Temporary approval was given for the National Park Service to operate a visitors center at Arcola Mills, just south of Marine on St. Croix. As part of the agreement, a fence must be installed along the trail to prevent visitors from wandering the trails. The smokestack, which is on the historic registry, will still be visible from the trail. Photo by Phillip Bock

The National Park Service will once again operate a visitors center on a trial basis at Arcola Mills beginning this month, following a decision by the Town of May Board.

The Arcola Mills Board of Directors and National Park Service officials approached the May Board Aug. 3 to request temporary approval to operate a visitors center on the site for August, September and October of this year, as well as six months next year, May through October.

Their presentation to Board members included possible solutions to concerns community members voiced during the Township meeting last month. During the July meeting, a conditional use permit to allow an indefinite visitors center at Arcola was denied, partially due to citizen concerns and partially due to a lack of traffic data.

Their most recent proposal addresses those concerns and should allow enough time for sufficient traffic data to be gathered and analyzed, Cameron Kelly, a member of the Arcola Board of Directors, said.

The initial traffic count, without the visitors center, averaged 150 cars traveling the road on weekdays and 200 cars on weekends. The average speed was 25 miles per hour.

The traffic counts during operation of the visitors center will help estimate how many visitors the site generates and how many visitors drive down Arcola Trail, past residents, to get to the site.


Keeping traffic off

Arcola Trail

Traffic counters were put in place late last month to gauge a baseline traffic count for the road. The counters will be put back in place during the Visitor Center's operation to figure out how much traffic the use generates and how it impacts Arcola Trail, a dirt road which Arcola Mills shares with May Township and Stillwater Township residents.

During a public hearing last month, residents of the road said the initial trial run of the visitors center last year generated traffic all along the roadway, not just on the short run from Highway 95 into Arcola Mills.

To address those concerns, the National Parks Service plans to add additional signage to deter visitors from turning onto the southern entrance  of Arcola Trail. They also will add signage at the exit of Arcola Mills that reads "As a courtesy to our neighbors, No Left Turn."

Voedisch said the Town could look at posting speed limit signs on the road and could work with the Stillwater Township to install "low clearance" and "pavement ends" signs at the southern entrance of Arcola Trail to further deter visitors from traveling the road should it become necessary.

"I think it looks like a pretty god plan to take traffic off of Arcola," Supervisor John Pazlar said.


Addressing parking issues

At the public hearing last month, issued were raised about inadequate parking at the site, as several times during the trial last year overflow parking spilled over onto Arcola Trail. To address the concern, the Arcola Board of Directors said they are looking into the possibility of extending their upper parking area and adding a turn-around area for large RVs. The addition would now only expand parking by approximately 20 spaces, but would also address concerns that there is no adequate turn-around area for large vehicles. Kelly noted that the Arcola Board still needs to meet and discuss funding, but that they would "get it done as soon as we can."


Keeping the site safe

At a past meeting, May Board members expressed concerns with the aging structures dotting the Arcola Mills property. The structures are not adequately blocked from visitors and could pose a safety issue, Chairman Bill Voedisch said.

The Arcola Board put snow fencing up around the structures to deter visitors from exploring the sites last year, but the fencing has since fallen over and is in disrepair. To address the concern, Kelly said they will shore up the existing fencing and add an additional, permanent fence along the trail to deter visitors from wandering off the main pathways.

"They will be able to walk down far enough to see the mill and smoke stack, but we'll put up a fence to prevent them from going further down the trail," Kelly said.

The funding for the fence, much like the parking lot, still needs to be discussed with the Arcola Board, Kelly noted.

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