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Restoring a wayside rest to be worthy of its history and name

Kathryn McFadden, Minnesota Department of Transportation manager for the restoration of Inspiration Point near Lanesboro, sits on a wall that has been restored. Work on another part of the wall is going on behind her.

LANESBORO — Thanks to this summer's facelift, Inspiration Point near Lanesboro will again look much like it did when it was built in 1934.

Inspiration Point is a Minnesota Department of Transportation wayside rest on a sharp bend in Minnesota Highway 16 as it dives down the Root River Valley into Lanesboro. Its rock walls and rock-solid picnic tables were built by workers in a federal jobs program during the Depression. A photo taken when the wayside rest opened shows a great view of Lanesboro and the valley. That vista probably was the source of the wayside rest's name.

Through the years, rocks have fallen and trees have grown to the point that MnDOT decided to rehabilitate it, said Kathryn McFadden, a MnDOT expert on historic sites. Using money that wasn't needed for other projects or projects that didn't get built, MnDOT has been slowing restoring sites throughout the state, she said. It has done several others in this region including sites at Lake City, Reads Landing, Preston, La Crescent and Reno.

Statewide, there are 110 historic waysides, she said.

Inspiration Point is the last wayside rebuild of the year and will cost about $1.18 million, according to MnDOT. The point is eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, McFadden said.


Wayside rests were built during the Depression as a way to get people working and also to give drivers a place to stop and rest, she said.

The one by Lanesboro had a 300-foot rock wall along the highway that came to a rock outcropping, stopped and continued on the other side, she said. In a previous attempt to restore the site, the outcropping was cropped back and the wall extended.

The problem with that former restoration was that workers put concrete on the top and sides of the walls. That didn't allow water to get through, so it collected inside and caused the walls to deteriorate, she said. The original wall used dry stacking, with big rocks on the outsides without mortar and the area in between filled with smaller stones, she said. Only the top cap had mortar.

Work this summer, which is expected to be done by Oct.16, will dispose of the old concrete and use as many original stones as possible to restore it to the way it was, she said.

MnDOT could have torn out the rock and replaced it with something new but that would have been like tearing down a museum, she said. "It's its own museum," she said of the wayside rest area. "It's a matter of values." Her value system treasures older things. "It's pretty cool," she said.

If it was torn down, "I think I would cry," she said. "Once it's gone, it's gone. We are not doing this kind of construction now."

Bill Kack, of Willmar, head of construction for Environmental Associates, said the work required learning old techniques. They "just started doing it and with with old masons," he said. "They taught you how to shape the rock … It's kind of challenging, and it's very rewarding when you get done building."

They had to learn how to read the grain of limestone and how to use different tools, he said.


As for the view, McFadden said people now mostly see invasive buckthorn. But once that is cleared, people will be able to see the whole valley.

"To me, it's the crowning thing," she said.

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