Photo by Tom Hintgen
Work on a new fish passage at Phelps Mill will be delayed until 2022.

Project to improve the connectivity of the OT River

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

The county board of commissioners, on Aug. 24, agreed to an extension with the Minnesota DNR, into 2022, related to preliminary work on a fish passage at Phelps Mill Park in central Otter Tail County.

The primary purpose of this project is to improve the connectivity of the Otter Tail River by modifying the dam at Phelps Mill and restoring fish passage upstream from the existing structure,

Final placement of boulders and rocks will be approved by the DNR. Adjustments will be made, if necessary, to maximize fish and aquatic species passage.

Otter Tail County, under the direction of Kevin Fellbaum, will secure and administer the construction contract for this project.

Fellbaum, former county ditch inspector and engineering graduate of NDSU, earlier this year was named director of parks and trails for Otter Tail County.

Funding for the Phelps Mill fisheries project will come, in part, from the state of Minnesota.

More than 20 miles of river within the Otter Tail watershed will be reconnected upon completion of the fish passage at Phelps Mill.

More about Phelps Mill 

In 2019 county board members approved the purchase of 71.8 acres of land just north of the current Phelps Mill Park. This will result in a major expansion, more than doubling the park from its current 51.2 acres. Phelps Mill Park came into being in 1965 when Otter Tail County purchased the mill and surrounding land as a recreational site.

Located in Maine Township, the mill was constructed in 1889. It was designed to produce 60 to 75 barrels of flour per day.

Phelps Mill was very successful until 1900, but after that year business gradually declined. The mill was sold in 1919.

By the 1930s the railway was in place and it became easier for county farmers to ship their grain to Minneapolis. Phelps Mill went out of business in 1939.

Phelps Mill Park is used each summer for the two-day arts and crafts festival. The park also is promoted for attracting visitors to the historical flour mill building.