MnDOT installs living snow fences near Atwater, Kerkhoven to make winter driving safer

During the month of May, MNDOT installed living snow fences at the Atwater and Kerkhoven bridges hoping to trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a bridge or roadway.

Minnesota Department of Transportation workers putting the finishing touches on the 1,644 shrubs that make up the living snow fence along U.S. Highway 12 near Atwater on Thursday, May 20, 2021. Tim Speier / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The Minnesota Department of Transportation is installing living snow fences along bridges on U.S. Highway 12 near Atwater and Kerkhoven to counter the winter road hazard of “blow ice.”

According to MnDOT, a living snow fence is made up of trees, shrubs, native grasses and/or wildflowers to trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a bridge or roadway and blow ice forms on roadways and bridge decks when snow blows onto the surface and sticks.

The area projects started May 3 and is expected to finish up the week of May 24.

In partnership with the Kandiyohi Soil and Water Conservation District, 1,644 shrubs will be planted in Atwater and 1,131 shrubs will be planted in Kerkhoven , according to a news release about the projects.

The species of trees and shrubs chosen include black chokeberry, Amur maple, golden currant, arrowwood, gray dogwood, common lilac, and red osier dogwood. The shrubs will offer blowing snow protection two to three years after planting.


Living snow fences at the Atwater and Kerkhoven bridges were designed by Steve Dols, West Central Region blowing snow control shared services designer, based in Willmar. Dols is working on 12 additional snow fence projects across west central and southwest Minnesota using highway safety funding.

Living snow fences bring multiple benefits to a roadside, including the capacity to:

  • Prevent big snow drifts and icy roads

  • Improve driver visibility

  • Control soil erosion and reduce spring flooding

  • Lessen environmental impact with less salt use, fewer truck trips and less fuel consumption.

For information on how MnDOT controls blowing and drifting snow through the use of snow fencing, contact Dan Gullickson at 651-366-3610, or visit .

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