Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Sleepy Eye: When a small town clinic goes the extra mile August 23, 2019

Sleepy Eye Lake with the steeples of St. Mary’s Catholic Church visible in the distance across Minnesota State Highway 4.


ON A WEEKDAY AUGUST AFTERNOON as lovely as they come in Minnesota, I sat at a shelterhouse picnic table along the shores of Sleepy Eye Lake eating a salad. Sportsman’s Park proved a picturesque place to enjoy a picnic lunch with my husband and son before continuing west to visit my mom in a care center.



After lunch, we followed a paved trail to a public dock with a view of the lake and the town of Sleepy Eye to the south. I wasn’t at all surprised by the mucky green growth polluting the lake like most lakes in southern Minnesota.



A few kids hung out at a second dock angling for fish in the murky water. And two bikers zipped by in this park which also features 16 camping sites, two camper cabins, disc golf and a playground. Just a nice spot to picnic and enjoy the outdoors.



Sportsman’s Park seems pretty typical of most small town parks at first glance. But then I noticed something unique—a row of six white bicycles. Further investigation revealed a seasonal bike rental program offered through the Sleepy Eye Healthcare Foundation. Begun in the summer of 2017, Bike Share allows users to download an app and rent a bike. I never would have expected this in a community the size of Sleepy Eye with a population of some 3,400.



But given the 3.12-mile paved Sleepy Eye Bike Trail and the camp sites and cabins at this park, this seems an ideal fit.



The nonprofit foundation, part of Sleepy Eye Medical Center, aims “to provide excellent healthcare to our patients and to enhance the wellness and quality of life in the communities we serve.” Bike Share fulfills that mission. Maybe other healthcare teams offer the same in rural communities. But this is the first I’ve seen.



Additionally, the Sleepy Eye Healthcare Foundation sponsors an annual 5K Run/Walk for Health, a golf tournament and post-secondary scholarships for students entering the healthcare field. I’m not surprised really at the level of community support. I grew up in the county just to the west and understand the importance of local healthcare access. Without it, people sometimes drive hours to clinics and hospitals.



I’m getting sidetracked here. So I’ll circle back to those bikes, to my appreciation for these rural clinics and hospitals that show they care about the communities they serve through programs like Bike Share. The sign below the main Sportsman’s Park sign summarizes well the spirit of small towns like Sleepy Eye in the words “a cooperative project.” Working together to enhance wellness and the quality of life seems a noble goal no matter where you live, no matter the size of your community.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “From Sleepy Eye: When a small town clinic goes the extra mile”

  1. It’s awesome they have the bike rentals and the Clinic supporting them. I’m going to bookmark this post and use it in planning a camping spot for future Minnesota exploration. The small town parks are so quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed the small one in Mantorville until the flooding returned the day of our departure. I love how you capture the charm and unique faces of the friendly Minnesota towns, Audrey.

  2. What a COOL Idea and a GREAT COLLABORATION!!! Thanks so much for sharing. The Sleepy Eye, Walnut Grove, New Ulm area has many things to do and see. Happy Exploring and Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    The bike share program is a great idea and hopefully it catching on in other areas…small towns and larger ones.

  4. I realize that Dallas is a Much larger community, but there’s always someone ready to spoil the party for the rest of us. The bicycle rentals got completely out of control there. People were leaving their bikes just thrown around anywhere. Not properly put back. It became such a mess that they’ve been thinking about getting rid of them altogether. The same thing with the little motorized scooters. Such a shame. People are much more civilized in smaller towns. Nice photos, Audrey. 🙂

  5. Missy’s Håndarbeid (Missy’s Crafty Mess) Says:

    Beautiful place but then there is beauty everywhere if one looks for it. I’ve never seen a bike share but that’s a great idea. It reminds me of those mini libraries!

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    What a great idea! It makes perfect sense for an area like this to have bike rentals. A great way to view the beauty and get some exercise at the same time.

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