Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring Madison’s Atwood Neighborhood via the bike trail, minus the bike, Part I September 15, 2020

A colorful cow sculpture stands next to the bike trail by the Goodman Community Center in the Atwood Neighbohood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

BUTTERFLIES. BOOKS. BIKES. Even a bovine. And a sign for burgers and brats.

 

The bike path teems with bikers of all ages, and some walkers.

 

All defined a Labor Day weekend walk along the Capital City State Trail on Madison’s east side while visiting family. This Wisconsin state capital fully embraces biking via a city-wide system of connecting trails. Walk the paved pathways rather than wheel them and you best remain vigilant. And to the side. Most bikers zoom by.

 

By the community center, a Little Free Library sits right next to the bike trail.

 

With that awareness, I fully enjoyed this opportunity to see more of the thriving and vibrant Atwood Neighborhood.

 

Next to the trail, an electric bike rental station.

 

I almost wished I had a bike, though, and I suppose I could have rented an electric one from a rental station positioned along the trail, just another way to get those without bikes out, moving and exploring.

 

Flowers fill yards and sections of community garden plots.

 

But, given I had my DSLR camera, walking worked better. I could stop when I wanted—which was often—to document my surroundings. My walking companions—the husband and the son—often paced yards ahead and I finally told them to continue without me. They did. And later returned with an ice cream treat from a trail-side shop.

 

The community gardens are popular and filled with fruit, vegetables and flowers.

 

Even in the gardens, you’ll find art in signage.

 

This fence panel/art graces a corner of a garden plot. The gardens stretch along the bike path.

 

While they pursued ice cream, I snapped photos in the Atwood Community Gardens next to the trail. There I chatted briefly with a woman harvesting kale. I shared my appreciation for the lovely neighborhood and she told me of the long waiting list to get a garden plot.

 

Environmental concerns shared in art painted on a sidewalk by the trail.

 

She also tipped me off to concerns about groundwater and soil contamination from a resident industry (which I later verified online at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).

 

Murals stretch along the side of the historic Madison Kipp-Corporation building next to the bike trail. Sail East, Goodman Center Youth, Kipp employees and the Dane Arts Mural Arts worked together on the 2017 project. Please check back for a post focusing on this public art.

 

It was on that industrial building that I found art. Murals of laborers at work, a fitting discovery on Labor Day weekend. The portraits show the strength of those who work with their hands. I spent many minutes photographing those paintings of blue collar workers.

 

Wisconsin and brats are synonymous.

 

A colorful cow sculpture by the Goodman Community Center also drew my attention. It seems fitting given Wisconsin’s “Dairyland State” motto and affinity for cheese curds. In addition to brats and beer.

 

This is the first photo I took as we walked the bike trail. You’ll find reaffirming messages like this throughout the Atwood Neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin.

 

In many ways, my walk along the bike trail offered a mini snapshot of Madison in the context of the Atwood Neighborhood. I saw an appreciation for the arts, for the land, for the outdoors. And I felt, too, a strong sense of community grounded in caring for one another. And that, more than anything, makes me feel…hopeful.

 

Please check back for more posts from my recent visit to Madison, including a second one of images from this same section of the Capitol City Bike Path.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.

 

Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.

 

Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.

 

Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.

 

And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.

 

During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

What is this Minnesota bicyclist thinking? December 22, 2013

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Sun dogs photographed through the dirty passenger side window of the van this morning east of Lamberton along U.S. Highway 14.

Sun dogs photographed this morning through the dirty passenger side van window east of Lamberton along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

YOU KNOW IT’S COLD when sun dogs emerge, the wind whips flags straight out and a bank sign temperature reads five degrees Fahrenheit.

Strong winds drift snow across U.S. Highway 14 east of Lamberton this morning.

Strong winds drift snow across U.S. Highway 14 east of Lamberton this morning.

That would be southwestern Minnesota this morning as my family left my brother and sister-in-law’s rural Lamberton home after a family Christmas and began the 2 1/2-hour drive east back to Faribault.

After an hour on the road, we entered New Ulm where I photographed this scene at the intersection of Brown County Road 29 and U.S. Highway 14:

The biker, to the left in photo, caught my eye in New Ulm because of his attire.

The biker, to the left, caught my eye in New Ulm because of his attire.

Tell me, how could this bicyclist tolerate biking in shorts or without a cap on his head? I sincerely hope he didn’t have far to pedal on this official second day of winter. Exposed skin can freeze quickly in such brutal temps.

He was, at least, wearing gloves.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling