Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota festivals weather the weather June 19, 2014

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JASON REHER, WHO VOLUNTEERS on the Faribault Heritage Days Committee, seemed a bit worried Wednesday evening. And rightly so.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about this concerns.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about his weather worries. Photo by Randy Helbling.

With more rain in the forecast and the City of Faribault in a declared State of Emergency due to flooding potential, he wondered whether festival events would need to be canceled or moved. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton this afternoon declared a State of Emergency for 35 Minnesota counties including my county of Rice and neighboring Steele, Waseca and Le Sueur counties. This declaration makes state resources available to areas of the state in need of assistance and “engages state agencies in response efforts.”

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags are in place at the Faribault Woolen Mill which sits along the Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. This was shot Wednesday evening.

Already the riverside Faribault Woolen Mill canceled its Heritage Days tours because of the rising Cannon River and the need for sandbagging its property. And Saturday’s Kids’ Fishing Contest at the King Mill Dam has been postponed until July 12 due to dangerous high water. (Click here to read my earlier post about flood prep in Faribault. River levels have actually dropped some since Wednesday evening but started to rise again Thursday morning as steady rains resumed.)

I'd bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday's competition.

A racer in the 2012 Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Saturday, Reher said, is the “make it or break it” day for the fest with a lengthy list of activities that range from tours to music to a soap box derby, fun run, garden tractor pull and more capped by the 6:30 p.m. parade. He was already tossing around the possibility of moving the parade route, which follows Second Avenue. A portion of that city street bridges the rising Cannon River.

Despite his concerns, Reher seemed hopeful at the Wednesday evening Heritage Days opening ceremony that the rain will stop and the sun will shine this weekend.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

Let’s hope, because this weekend is packed with area festivals and events, like my community’s Heritage Days, Straight River Days in neighboring Medford and the Arts by the River fest in Mankato’s Riverfront Park along the banks of the Minnesota River. Mankato has experienced lots of problems associated with mega rains, resulting in mud slides, closed roads and more. The downtown is protected by a flood wall.

In Medford, just to the south of Faribault, the City Council meets this evening for the purpose of declaring a State of Emergency in this Straight Riverside community. The volunteer fire department put out a call yesterday for locals to fill sandbags and build walls. As of now, this small town’s annual Straight River Days weekend celebration is still on with events subject to change due to the flooding river.

Locally, Faribault Area Hospice is celebrating 30 years of service with a free outdoor bluegrass concert by Monroe Crossing at River Bend Nature Center at 3 p.m. Sunday. Floodwaters and downed trees have closed numerous trails in the nature center. Should the venue and weather necessitate, the concert will be held at the American Legion. In past floods, the Legion has also been closed off because of flooding.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker” at the Old Stone Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Nearby, but indoors not out, the Old Stone Church is holding its annual worship service in this historic Norwegian church 2.3 miles southwest of Kenyon along Monkey Valley road at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday to the south also in rural Kenyon, Moland Lutheran Church celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival with a delicious meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cake, locally-grown strawberries, ice cream and beverages. There’s a bake sale, too.

Whatever you do this weekend, don’t sit at home. Get out and enjoy. Rain or shine.

FYI: Click here for more information about Heritage Days.

Click here to read a past post about the Old Stone Church and the Moland Strawberry Festival.

Click here to learn about Arts by the River.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

WEDNESDAY EVENING I WAS AMONG those honored at the Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony in Central Park. By default (mine was the only entry), I earned first place in the “personal heritage” category of the event’s first-ever photo contest with an image from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

My photograph shows children during a pinata breaking. It is one of my favorite photos from that international celebration for the perspective and the content. The image shows the many cultures of Faribault, particularly fitting for Heritage Days.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

That photograph and the two other entries (in the landscape/wildlife/historic views portion of the competition) will be showcased at Central Park during Heritage Days and then at Paul Swenson Photography (327 Central Avenue North), contest sponsor.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flood prep underway in Faribault June 18, 2014

Early Thursday evening along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, clouds build to the west.

Early Wednesday evening along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, rain clouds build to the west.

FARIBAULT HOLDS ITS COLLECTIVE breath Wednesday evening as grey clouds hang heavy over this southeastern Minnesota city, once again threatening rain.

Co-honorary parade grand marshall Roy Anderson addresses the crowd at the opening of Heritage Days.

Co-honorary parade grand marshal Roy Anderson addresses the crowd at the opening of Heritage Days.

At Central Park, where the annual Heritage Days celebration kicks off with an opening ceremony, Mayor John Jasinski cuts short his welcome. He’s got more serious matters on his mind—tending to a community where a State of Emergency was declared Wednesday morning.

The rising Cannon River along Second Avenue nearly skims the bridge. Faribault Foods is in the background and the Faribault Woolen Mill is to the right.

The rising Cannon River along Second Avenue nearly skims the bridge. Faribault Foods is in the background and the Faribault Woolen Mill is to the right. This is near the Rice County Fairgrounds along a major roadway through the city.

The waters of the Straight and Cannon rivers, which run through town, are rising. And the city is preparing for possible flooding, with reminders of the September 2010 flash flood ever present.

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

At the Faribault Woolen Mill, Heritage Days tours have been canceled with the focus instead on sandbagging and protecting the historic building that sits along the Cannon River.

Photographing the rising Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible.

Photographing the rising Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. Typically, the river does flow against the rear of the mill.

Locals flock to Father Slevin Park, next to the Cannon, next to the Woolen Mill, Wednesday evening to photograph the scene. The Cannon River dam is no longer visible.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags hold down a pipe at the Faribault Woolen Mill factory and retail store.

Sandbags hold down a pipe at the Faribault Woolen Mill factory and retail store.

An overview of the Cannon River, looking south from Father Slevin Park to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

An overview of the Cannon River, looking southeast from Father Slevin Park to the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Several layers of sandbags rim the parking lot next to the factory store.

Sandbags also protect Faribault Foods.

Sandbags also protect Faribault Foods.

Straight River floodwaters block access to a Faribault Foods loading dock.

Straight River floodwaters block access to a Faribault Foods loading dock.

Sandbags border the door to bean receiving at Faribault Foods.

Sandbags border the door to bean receiving at Faribault Foods.

Directly across Second Avenue, sandbags likewise protect Faribault Foods. Behind the canning company, the rising Straight River has already blocked access to loading docks. Other doors are also barricaded with plastic-covered sandbags.

Working to protect the city's wastewater plant, which sits along the Straight River.

Working to protect the city’s wastewater plant, which sits along the Straight River.

The entry to the city's treatment plant.

The entry to the city’s treatment plant.

Just down the road, at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a steady flow of dump trucks enter and exit the facility, presumably delivering sand. Sandbags are already in place here.

Sandbag central.

Sandbag central.

Near the Faribault American Legion, just a block off the historic downtown, workers shovel sand into bags at the city’s sandbag central. Road closed signs are at the ready.

The Straight River has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and churns here toward the Highway 60 viaduct connecting the east and west sides of Faribault.

The Straight River has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and churns here toward the Highway 60 viaduct connecting the east and west sides of Faribault.

Flooded Teepee Tonka Park.

Flooded Teepee Tonka Park.

Across the Straight River in Teepee Tonka Park, the bridge into the park is blocked and the river rushes in a frenzy.

The bridge into Teepee Tonka Park is partially flooded and thus closed.

The bridge into Teepee Tonka Park is partially flooded and thus closed.

Onlookers step across police tape to photograph the scene—until the cops cruise up and advise that “the tape is there for a reason.” They don’t want anyone tumbling into the muddy, raging waters.

Police arrive to protect the curious public at Teepee Tonka Park.

Police arrive to check out the situation at Teepee Tonka Park.

Darkness falls and Faribault waits.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dog sled or boat? April 22, 2013

DEAR SON,

In less than three weeks you finish your spring semester classes at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Traveling Interstate 94 on our way to Fargo with hours to go. File photo.

Your dad and I are wondering whether we should come by dog sled or boat to retrieve you and your belongings once we cross the border into North Dakota. What would you suggest?

I’ll admit that, with the continuing snowfall in Fargo, I’m beginning to wonder if your winter will ever end. Kind of like here in southern Minnesota.

The Red River

The placid and narrow Red River photographed from Lindenwood Park in Fargo, June 2012.

And, I’m quite concerned about flooding of the Red River. Everything I read or hear seems to indicate record high water levels.

I viewed a computer simulated graphic of the Red at 42 feet.  (Click here.)  I know NDSU isn’t by the river, but the graphic shows the campus close to an area protected by levees and near areas which could be affected by back up of flood waters through the sewer system. I know, I know, nothing to worry about, right?

I suppose I just have to trust that Fargo officials have the situation under control. I read on the City of Fargo website that Sandbag Central has reopened and that levees will be built to 43 feet, protecting to a river level of 41 feet with two feet of “freeboard,” whatever that means.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Fargo and Moorhead.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Lindenwood Park in Fargo and Gooseberry Mound Park in Moorhead. File photo from June 2012.

It’s difficult to imagine, after seeing the Red last summer, how this river could flood into a raging and destructive force. Remember when we walked across that foot bridge over the Red linking Minnesota and North Dakota? I recall not being at all impressed with the size of the river.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo.

The flat landscape near Fargo, on the Minnesota side. File photo from February 2012.

But when I consider the flat landscape in and around Fargo, flatter even than the prairie where I grew up (you know, that place you term “the middle of nowhere”), I understand. I compare the flooding of Fargo to spilling a glass of milk onto a table. The milk runs everywhere.

Anyway, when you have time between classes, could you drop me a line and advise?

Dog sled or boat?

Love,
Mom

P.S.  Does Interstate 94, which spans the Red River between Moorhead and Fargo, remain open if the Red floods?

UPDATE: According to information posted at 4:09 p.m. April 23 on the NDSU website, there are “no foreseen threats to the NDSU campus.” The university has a response team in place and continues to monitor the projected Red River level reports and attend meetings with the Fargo City Commission. Click here to read the flood-related statement posted on the NDSU website.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A native Minnesotan reports from flooded Minot June 23, 2011

MY BROTHER-IN-LAW, Neil, lives in Minot.

But he ranks as one of the lucky residents of this North Dakota city. His house lies outside—albeit less than a mile away—and several hundred feet above the flood zone.

Yet, this Air Force man and Minnesota native isn’t sitting idly by because his home has not been threatened. He’s pitching in to help those who face the reality of losing their houses in the worst flooding since 1969.

In an e-mail I received from Neil early this morning, he shares information, insights and, yes, even advice about the current situation—which he terms “exhausting and discouraging”—in his adopted hometown. The overwhelmed Souris River in Minot is expected to crest on Sunday, some five feet higher than any previous flood stage in recorded history for the area, Neil says. The old record was set in 1881, before Minot was founded.

So that’s the situation facing this city, where some 12,000 residents, more than a quarter of the population, have been evacuated and where, says Neil, dikes in several neighborhoods were breached on Wednesday.

Neil has assisted two families in exiting the city.

He writes: “I helped a lady from our church on Monday night as she moved everything either to the second floor or attic. What didn’t go upstairs went into a horse trailer that her brother brought in from out of town late that night. She seemed to take things in stride. Her house was also flooded in ’69 (before it was her house), but came through it okay. It’s extremely well built, nearly 100 years old. This lady trusts that God will provide for her needs, even if her house washes down the river.”

Neil next joined efforts to help his boss’s family. His boss is deployed to Afghanistan.

“I lost track of how many people were there to help them,” Neil writes. “We also helped them three weeks ago, when we moved everything out of their sopping wet basement to the upper floor and garage. Because of the shortage of time allowed to evacuate, we left almost everything there that time. Because of the expected height of the floodwaters and the advance preparation time, we decided to clear everything out of their house this time.”

Yet, Neil continues, “There were easily several pickup loads of stuff that we left behind simply because there wasn’t enough time/energy/resources to move it all.”

At this point my brother-in-law pauses and suggests that we all re-evaluate our possessions, deciding what we really need and what we don’t. “Go through your house and garage and get rid of anything that you haven’t laid eyes on or used in the past three years.” He intends to do exactly that at his Minot home, which is currently on the market; he’s been reassigned to an Air Force base in Missouri.

When Neil and his wife, who is already in Missouri, purchased their house several years ago, they purposely stayed away from the flood zone. “A contractor that we spoke to before buying a house told us the down sides of several locations in this town. One specific neighborhood that he told us to steer clear of is the exact one that we helped my boss’s family move out of; he told us that he wouldn’t even consider building a house down there because the whole area was under water in the flood of ’69,” Neil says.

And then my brother-in-law adds this final statement: “Dikes give people a false sense of security.  No one presently living in this town will ever doubt that again!”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Cannon River today and six months ago

A view of the Cannon River from Father Slevin Park, looking toward the former Faribault Woolen Mill factory on the right and Faribault Foods on the left.

SIX MONTHS AGO I would not have been standing on this wedge of park land photographing the rising Cannon River by the Faribault Woolen Mill dam.

Here, by this dam, most locals judge the river level. And Wednesday evening, only the slightest hint of the dam showed beneath the roiling river. I kept a safe distance as I photographed scenes I had shot in September when a flash flood sent the Cannon spilling over its banks.

A statue in Father Slevin Park (I believe she is the Virgin Mary) next to the Cannon River.

Back then, this park, Father Slevin Park, was engulfed in water that had risen all the way to the roadway into the Rice County Fairgrounds and North Alexander Park in Faribault.

Father Slevin Park splits the Cannon. This is the other side of the river, looking toward the fairgrounds. The river was nearly out of its banks Wednesday evening.

The situation was not the crisis of six months ago, not at all. Just being here, beside the river, eased my fears about flooding in my community.

My husband, who travels by the Cannon daily on his way to and from work in nearby Northfield, tells me the river level dropped since I took these photos. That is good news for my town, for residents like me who had wondered and worried as the Cannon and Straight Rivers rose.

The former Faribault Woolen Mill building along the banks of the Cannon River.

A view of the Cannon River and the Faribault Woolen Mill from Father Slevin Park.

CLICK HERE to see images of the Cannon taken during the late September 2010 flash flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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