Mayor Bob Knapp vows to clean up this town.
“Eatin’ dust all these years, it’s just not fair,” Knapp griped.
The town’s crunchy air is the reason he ran for office in the first place.
And by summer’s end, six miles of his 17-mile dream will have come true: For the first time in its history, Spirit Lake is on its way to having paved roads.
The only modern roads in the town of 900 were state Highway 41 and the Old West main street. Now, the place bustles with heavy equipment. The town even rented a new grader, because the city’s was 50 years old.
Those first six miles should be done by August. The rest likely will be done next year, but Knapp isn’t making any promises. It’s a long-term project: The base rock was laid down last year.
“You can’t jump from 1930 to 1997 in one big jump,” Knapp explained.
Workers had to tear up the old roads and remove all the large rocks. “We hand-picked, hand-picked, almost 17 miles of road,” he said.
If the plan isn’t on a tight timeline, it’s certainly on a tight budget. The city has just $500,000 in state funds to pave everything.
Knapp thinks he can do it. Instead of putting down asphalt, he’s using the old oil-and-chip method. Chipped rock is laid. Then it’s drenched with a river of hot oil. Five days later, a crew does it again. It takes longer than asphalt, but it’s a bargain.
“We can do eight times as much for the same money,” Knapp beamed.
He thinks those chipped roads will usher in a new era of civic pride.
Yards will be mowed. People will junk their junk cars. And nice cars will stay that way.
“Just the car sitting in the yard gets covered with dust,” lamented resident Matt Brown, 25. “And there’s wear and tear on your vehicle from potholes.”
During summers, police even get emergency calls from elderly people choking on the brown haze.
An end to dust will mean breathing easier, officer James Cotter said. And catching crooks will be faster.
“It will make it easier to get around,” Cotter said. “You don’t have to dodge potholes.”
The only real complaint anyone had about the project was from those worrying about losing sections of front yard.
“People thought it was part of their lawn, they put shrubs and flowers out there, then they found out where the right of way really is,” said Brown, whose parents’ home already was surveyed.
“It’s just a misunderstanding … most of the people I’ve talked to are so happy about the streets being redone, a little bit of yard is not a big deal.”
The mayor promises not to pave over the colonized yards unless there’s just no other way to keep a road straight. So far, that hasn’t been a problem.
“I wouldn’t touch anyone’s ground for the love of money,” Knapp said.
Resort owner Rod Erickson is just relieved the town is moving into the 20th century. “It’s impressive, really,” Erickson said. “It’s a helluva start.”
And there’s more on the way besides the extinction of dust. By July 4, the old park water fountain will be restored and working. It’s full of dirt now.
Today, officials will break ground on a 750-student middle school and high school, dubbed Timberlake. And later this month, a new community center will be under way.
“We’re not looking backwards, we’re looking forward,” Knapp said. “We’ve got more things going on in this city than anybody.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo