Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sure signs of spring in Owatonna April 12, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

AFTER A LONG MINNESOTA WINTER, and they all seem long to me, we look for sure signs of spring. A robin. Snowbirds returning from Arizona, Texas and Florida. Road construction beginning.

The recently unveiled motorhome in Owatonna.

The recently unveiled motorhome in Owatonna.

And in Owatonna, about a dozen miles to the south of my Faribault home, it’s the unveiling of a motorhome parked in a front yard along East Main Street, one of the town’s main drags. “This, like the return of the robins, is a sure sign of spring,” a friend and Owatonna resident shared in a recent email.

Motorhome in Owatonna in January

This is a photograph of the same motorhome taken in January.

I posted a photo of that camper in early February, when it was shrouded in a “blanket” and snow blanketed the yard.

Campers filled the spacious Four Seasons Centre and spilled into a parking lot.

Campers filled the spacious Four Seasons Centre and spilled into a parking lot.

On Saturday I was in Owatonna again, this time to tour exhibits at the Steele County History Center (posts forthcoming on that). And while we were there, my husband and I checked out the Noble RV Camper Show next door at the Steele County Four Seasons Centre. Like the uncovered camper on Main Street, the camper show signals spring, even if temps are still in the 30s and windchills in the teens.

We’re not campers. But we wanted to tour these homes on wheels.

If he could have, Randy would have kicked back with a beer, watched TV and fallen asleep inside this comfy motorhome.

If he could have, Randy would have kicked back with a beer, watched TV and fallen asleep inside this comfy motorhome.

These are some pretty fancy schmancy rigs with fireplaces, steel appliances and kitchens way nicer than the one in my woodframe house. If this is camping, I could learn to like camping. My few camping experiences have involved leaky tents, deflating air mattresses, partying neighbors and, once, even a flood. So when people ask if I camp, I respond with an emphatic no.

If you were in the market for a camper, this was the place to be. So many to tour...

If you were in the market for a camper, this was the place to be this past weekend. So many to tour…

I lost count of how many motorhomes we toured on Saturday. But after awhile, they all began too look alike. And I was tired of carefully stepping up and down trios of stairs, my hand gripping a side hold lest I plummet onto the cement.

For the sportsman, there was even a ice fishing house/camper. Remove the lids and drop your line into the water on a frozen lake.

For the sportsman, there was even a ice fishing house/camper. Remove the lids and drop your line into the water on a frozen lake.

For one thing I was especially grateful. Not a single salesman approached us. So we didn’t have to feign interest in something that didn’t interest us beyond abating our curiosity.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An innovative plan to promote literacy at a rural Minnesota library August 19, 2015

This shows plans for the custom-designed Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

This shows plans for the Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

IN MY HOME COUNTY OF REDWOOD on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the Redwood Falls Public Library is planning to construct an Outdoor Early Literacy Area themed to agriculture and camping.

The elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, just to the south of my brother's place.

A soybean field and the grain elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

I love this idea of combining literacy and outdoor play. And the themes are perfect for this community. Even though kids in Redwood County live in the heart of Minnesota farm country, that doesn’t mean they are familiar with farming. This is just one more way to keep Minnesota’s farm heritage strong, by teaching youngsters the importance of agriculture in a way that’s hands-on creative.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Redwood Falls is also a camping oasis of sorts with Alexander Ramsey Park, known as the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota.” The park is a surprise of woods, hills, river valley and waterfalls in this county of small towns and cropland. The camping aspect will instill an appreciation of the outdoors and recreation in this place of prairie and sky.

Geared for children up to age seven, the outdoor literary area aims to achieve seven goals, Library Director Teri Smith shares in an email:

  • Encourage a love of literacy in a developmentally appropriate environment.
  • Incorporate a love of reading, print awareness, letter knowledge, sound awareness, vocabulary, and narrative skills and comprehension in joyful play.
  • Cultivate literacy in a relevant way (using known objects and activities relevant to southwestern Minnesota).
  • Encourage families and young children to spend more time at the library.
  • Encourage play in learning.
  • Encourage play in nature.
  • Encourage a love of learning at an early age and throughout a lifetime.
Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

So how, exactly, will that happen? Young families can check out pretend produce, eggs, fishing equipment and even numbered and lettered fish from the library to use outdoors. And, as they play, the kids will learn about healthy living and agriculture and acquire literacy skills. The children’s librarian will model play and interactions in the outdoor space, Smith says. The library also hopes to tap into Reading Corps volunteers.

A place like this is needed, says Smith, because few areas exist in this rural community for young families to gather and enjoy one another’s company while learning valuable literacy and social skills.

Already, the library has raised some two-thirds of the $100,000 needed for the outdoor literacy area. An astounding nearly $51,000 has come in the form of 12 grants (one is a materials donation of fencing) ranging from $250 – $20,000, all sought by Smith. The largest of the grants came from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Two $10,000 grants also were awarded by the Schmidt Foundation and the Minnesota Legacy fund. Smith is awaiting word on several other grants and donations.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

And, as I would expect in a rural area, local individuals, organizations and businesses have also given their generous financial support to the project.

Smith has also established an online fundraising site at YouCaring. About a month remains to meet that $10,000 fundraising goal.

The popularity of a Minnesota Children’s Museum traveling Storyland exhibit which came to Redwood Falls inspired library staff to consider a permanent outdoor literacy-based play space. If all goes as planned, the custom-designed farming and camping themed play area should be under construction in the spring of 2016.

FYI: If you missed my post yesterday on Sibley Farm inside Mankato’s Sibley Park, click here. It’s another great example of how southern Minnesota is connecting kids to the region’s strong agricultural heritage and base.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Riding out a storm in a camper along Lake Minnewaska August 3, 2011

A MONTH AGO, soon after my cousin Marilyn Schmidt and her husband, Dan, arrived at Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood, their daughter Heather Rokeh called with news that a storm had just swept through the Marshall area.

That was late Friday afternoon, July 1. The Schmidts would return to their farm 17 miles northeast of Marshall to find their home and outbuildings damaged by an EF-1 tornado.

A July 1 tornado caused this damage to the Schmidts' shop on their Wood Lake area farm. Eave troughs were ripped from their house and damage done to the roof and siding.

Fast forward a month to this past weekend, when the Schmidts gathered for a family camp-out at Waska Wood in Long Beach along the north side of Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood. Marilyn and Dan were the only two family members still at the lake when a storm rolled in around 7:30 a.m. Monday, August 1.

Unlike an earlier summer storm at the lake, when they had adequate warning and time to seek safety in a nearby shelter, this time the couple had only a moment’s notice—no warning siren—and no time to reach the shelter.

“We saw that we were suddenly in a warning to take cover on TV,” Marilyn says. “The wind hit hard and fast, lasting about one hour. It was scary as we were stuck to ride it out (in their new camper purchased on July 1 and delivered two weeks ago). The branches were flying and soon the trees were snapping and uprooting. We had a large cottonwood uproot behind our camper which fell next to our camper. We felt and heard the thump and the branches brush the trailer.”

The tree that fell behind the Schmidts' camper.

Marilyn, that would scare the you-know-what out of me, too. Last summer I rode out a storm packing 70 mph winds along Redwood County Road 5 north of Walnut Grove and that was scary enough, without the falling trees. You can read about that frightening experience by clicking here.

But back to the extended Schmidt family and their experience: Several of their campers were damaged with a tree crushing the front of one, holes punched into the roof on another with rainwater flooding the interior, and windows and deck rails broken.

A hole punched in a camper roof.

A broken bedroom window in a camper.

Despite all the damage, Marilyn’s daughter Heather says, “I’m just so thankful no one was hurt in all of these storms. I thank the good Lord everyday that he keeps us safe.”

Once the winds subsided, the Schmidts emerged from their camper to check on other park residents and to survey the damage. Trees were down everywhere with power lines. Mobile summer homes in the park next door were totaled by the storm. Boats and docks were ravaged.

That’s when Marilyn decided they should drive into Glenwood to buy a rake and help with clean up. They drove through a flooded State Highway 29, with the aid of a Minnesota Department of Transportation pilot car, into town. Glenwood was a mess with trees and power lines down everywhere, she says, and streets teeming with rescue and utility crews, plows and fire trucks.

Upon returning to the campground, the couple worked side by side with other campers cleaning up brush and debris. “I find it remarkable the resilience of people to quickly get to work and clean up everything,” Marilyn says. “…people were telling stories about how they took the storm. Some were emotional and in shock that such a storm would hit so soon again.” The storm a month earlier, with 80 mph winds and heavy rain, also caused significant damage.

Says Heather: “How unlucky can we all get? Seriously!”

I don’t know, Heather. A storm on July 1. A storm on August 1. If I were you, I’d keep a close eye on the sky come September 1.

PHOTOS BY MIKAYLA SALFER

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling