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Ottertail burial grounds deny location for otter statue

A state archaeologist gave the official "no" to a request to place the city of Ottertail's metal otter statue near the Highway 78/108 intersection.

At the July 16 Ottertail City Council meeting, Ottertail Lions Club member Jerry Smith informed the council that the archaeologist unexpectedly stopped by the area and marked off the locations of the Native American burial mounds.

The city is aware of the mounds' general proximity to the Highway 78/108 intersection area, and had requested that Smith determine the exact locations of the mounds before finding a permanent home for the otter statue.

Ten years ago, the Ottertail Lions Club commissioned Vining artist Ken Nyberg to create the metal otter statue. It has been sitting in a temporary location off of Highway 108, just west of the Ottertail Home Center, for the past decade.

Smith said the archaeologist marked off the mound areas with flags, and informed him that the city would not be able to place the otter near the southern Thumper Pond entrance, on either the north or south side of Highway 108.

With this original site a no-go, the city council and Smith began discussing some other possible locations for the statue. One idea that had surfaced at an earlier meeting was the possibility of putting the otter in front of the new Ottertail City Hall. This site, off of Highway 78, would provide high visibility, and wouldn't require the city to obtain an extended land lease from a private party.

Another benefit of placing the otter on the Ottertail City Hall property is that there would be plenty of parking for people who stop to see the statue. Even at its current location, the statue has attracted a lot of tourist attention, with visitors pulling over to get photos with the oversized critter. If the statue were placed on private property, allocating room for parking would be another critical factor to address.

One downfall that was brought up about the City Hall location was that the statue wouldn't be visible from both Highway 78 and 108, as had originally been planned. However, with the archaeologist eliminating this "common ground" as a potential site, it appears the city has no choice other than to locate the otter on one highway or the other.

Councilmember Heather Pollard voiced her opinion that it might be better to retain the otter in the "old part of the city"--referring to a location off of Highway 108. Councilmember Terry Wagenman then brought up the notion that placing the otter on Highway 78, along with the public attention it will generate, might benefit some of the businesses located on Highway 78 in the city's "new" corridor.

Wagenman mentioned that some of the Highway 78 business owners have expressed dissatisfaction in the past with the fact that all of the city's festivals are held in the "old" part of the city. The city of Ottertail is set up in an unusual fashion, with a half-mile of mostly farmland in between the two business districts.

In discussing the otter statue's placement, the council came to a consensus that it is best not to think of the city as two parts, but rather one unified city. At the conclusion of the meeting, Smith decided he would further investigate possible locations for the otter, including the proposed City Hall site.

The city's "pet" otter is a 10-foot-high, 14-foot-long creation from 1,200 pieces of welded steel. Hidden inside the otter is a time capsule containing community information and photos.