Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An October afternoon at Dunton Locks County Park October 24, 2019

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A stunning autumn scene sets the backdrop for this dock at Dunton Locks County Park, rural Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.


OCTOBER MARKS ONE of those months when we Minnesotans feel the need to get outdoors as often as possible, to take in the autumnal hues, the sunny skies, the measured days of light and warmth. Too soon winter arrives and all the glories of October become but a memory.





In recent weeks, I’ve added pages to my autumn memories via viewing vistas of landscapes turning from green to the oranges, reds, yellows and browns of the season. Like at Dunton Locks County Park outside Detroit Lakes. It’s a lovely place just a short drive south of this northwestern Minnesota city. Here trees hug shorelines and trails lead through dense woods.





On the late Wednesday afternoon of our visit, lots of folks enjoyed the park on a particularly glorious day. A woman fished. A guy gazed toward the water from the bridge spanning the rapids linking Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle. A kindergartner and her mom collected colored leaves. A young family—new baby girl bundled against Mom and second son riding atop Dad’s shoulders while oldest son ran ahead—hiked in this park within a mile of their home.





There’s something about being outdoors on a beautiful day that brings us all together to appreciate the simple things in life. A sunny day. Crunch of drying leaves underfoot. The sound and rush of water roaring over rocks. The overwhelming feeling of gratitude for living in a place like Minnesota where we have easy access to public parks, where open space is abundant and where, on an autumn afternoon, folks delight in the beauty of this land.




Rails for a mechanical boat tram run across the grass between two lakes at the park. The tram operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day and transports boats between Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering Detroit Lakes January 17, 2019


IN THE WANING DAYS of October into the early days of November, Randy and I headed four hours northwest to Detroit Lakes, a Minnesota hotbed vacation spot in the summer and early fall. Not in late autumn. But friends offered us the opportunity to stay at a lakeside condo timeshare—something we’ve never done—and we accepted. It was exactly what we needed, to get away to a quiet spot in the off-season, to explore a place we’d never been, to take a break from the routine of life.


Randy, outside our lakeside condo.


A pair of trumpeter swans takes flight at sunset.



Despite the cold, we walked along the beach. We delighted in the water fowl, including elegant trumpeting Trumpeter Swans cavorting in the lake outside our condo. We appreciated the peace of not hearing a single emergency vehicle siren during our three-day stay.


I love thrift stores, this one in downtown Detroit Lakes.


We popped into the Historic Holmes Theatre in a former school building.


Local shops drew us in as did the arts center. We picked up fudge and double chocolate malted milk balls at the candy store.

On three evenings we dined out, a treat for us justified by the low cost of our three-night stay.


Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.


We even participated in 1 ½ rounds of Trivia Night at a local pizza place. Randy endured an accusing glare from a local after reading a text message from our daughter during the competition. He was not cheating, proven by our mostly all incorrect answers.


The waterfall at Dunton Locks County Park south of Detroit Lakes.


An example of the beautiful pottery created by Mary Laabs at Dunton Locks Pottery.


Unfortunately, many of the sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes had already been moved indoors and out-of-sight for the winter.


We hiked in a county park and stopped at a pottery place and searched for elusive sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes.

Now, months out from that mini-vacation and already in the depths of a Minnesota winter, I remember those days in Detroit Lakes with fondness. And gratitude to those friends who gave us the opportunity to stay in a place on the lake where, bonus, I could even binge-watch HGTV. (By way of explanation, we get only a few TV channels at home and one is not HGTV.)


Check back for more from Detroit Lakes.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


For the love of reading: Little Library opens in Faribault November 10, 2011

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault

GROWING UP on a farm in rural southwestern Minnesota, all I ever really desired in my hometown was a library, a place where I could check out books and then read to my heart’s content.

Today Vesta, population around 340, still doesn’t have a library, although the bookmobile stops along the one-block Main Street once a month.

Fortunately I have, for nearly 30 years, lived within blocks of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. I go there often as did my three children, all of whom possess a deep passion for reading.

Just like Joan Smith of Faribault.

Joan, a member of the Rice County Library Board, loves reading and books so much—she can’t pass up a bookstore—that she and husband Dale have opened a library, in their front yard on Faribault’s south side.

As part of a growing world-wide “Little Free Library” movement, this retired couple decided, when encouraged by fellow book lover and library board member Pat Rice, to start a free library.

Dale, known for the log cabin style birdhouses he crafts and sells, had the skills to build the little library. The Smiths sized up books before deciding on the dimensions of 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep.

I counted 31 books in the Smiths' Little Library when I stopped to photograph it. "We all find ourselves with too many books," Joan says. "We need a place to share them." Her place is a Little Library.

That's the Smiths' house to the right at 825 Sixth Ave. SW. Feel free to knock on the door to drop off books, ask questions or thank them. Or simply drop by, open the library plexiglass door and take and/or leave a book.

Shortly before Halloween, the Little Library, situated atop a post at Joan’s eye level and within about a foot of the Fifth and Sixth Avenues Southwest sidewalk intersection, opened. (And, yes, folks, I got that right; two avenues do intersect by the Smiths’ house at 825 Sixth Avenue Southwest.)

Detailed with doors, windows and shutters, the Little Library stands at the intersection of Fifth Ave. S.W. and Sixth Ave. S.W. Here's a back view of the library Dale built.

Joan gushes over a project that shares her passion for reading and which she hopes will get others excited about reading and using the local public library.

“It’s (Little Library) another step toward reading and becoming a lover of books,” she enthuses.

Joan enjoys books, always has, ever since she was a young child living in Mankato, the childhood home of author Maud Hart Lovelace. Her mother read Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series to Joan as well as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Later, when the family settled in the Faribault area, Joan attended a country school with less than two dozen old books on a library shelf. But her mother took her to Buckham Memorial Library, a place with plenty of books.

Joan understands the importance of reading to success in education. Although few children live in her neighborhood, Joan encourages her neighbors to grab a book from the Little Library when the grandchildren visit. She also wants the Faribault community to know: “This is for everybody and you’re welcome to come.” Already, those outside the neighborhood are stopping at the library.

It’s a library without rules or library cards. Take a book. Take a book and leave a book. Leave a book. Whatever works, Joan doesn’t care as long as people are reading.

You never know what books you'll find in the Little Library. Joan says she momentarily panicked after spotting a book with a library label. Turns out the donated book was a library discard.

She’s stocked the Little Library with books gathered from her home and from family members: mysteries and westerns, easy-reader children’s books and picture books, classics and the popular vampire series for teens and, well, whatever Joan collects, buys or no longer needs.

And, yes, the Smiths are accepting donations to their library. They’ve been asked, “What if everyone starts bringing you books?”

“That wouldn’t be a problem,” Joan responds. If she can’t use the books in their library, she’ll donate them wherever they are needed.

Dale Smith is open to considering requests to build little libraries. But the couple encourages interested individuals to construct their own libraries. (Dale’s pretty busy with that birdhouse building.)

Joan hopes their Little Library in southwest Faribault inspires others to open mini libraries and to read, yes, to read.

The Little Library is located right next to the sidewalk in the Smiths' front yard.

A front view of the Little Library looking toward Fifth Avenue Southwest.

FYI: Click here to visit littlefreelibrary.org for details on this library movement, including locations of existing libraries and how to start your own.

The website lists the following Little Free Library sites in Minnesota:

If you know of a Little Free Library in your neighborhood or plan to open one, submit a comment. I’d like to hear.

I’D LIKE TO CHALLENGE the residents of Vesta to start a Little Free Library. How about in or near the Vesta Cafe? Make my dream of a library in my hometown come true. I’ll even bring some books for the library the next time I’m “back home.”

Main Street Vesta and the Vesta Cafe, perhaps the perfect spot for a Little Free Library.

And I was thinking… maybe I should open a Little Free Library. I live along a well-traveled street in Faribault with lots of kids in the neighborhood. I love books, love to read…  Say, Dale, are you up to building another library?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling