Grand Marais, MN is much-loved by community members and visitors alike. Nestled between the Sawtooth Mountains and the iconic harbor, the town’s natural assets have withstood the test of time. However, like many towns across the U.S., Grand Marais’ infrastructure is aging and in need of major improvements. What many of our visitors might not realize is that this much-needed road reconstruction and downtown improvement project also includes the cleanup of a large area of soil contamination from petroleum.
In late 2014, community members began a visioning process to identify priorities for the “downtown” Highway 61 corridor. Like many small towns across the US, Highway 61 is the main artery traveling directly through the heart of town. Any thoughts of diverting traffic permanently away from the downtown commerce area were quickly discarded. However, improvements needed to happen and a survey was conducted to generate ideas and identify concerns. The results of the survey included better pedestrian access and connectivity, improved handling of storm water, and increased traffic safety and parking.
Two Year Plan
Following these formative years of planning and community input, the construction project commenced in the spring of 2020. Construction crews arrived and Year One, work to the west and east of the downtown corridor, was completed in the fall of 2020.Year Two of this project is scheduled to begin this May and is expected to be nothing short of transformational for the Highway 61 corridor through Grand Marais. Year Two of the project will have two phases: The Big Dig and The Facelift.
The Big Dig
Aptly named by the MPCA, this phase of the project requires contractors to open the highway and remove the contaminated soil below the roadway near 2nd Ave West. Just over $1,000,000 in funds from the MPCA is being provided to complete this important work.
The contamination is explained in the fact sheet provided by the MPCA and can be found here.
This phase of the project will provide enhanced pedestrian and bicycle travel, improved parking, and waterline infrastructure work on the west side of Grand Marais. Follow this link for detailed schematics of the project from MDoT: MDoT Grand Marais Project Page
The highway construction portion of the project will be completed by late September/early October 2021 and some additional amenity work completed the following summer.
FAQ on Travel to Grand Marais in the Summer of 2021
Will I need to detour to get to Grand Marais?
No, traveling will not be detoured as you make your way to Grand Marais. The only detours will occur within Grand Marais’ city limits.
Will I be able to access my favorite shops and eateries?
Yes! As referenced earlier, the project consists of two construction phases: The Big Dig and The Facelift. Whether you’re on foot or in a vehicle, the downtown shopping district will remain accessible throughout the summer. Click here for dining and retail hours this summer.
Where should I park?
We are a pedestrian friendly town and for those who are able, we recommend parking on the residential streets north of Highway 61. Pedestrian crossings across Highway 61 will be maintained throughout the project. Parking will also be available in two public parking lots in the downtown area; at South Broadway and 1st Street (one block below the stoplight), and in the large lot at the end of South Broadway, near the U.S. Coast Guard Station.
Can I use the boat launch in Grand Marais this summer?
Yes! (And no.) There are two boat launches in the Grand Marais harbor. The West Harbor launch, located in the Grand Marais Campground and Marina, will be closed for reconstruction. The East Harbor launch, located adjacent to the Coast Guard Station on Artists' Point, will remain open for daily use. If traveling from the south (coming from the metro), please follow the detour on Wisconsin Street and take a right on Broadway Avenue (World’s Best Donuts). When leaving Artists’ Point, please stay on Broadway and travel to the traffic lights as there is no access to Highway 61 traveling south. Please follow the detours.
Learn more about the West Harbor Marina Reconstruction by contacting the Grand Marais Parks department. Trailer parking will be limited near the launch and available on a first-come-first-serve basis. 30 miles north the community of Grand Portage also has two beautiful boat launches. More information on those can be found here: Grand Portage Marina Info
Will vehicle travel in downtown Grand Marais be allowed?
Yes. Two way traffic will be maintained on Wisconsin Street throughout the entire project; however, traveling East to West is discouraged, especially if pulling a boat and trailer. Why? There will be no westward exit from Wisconsin Street. Drivers will be forced to turn around upon reaching Java Moose. Whether leaving downtown Grand Marais retail/shopping district or Artist Point/Coast Guard Station parking lot, heading north on Broadway toward the traffic light on Highway 61 is the best route.
Will I experience travel delays heading North?
Very likely, if you are traveling from Minneapolis/St. Paul you will experience delays in Duluth, MN. Duluth has started the “Can of Worms” construction project and traffic delays will be a common occurrence all summer. Plan ahead. If traveling during peak traffic hours, consider an alternate inland route to the North Shore. You can view current traffic patterns via a live webcam here: Current Traffic Patterns
The visioning process of a pedestrian-friendly, environmentally sound, and beautiful downtown Grand Marais corridor which began 2014 is becoming a reality. Share our excitement by viewing a project animation video, maps and more. All can be found here: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/d1/projects/hwy-61-grand-marais/index.html
We look forward to seeing you soon. And to help make your drive North even more memorable, Visit Cook County is creating a The Road North Toolkit. Designed with your family in mind, to keep the kiddos busy on the drive North. Stay in touch and find updates on the toolkit and more by following us on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @donorthmn.