Good golly, a gully: Council diverts funds to address ravine in south Brainerd

The gully is roughly 40 feet deep and 40 wide in some areas.

Karen Schirmer stands at the bottom of a ravine on their property at 222 Ridge Court in Brainerd Thursday, June 24, 2021. In 2000 the Schirmers built an eight-foot long bridge to span the ravine. Recently, the couple built their third bridge with a span of 25 feet in an area that will not wash out. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Carl and Karen Schirmer have lost five or six large trees on their property in the last few years to a deep gully behind their south Brainerd home.

The sandy soil in the southern part of the city, combined with stormwater runoff and wetland drainage, created the perfect storm of events to form the gully, which is roughly 40 deep and 40 feet wide in some areas. Fixing it is now a city priority.

The Schirmers live on a cul-de-sac at the end of Ridge Court, just north of Buffalo Hills Lane. When they moved in 30 years ago, water ran through a small gully in their backyard. Carl built a little knee-high bridge over it. Now, that bridge has fallen into the deep ravine and the new one he built is about 9 feet above the bottom.

Their backyard used to be nice and flat.

“I’ve got a garden area right in the back,” Karen Schirmer said during a phone interview Thursday, June 24. “And now it leans down. I can’t get on the other side of the garden area, where I used to be able to sit.”


The city has been aware of the issue for a few years, City Engineer Paul Sandy told the city council’s safety and public works committee Monday, but the erosion speed quickened recently.

“Once this starts eroding, it goes really fast. As you know, with sand, once it breaks that initial stabilization of tree roots and grass, it goes at a very quick pace,” Sandy said.

The city of Brainerd, though, is not the only entity responsible for the gully’s repair, which Sandy said is why the issue was not addressed during the recent reconstruction project on Buffalo Hills Lane.

“We’re a very small portion of this problem in a much larger drainage area, and that is going to be part of this project is identifying who is responsible for what amount of water that is going to this culvert under the roadway,” Sandy said Monday, noting the city is also working with the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources on the issue.

With her husband Carl's first bridge in the background, Karen Schirmer looks up Thursday, June 24, 2021, at exposed tree roots in the ravine behind their home at 222 Ridge Court in south Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Right now, there’s a lot of residents that feel it’s all the city’s fault, that all the street runoff is creating this gully, and I would venture to say that upwards of 75% of the stormwater runoff that we see all over comes from natural low-lying wetlands, and the roadway provided a block in the culvert to channelize that flow to Little Buffalo Creek,” Sandy said.


Residents have also questioned whether the Buffalo Hills Lane construction played a part in creating the great ravine, but Sandy said no additional runoff was diverted from the project to the gully. Much of the runoff, he said, comes from the south near Woodland Hills Lane and the city’s industrial park.

The city council approved a professional services agreement with engineering consultant firm HR Green at a cost not to exceed $125,000 to get started on the project. The first phases of the project will include public meetings with affected property owners, preliminary site studies, a topographic survey, designing potential solutions, estimating the cost for the full project and preparing grant applications to fund the rest of the work.

A screenshot from the Crow Wing County GIS Public Map Service shows the gully that has formed off Ridge Court in south Brainerd, as it looked in 2019. The gully runs through the property of Carl and Karen Schirmer, whose house is outlined in the image. Screenshot / Theresa Bourke

The council budgeted $105,000 to be used in 2021 for large updates and studies related to the city’s municipal separate storm sewer system — or MS4 — permit and stormwater pollution prevention plan, as well as $50,000 for a citywide gully erosion study. Sandy estimates only about $45,000 of the $105,000 of funds to be used on that project, leaving about $60,000 unused. The council also agreed to divert the $50,000 for the citywide gully study to fixing the large gully in south Brainerd. The remaining $15,000 needed to begin the project will come from the city’s storm sewer fund.

Once a solution is developed, the next step will be to figure out how to garner funding and what kind of state, federal or grant dollars might be available. Though the final cost is still unknown, Sandy said it could be a multi-million-dollar project.

The project would likely have to be done in the winter when the ground is drier and nearly frozen in order to remove all the trees and other things that have fallen into the gully and to lay down and bury a pipe.


Karen Schirmer stands in the ravine behind her home at 222 Ridge Court in Brainerd Thursday, June 24, 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“It’s going to be a disruptive project, but I think it’s going to be very welcome to the people that have their houses backing this area because it’s been worrisome for them for a few years,” Sandy said.

It is certainly welcome for the Schirmers, who are grateful to city staff for recognizing the issue and making it a priority.

“It’s good to know that they are aware of it, and they’re actively doing something,” Carl Schirmer said.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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