Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A pause & a follow-up May 12, 2021

Graffiti on the Teepee Tonka Tunnel. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021.

SIX DAYS AGO I PUBLISHED a post, “From Faribault: When Graffiti Overtakes Nature & History,” which generated intense local interest. A Facebook group for people who grew up in Faribault linked to my post. And, no, this is not my hometown and I’m not on Facebook. But I have lived here for 39 years.

I appreciate the more than 1,500 views of that May 6 post. But I don’t appreciate some of the comments that followed. Let me explain.

The entry to the tunnel now covered with graffiti. Several years ago, the city installed lights inside the tunnel and painted over the graffiti. But the “art” is back. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021.

Initially, comments on my story about graffiti along the Teepee Tonka Trail leading into River Bend Nature Center, specifically inside an historic tunnel and on a footbridge over the Straight River, came from regular Minnesota Prairie Roots readers. They have no connection to my community. But I have an already established relationship with those readers, who comment often. So I approved their comments. Yes, I moderate replies to my posts.

Graffiti mars this footbridge across the Straight River along Teepee Tonka Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.


When comments began rolling in from those who followed the Facebook link, I pushed pause. I didn’t like much of what I was reading. The first comment, in fact, was threatening. I won’t give voice to those words here. But suffice to say that I felt uncomfortable with the message written by this anonymous individual.

Other writers used derogatory words to describe Faribault and the individuals creating graffiti. I may not like what these taggers are doing, but I also don’t like name-calling.

And I don’t like the negativity that all too often prevails about Faribault. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions. But it does no good to continually criticize. Every single community faces issues. Amplifying the negative rather than working toward improvement and resolution only perpetuates problems, or perceived problems.

The Straight River, as photographed from the footbridge along Teepee Tonka Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.


Faribault is a place of incredible natural beauty from our many parks to the two rivers that run through to, yes, even that trail tracing to the tagged tunnel.

Faribault is a place where history matters, as evidenced in our downtown historic district, historic homes scattered throughout the city, aged churches, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, Buckham Memorial Library and many more buildings. Even our viaduct. And the Central Park Bandshell. And the historic Faribault Woolen Mill. And, yes, even the 1937 Teepee Tonka Tunnel, hand dug by Works Progress Administration workers as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony.

Faribault is a place of diversity. I welcome our immigrants, who often fled horrendous situations in their native countries. I value opportunities to learn more about their cultures and have always appreciated the work of The Faribault Diversity Coalition.

Faribault is a place of family and community connections. Although I am not rooted here by birth or upbringing, I see generations of families who have called Faribault home. And I wonder sometimes if that’s partially why negativity rises. Sometimes it takes leaving a place, and then returning, to appreciate its good qualities.

Faribault is a place of art. From the many downtown murals to the Tiffany stained glass windows in some historic buildings, to the Paradise Center for the Arts and more, we are a community filled with art and creatives. And, yes, that includes the graffiti artists. When I viewed their art, I couldn’t help but appreciate their talent. Not the content (especially the profanity) or the location of their art, but their skills as artists. If only their art could be channeled into something positive. Yes, perhaps that is a Pollyanna perspective.

An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages like this one. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2019.


Some who commented on my initial blog post called for painting over the tunnel graffiti and one (a professional painter) offered to take on that task. That seems a good start, or restart as it’s been done before. Of course, that requires time, money (perhaps via a Community Pride Grant from the Faribault Foundation), effort and tenacity. But, as one individual commented, “This town could use a lot of TLC everywhere.” I don’t disagree.

It’s up to each of us to make that happen. To care. To act. To love. To go beyond words typed on a keyboard.

Note: I moderate all comments on my blog. Because this is my personal blog, I decide whether or not to publish comments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “A pause & a follow-up”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Sorry about the ugly and negative comments . So many angry people with venom to spew – but I hope your important posts have sparked the TLC and consideration in others.

  2. So sorry that happened to you, Audrey. And good for you for standing up to these people. Sending love & light your way! ❤

    • Thank you, Penny. One comment in particular felt threatening, which caused me to pause and just sit on everything for a while. I hope this post encourages people to view the positives. And to work toward change if they are unhappy with our community.

  3. Julie Fakler Says:

    Thank you for your encouraging words about Faribault. If people don’t like how things are in Faribault they should step up and help change Faribault for the betterment of the community.

  4. Ann Vohs Says:

    As always your thoughtfulness and heartfelt messages are much appreciated by me. A few days after your post I walked in the park enjoying the peaceful beauty of the wildflowers along the path.
    I was sad to see the graffiti on the walkbridge and in the tunnel. My mother would say…..fools names and fools faces are often found in public places. It is a lack of respect for others that is evident.
    I hope our society can get back to respecting our world and the people around us as our parents taught us to do.
    Thank you for leading by example.

  5. Valerie Bollinger Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this Audrey. Sigh. Hang in there. You do good work! God is with you.💕

  6. So sorry to hear this and for you to deal with this. In the end it is about caring, hopefully acting positively, and leading from a place of for the better. Take Care (((((loveandhugs)))))

  7. Sandra Says:

    The harshness of public discourse is alarming. Social media makes it so easy. Even some comments on news articles make me shiver. Thank you for editing, those that enjoy your work are spared. I am sorry your good work and talent have been attacked to the point of fear. What I remember is not a perfect town, but in our straight-laced era, it was individuals like bikers, “hoods”, the exceptions not the rule. Now it seems there’s two extremes, no middle ground how to feel about life in Faribault. My Dad used to say, “life is what you make of it” and he was a 1924 German immigrant that worked hard to survive and make a difference in his own way, which was through church and work. I think if one wants to find enrichment and peace in Faribault, they can still find it. Town still has more churches per capita than any town I know, always amazed me. Keep up the good work!

  8. Almost Iowa Says:

    Facebook is a wonderful place to reconnect with old friends and stay connected with family – it is also an open sewer.

    Just like our public places, there are always those who seek to destroy beautiful and positive things.

    Such is a window into the human soul.

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