Some residents fear the aesthetics of historic mill could be compromised

Photo by Tom Hintgen
Local residents and members of Otter Tail County debated a fish passage plan at Phelps Mill County Park near Underwood. 

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

County residents, on Monday evening Dec. 12, expressed their opinions about a proposed fish passage project at Phelps Mill. The public information meeting was held at the county Government Services Center in Fergus Falls.

At issue for many county residents is the fear of the overall aesthetics of historic Phelps Mill being compromised if the fish passage, on the west side of the dam, moves forward.

County residents and county commissioners heard details about the proposed fish passage from representatives of the Minnesota Department of Natural resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a representative of Houston Engineering.

Proponents of the project pointed out that by-pass fishways provide significant benefits to river ecosystems while reconnecting several miles of river within the Otter Tail watershed. They referred to a successful by-pass fishway at Diversion Dam, Fergus Falls.

Those same proponents of the project say that the fish passage will help restore lake sturgeon and other fish populations, while at the same time enhancing the native fish community.

Many of those in attendance at the Monday gathering, however, were not convinced that approval of a fish passage at Phelps Mill would be the proper decision by the county board of commissioners. Opponents of the proposal included residents who are members of Friends of Phelps Mill.

One person in opposition to the fish passage said that she and many other county residents do not want to see a change in the topography at Phelps Mill. Others said that earth moving and other changes near the dam would adversely affect the national historic landmark which is Phelps Mill.

Additional written and email comments can be sent to Kevin Fellbaum, Parks and Trails Director for Otter Tail County, through Dec. 21. His email is

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, in addition to family picnics and other gatherings throughout the summer. The park also is promoted for attracting visitors to the historic flour mill building.

People enjoy walking across the Phelps Mill pedestrian bridge. Others fish along the banks of the Otter Tail River.