Minnewaukan.

The federal government is providing $12.3 million of construction funding with the North Dakota Legislature providing $2.8 million. Benson County is contributing $50,000, and the City of Devils Lake is contributing $50,000 of local match. Benson County has provided most of the riprap used to protect the road this year.

Construction will start on the west side of the road coming from Grahams Island through the water zone. The lane will be widened, raised some and graveled for traffic. The work will then move to the east lane to raise it to grade, and finally the west lane will be raised to the level of 1,461. The road is the county line between Benson and Ramsey counties.

Initially, only short delays are expected, with traffic directed by flaggers. Later, pilot cars will guide travelers through the construction area. Truck traffic will increase as the project proceeds as they haul fill, riprap and gravel.

Ames Construction Co., Burnsville, Minn., is general contractor. The company is involved in several road and dike construction projects in the Devils Lake Basin.

More than $300 million is being spent over the next two years on projects to raise roads and to raise and lengthen the dike protecting the City of Devils Lake from the flooding lake.

While the entire Grahams Island road project, including paving, probably will not be completed until next summer, officials are looking for the road raise and related work to be completed before spring.

"We need to get it raised this fall, or we're going to have problems this winter and next spring," Duray said. "The main thing is we're high enough. If they don't get this stretch across the water done, then we're going to have problems. I don't know if we could keep the road open over the winter if it's not raised by then."

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Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

Grahams Island

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