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AUSTIN EDITION Cemetery to get parking along busy road

By Amy Olson

aolson@postbulletin.com

A plan to fill a ditch along a county road to create a parking lot at a local cemetery could improve safety, according to some Mower County officials.

Members of the Woodland Cemetery Association approached Mower County Board members Tuesday, asking the county to fill in the ditch along Minnesota Highway 56 and install a culvert to create about 25 parking spaces so mourners would no longer have to park along the state highway and county road.

The board voted to approve the move.

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The cemetery is hemmed in on three sides by Highway 56, County Road 9 and the Shooting Star Bicycle Trail under construction between Lake Louise State Park and Taopi. That leaves no space for parking.

"What we're trying to do is prevent an accident," said association president Chuck Kiefer.

While there are only two or three burials at the cemetery each year, Kiefer said he expects the number to increase. According to him, the association sold an average of 10 plots each year for the past two years.

Mower County engineer Mike Hanson said the traffic count along Highway 56 ranges from 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles per day, "including lots and lots of semis." On the other hand, there are only about 65 cars traveling County Road 9 each day.

"It's not necessarily a good situation with heavy commercial traffic," Hanson said in terms of the safety of parking along the highway. He said his research had not yielded the number of traffic accidents along the stretch.

Hanson estimated it would cost the county about $10,000 to fill the ditch and install a culvert to create the parking spaces.

Kiefer said the cemetery association will remove a fence to help create room for the gravel parking lot, which might ease snowdrifting as well.

Association treasurer Bill Boe said the group charges just $125 per plot, leaving the group little money for such an improvement.

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Board member Ray Tucker said creating the parking lot could help limit the county's liability in the event of an accident, and the lot could provide spaces for bicyclists.

Not all the board members agreed that the plan was a good one.

Chairman Len Miller pointed out that the county is already creating a parking lot in Taopi for cyclists on the Shooting Star Trail, adding that he questioned how much the county could help a private group, albeit a nonprofit organization.

Board member David Hillier said he was concerned about the precedent the county could set with other cemeteries and churches along rural county highways, with cemeteries like Oakwood Cemetery in Austin and Calvary Cemetery south of Austin potentially seeking similar help. In the end, however, he voted in favor of the project.

Hanson said work could begin yet this fall, pending completion of other projects.

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