Photo: Tim Harlow

We set aside days to celebrate all kinds of things, such as National Baked Alaska Day (Feb. 1), National Lumpy Rug Day (May 3) and National Vodka Day (Oct. 4). But here's one that doesn't appear on any calendar: Snow Fighters Appreciation Day.

That's because there has never been such a day until Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Tuesday in Minnesota as the day to honor the 1,500 Minnesota Department of Transportation full time snow plow operators who clear more than 12,000 miles of state highways during and after snowstorms.

The governor's proclamation extended thanks to city and county drivers who take to the roads when it snows, saluting all plow drivers for working in harsh conditions, long hours and "being some of the best trained snow plow operators in the nation."

Snow Fighter Appreciation Day was the idea of the American Highway Users Alliance, a national organization composed of 300 nonprofits and companies that care about highway safety. The alliance was looking for a state that was at the top of its game when it comes to snow removal. Experts pointed to alliance to Minnesota. 

In Minnesota, the alliance said, each day roads are closed costs the state $167 million in lost wages, retail sales and taxes. And even more grim is that snowy roads are a factor in 1,300 deaths and 117,000 injuries nationwide annually, said President and CEO Greg Cohen.

"We wanted to come to a place where a state does it right," he said during a ceremony at Rosedale Shopping Center. "The work that you all do is so important, not just to the economy, but in saving lives. Those on the front lines know that and we want other people to know that."

Cohen added that his organization doesn't just hand out praise arbitrarily. He noted that the alliance was quick to call out places such as New York that don't do such a good job.

Ramsey County Commissioner and Public Works Commissioner Blake Huffman told MnDOT workers that "people don't know your name, but there is a whole group of moms and dads who have kids who are driving and know you at the large level, and say thank you for what you are doing."

State Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle, who read the proclamation, thanked drivers for taking on a "technically challenging" job.  He also implored drivers to "stay back and stay safe" as 30 plows have been involved in crashes this season.

As part of the day, MnDOT parked a few plows, ice breakers and towplows (trucks capable of clearing two highway lanes at once) in the Rosedale parking lot and invited the public to sit in them and learn what the job entails.

With all the griping that goes on about MnDOT's snow removal process, the event was "a good opportunity for the public to see what we do, and see where their money going," said plow driver Travis Powers, who has worked at MnDOT for the past four years.

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