Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A pleasant afternoon hiking & photographing at River Bend Nature Center until… April 10, 2017


SUNDAY’S UNUSUALLY WARM weather drew me back to Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center, this time for a walk that centered more on prairie than woods.


My husband, Randy, poses by one of River Bend’s biggest cottonwoods next to a parking lot nearest the center’s entrance.


With camera once again in hand, I scanned for photo ops, many pointed out by my hiking companion husband. I appreciate that he understands and supports my interest in photography.



As we hiked, I noticed a theme connecting nearly everything that drew my interest. I was focusing on texture—in dried prairie grass,


The deeply textured bark of a cedar tree.





new leaves,



a cone of seeds,






a milkweed pod,






pussy willow,




the remnants of last season’s cattails…

Because the landscape remains so stark yet in early April in Minnesota, the eye catches such details. Or at least my eyes.



Yet several things distracted me from texture: the red dot of a bug and the red dash of a cardinal,


Randy and I hung out on the pond dock for awhile listening to the frogs and watching the geese.


the overwhelming roar of frogs,



the mating antics and flight of geese and then, the most unexpected—the sight of a sixty-something man walking toward us with a gun holstered and strapped to his belt.


We met the gun-carrying man not far from a bird observation deck marked by this sign.


The surprise showing of that weapon unsettled me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just was not right for a person to be walking in a nature center on a Sunday afternoon with a handgun at his waist for all—including children—to see. Back home I checked the nature center website. Under Visitor Rules and Regulations, I found this:

Therefore, it shall be unlawful, except upon permission of the Executive Director or his/her agent, for any person to:

15. Possess or use any firearms, air guns, paintball guns, archery equipment, or other weapons within the nature center; or discharge any missile or other projectile from such a weapon into the nature center from beyond nature center boundaries without prior approval by River Bend’s board of directors (example: prescribed deer management hunts);

In my opinion, common sense should tell anyone not to carry a weapon into a nature center.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


33 Responses to “A pleasant afternoon hiking & photographing at River Bend Nature Center until…”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    That picture of the geese is perfect –my favorite out of all of these. Not sure about the gun toting man. It does make one wonder why —certainly there was a reason??? People are very proud of their right to carry but one wonders why he carried there. One of those things that makes you say “hmmm”.

    • On the geese in flight image, I nearly missed that shot. Randy and I had been hanging out on the dock for about five minutes when we started walking away. I had barely turned my back to the pond when I heard geese honking. I raised my camera to try and capture the geese flying. If only I had stayed on the dock for maybe 30 more seconds, I would have gotten a better photo.

      I understand the right to carry. But not in a nature center, especially when it is against the rules.

    • Mike Hohmann Says:

      It’s legal to carry a handgun openly in MN assuming you have the carry permit -it doesn’t have to be concealed. Signs banning firearms must meet certain legal requirements as to language used -the content. I’m not sure if the Nature Center can even ban firearms legally, assuming the person has a permit. It is currently illegal to bring a firearm into schools, courthouses, post offices and most federal bldgs. Some of these laws may be changing in the future. Some folks with a permit just want to test/challenge the system for some unknown reason… it’s their right and it’s legal, therefore they will carry… is the ‘logic’ I guess.
      It can be dangerous carrying even w/ a permit…. you can become a target for police, and/or a target for the bad guy depending on the situation. The police may assume wrongly that a good guy/permit holder, is the bad guy and shoot. And the bad guy may assume the permit holder is a good guy and shoot. So carrying a firearm legally is always a risk. However, some permit holders are very proficient with firearms, and many have years of military and/or competitive shooting experience; but many don’t have the training or experience they should have.

      • Mike, thanks for the insights you bring to this discussion. You make some really good points, similar to some shared by other readers here.

        I understand the legality of carrying a concealed/visible handgun if you possess a permit. I also know the basics of where these handguns are prohibited, such as those you list. It is also my understanding that places (churches, businesses, etc.) can ban weapons on the premises by, as you state, posting the proper signage. I did not check for a sign at the nature center. River Bend is frequented by school children who attend classes and take field trips there.

        The most troubling to me is why this man would feel the need to bring his weapon to the nature center and openly display it. Why? What if another hiker had confronted him and a disagreement ensued? What if I had called the police? Would he, or law enforcement, have felt threatened? There are lots of “what if” scenarios playing in my head that don’t have good outcomes. I am glad I chose not to say anything other than “hi” to him and then followed up the next morning with a call to the nature center expressing my concerns. (Staff is not on duty on Sundays.)

  2. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    Such beautiful photography! The textures are stunning and draw the eye for prolonged scrutiny.

  3. Kaz Says:

    I liked the photo of the grass and of the two geese in flight wonderful.

  4. Dan Traun Says:

    It is so nice to be out and about in the nice weather in short-sleeves. The moss is one of the most colorful things in the forest this time of year. It amazes me how many different varieties there are and the detail when you look closely. The buds on the trees and bushes are exploding too. Ah yes…conceal and carry…well…I just learned an interesting thing at a active shooter training. Conceal and carry folks are very likely to get shot themselves while acting because they are plain-clothes and hard to identify. Those responding to situation these days do not mess around at all. They are tasked with eliminating any threat. The other aspect is weapon proficiency. Police and government agents (FBI, etc.) train, train, train; then train some more. It is possible for the average citizen to train a lot, but still. I understand the reasons why someone may want to carry, but personally it is not for me. I will leave it up to the professionals.

    • I’m totally with you on your viewpoint regarding conceal and carry and appreciate your additional insights from the active shooter training. My husband and I had quite the discussion after seeing the man with the visible weapon.

      Next time I’m at the nature center, I’ll study the moss more closely. I thought moss was moss.

  5. Holy cow! I would have been unsettled, too. And his blatant disregard for the peace of the nature area as well as its rules is just wrong. I would have reported him. I have no tolerance for firearms being where they should not be.

    The photos, by the way, are beautiful. Especially the geese – lovely. Perfect antidote to the madness all around.

    • You know, as unsettled as I was, the thought of reporting him at the time was not something I considered. I didn’t know whether possession of a firearm in the nature center was illegal or not, until I researched much later. That is no excuse really for my failure to report.

      Of course, my mind is going all sorts of places now. What if I would have called? How would the police have reacted? Would this have created a dangerous situation for those in the nature center? How would the man have reacted? Obviously, he takes his right to bear arms seriously if he openly carried a handgun into a nature center. Lots of questions…and many concerns.

      I should check, too, to see if a sign is posted at the nature center entry prohibiting weapons. If not, perhaps it should be.

      • That is a very good question. If it isn’t posted but it’s in their rules, then it might be worth a call to someone at the nature center to let them know of your experience. As for the danger, a call couldn’t have created much more danger than was already there. But given that you didn’t know the rules, of course you couldn’t call in the moment. Don’t second-guess yourself now!

      • Thanks, Kathleen. Yes, a call seems in order to the nature center.

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    While I worked for the BCA, the legislature asked us to do research on concealed carry. We compared the list of permit holders to our criminal history records and found the permit people to be among the most law abiding demographic in the state. The only other cohort with a cleaner record would be toddlers.

    Which concerns me when someone does not follow the rules.

    It reminds me of a comment I once heard in the Baha after the highway was upgraded. One woman said, “before we got only the best people coming here, now we get everybody.”

    When I worked for MPD and BCA, the sworn personnel were required to carry their weapons whenever they left the building. My Lieutenant always slipped her service weapon into her purse and my sergeant put on a sports jacket in the summer to hide his weapon. A gun was something they preferred not to show.

    I am not sure why anyone feels the need to sport a weapon for the world to see but it does not speak well of their judgement – especially where weapons are banned.

    • Greg, I so appreciate your detailed and valuable comment.

      Your thoughts copy mine: Why did he feel the need to so openly display his weapon? And why would he feel the need to break a rule and bring a gun into the nature center? I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt, that he was unaware of the rule. But, again, common sense would tell you guns are not a permitted in such a setting.

      And, yes, I have contacted the nature center and I am confident my concerns are being heard.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        There is an attitude out there that the 2nd amendment gives anyone the right to carry whatever weapon they want everywhere.

        It reminds me that the definition of a vice is a virtue taken too far.

        I am a firm supporter of 2nd amendment rights, but there are always the few that feel the need to take everything to the limit. It is how we lose rights.

        If one chooses to carry a weapon, they should also demonstrate that they are responsible and reasonable. Parading around with a handgun, demonstrates the opposite.

  7. Chanda Griese Says:

    By the rules, it looks like he shouldn’t have a weapon there. Rather than confronting him, it was a good idea to inform those in charge of the nature center. Hopefully they have rangers who know how to deal with people like that.

    • Unfortunately, no one is on duty at the nature center on Sundays. But I did follow up today and my concerns are being addressed.

      I simply greeted the man as we passed by him. I would never have confronted him about his weapon. But someone else could have…and, well…

  8. Don Says:

    Wow that’s a big cottonwood tree! Cottonwood trees are one of the fastest growing trees here in Alaska and in my backyard I have some big cottonwoods that began as a seed and are now bigger than birch trees that I planted a few years back. Only problem I have with cottonwood trees is that they are messy. Lots of sap drippings, seeds, and sap covered leaves.

    I am used to seeing guns and never think to much about them. With so much wilderness along with bears, moose etc. it becomes a real necessity when walking through brush. Just going fishing my wife caries a 357 pistol for bear/moose protection and though we have never had to use it we have had many a grizzle bear encounter. Now the question becomes does the person need the gun for protection or is it just to show off to others? Humm in your area I bet it is the latter……..

    • Yes, there’s definitely a major difference between potential threats in the wilds of Alaska vs. a nature center within the Faribault city limits. I’ve never seen a single dangerous animal at River Bend in more than 30 years of going there. Other than geese, turtles, frogs, toads, snakes, deer, birds and the occasional squirrel, I can’t recall seeing any other wildlife. Not even a rabbit. So, yeah, no need to protect yourself against grizzlies or the like. I don’t know the man’s motivation.

  9. Beautiful memorial marker. Love your pictures of the geese and prairie grass. Some people think they are above the law

  10. Mike Hohmann Says:

    Nice photos. I have some wetland photos in the current post on my blog. Looks like we have similar interests. 😉

  11. parkerozgood Says:

    You really do have a great eye!

  12. Gunny Says:

    Sorry the armed man scared you all. If he broke the law, then some kind of fine, ticket or thrown out of the Center was/is in order. If this didn’t happen, then, you and others, as citizens, have no protection supposedly provided by the local police or even the Nature Center! In your case, this is my concern for you and your safety. Keep in mind, most of those illegal shootings occur in “gun free zones”. ”

    I am NOT trying to add to your fears, just make you aware of your surroundings. It has already been adjudicated that police are not there to protect you as a citizen but rather society at large. Just because you do not see a reason to carry a gun does not mean someone else has the same point of view.

    I have seen lawyers violate the signage! Bank Parking Only gets customers to other businesses. I saw a teacher use a reserved parking space and when I brought it up, she almost screamed at me “but I am a teacher!”. I can tell you what I told her and it was funny, but, maybe next time!

    Wishing You all, safety, security, love, warm, wealth and happiness.

    • Gunny, I was expecting to hear from you.

      Here’s the situation: The gun-carrying man violated Nature Center rules by bringing a weapon into River Bend. However, at the time I saw him, I didn’t know the rules. I wasn’t going to over-react by confronting him or calling the police. The Nature Center is not staffed on Sundays, the day of my visit. I contacted the director the next morning (after perusing the website and finding the weapons ban). Since my contact with her, signs have apparently been posted at all entry points stating that weapons are banned. I have not been back to River Bend to see those for myself.

      You are correct that although I see no reason to carry a gun in a nature center, someone else may feel differently. That’s not the issue. Violation of the rules is the issue. And, yes, I have an underlying concern about how school children (yes, they frequent River Bend), families with young children and others would react to someone openly carrying a weapon in a nature center.

      You and I will have to respectfully disagree on some issues related to this topic.

      And, yes, there will always be individuals who choose to break the rules.

      • Gunny Says:

        Audrey, I love what you do. that is why I visit your site. Not sure why this individual decided to pack heat and visit the center. Shame on him! However, by creating a gun free zone without enforcement means the signs are meaningless to those intent on doing wrong – or those not able to read. We can agree to disagree on about any topic you wish. I still love your work! FYI, I plan on being through your neck of the woods on the 19th of June! Gotta see this stuff myself!

      • Gunny, thanks for your enthusiastic support of my blogging. I appreciate you, yes, even if we disagree.

        You are correct that rules/laws are meaningless without enforcement. I observe that problem all the time.

        What’s your list of places to visit while in Minnesota?

  13. Gunny Says:

    Hi Audrey,

    I am going to be at the Stevne in Shoreview North of Minneapolis in the middle of June. Seems my roots go back on one side of my family to Vang, Valdres, Oppland fylke , Norway (Who names this places?) So, since my time is limited (about a week) and my better half does not want to drive all the way up and back. we are flying in. That being said, my basic destinations outside of Minneapolis/St Paul are Fargo / Moorhead and South to Albert Lea which will take me down through a lot of the areas you have visually documented.. I went to Moorhead State (it has another name now) and the first generation to immigrate lived outside of Albert Lea, spread out to Northfield, Red Wing, just about any town sight in Southeast Minnesota. Last time I was in Minneapolis, I took a physical / and entrance exam and ended up in Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children’s group.

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