Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When torrential rains cause major flooding in my home region of southwestern Minnesota July 4, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, my friends. I hope this finds you celebrating your freedom in a fun way.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta earlier this spring. That’s my home farm in the distance. I expect the flooding is much worse now. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In my home region of southwestern Minnesota, where I was supposed to be yesterday and today with extended family, residents are cleaning up after heavy rainfall flooded the region. Flash flooding resulted in water in basements (and higher), road wash-outs and closures, mudslides, swamped farm fields, overflowing rivers and more. That includes in my home county of Redwood. And the communities of Wabasso (where I graduated from high school) and Vesta (my hometown).

After a flurry of texts between me and my five siblings and lots of online searching yesterday, Randy and I decided not to risk the trip into the flooded region. Although I second-guessed our decision multiple times, it was the right one. This morning floodwaters flowed across a section of US highway 14 east of Lamberton, our route to and from my middle brother’s rural acreage just north of that small town. Likewise I expect the rising Cottonwood River has flooded a county road within a mile of our destination.

Some roads have collapsed in Redwood and Renville counties. I don’t trust the structural integrity of any road covered with water. The Redwood County Sheriff’s Department issued this statement on Facebook early yesterday morning:

We have had numerous (reports) of water covering the roadways. Please DO NOT drive on any roadway that has water running over it. MN DOT and Redwood County highway departments are doing the best they can do get these roads blocked off to warn motorists.

 

A combine similar to this was moved from a Tracy dealership onto Highway 14. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One of the most creative road blocks happened in Tracy where crews parked a massive John Deere combine across Highway 14 to keep traffic off the flooded roadway.

 

This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In Wabasso, which got 11 inches of rain within 12 hours, a resident noted on social media that the white rabbit was safe from floodwaters. He was referencing an over-sized rabbit sculpture along State Highway 68. Wabasso means “white rabbit” and is the local school mascot.

It’s good to find humor in a difficult situation, in an area where residents endured another round of rain this Fourth of July morning.

To those who live in my native southwestern Minnesota (and that includes many family and friends), I am sorry you are experiencing this major flooding. Please be safe.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

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Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documenting Faribault’s latest flood, the third since 2010 September 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:55 PM
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Locals are drawn under the viaduct that links the west and east side of Faribault during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs

Locals are drawn under the viaduct Thursday evening during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs over its banks. A flood warning continues until 5 a.m. Friday.

 

THE SCENES ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR.

 

The water has risen so high that the Cannon River dam is no longer visible next to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

The dam no longer visible.

 

 

A line of sandbags protect the mill operation and retail store along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Sandbags stacked outside the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

Police tape runs along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Police tape.

Several blocks of Second Avenue by the Cannon River are closed.

Several blocks of Second Avenue from Faribault Foods (left), past the Woolen Mill (right) to Caseys General Store were closed. The street runs past the Cannon River.

Roads barricaded.

Onlookers gather at the bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

The bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

And locals gathered by the dozens to document the scenes, to see how the mighty Cannon and Straight Rivers have once again overflowed their banks.

 

This Twin Cities news crew, parked near the Rice County Fairgrounds entry Thursday evening, was filming at the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

A Twin Cities TV crew comes, too, pulled by the current of a news story.

 

Locals headed across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

Locals head across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

 

While the gawkers gawk, the sun draws a slim line of gold between grey clouds and glassy water.

 

Three police vehicles pulled into the Faribault Foods parking lot to check on folks checking out the flooded river along Second Avenue.

 

Police and firefighters watch the river watchers.

 

The Straight River rages toward the Faribault wastewater treatment plant.

 

Blocks away the Straight River churns muddy brown, raging under the bridge near the wastewater treatment plant.

 

A hastily built berm and sandbags protect the treatment plant.

 

Truckers haul dirt to construct a make-shift temporary berm protecting this city infrastructure.

 

During past floods, there have been issues with the sewer system.

As in past floods, the city has had to deal with sewer issues. This scene is by South Alexander Park.

Memories of the September 2010 and June 2014 floods linger.

 

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight river close to downtown.

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight River close to downtown.

I’ve walked these roads, these sidewalks, these parking lots, this grass before, documenting the flooding.

 

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River.

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River near the Faribault Woolen Mill.

Still the scenes pull me here, into the quiet of an autumn night for the third flood in seven years.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dealing with flooding in Faribault

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:51 AM
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Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River in this June 2014 file photo. A similar scene is unfolding today.

AS I WRITE, SANDBAGGING is underway at Faribault’s historic woolen mill along the banks of the rising Cannon River.

At noon, the Faribault City Council will meet during an emergency session to declare a State of Emergency in my community. That allows the city to deal immediately with flooding caused by heavy rainfall.

The City of Faribault has issued an emergency alert, ordering motorists not to drive through or around barricades. With two rivers—the Straight and the Cannon—running through town, there are major flooding concerns.

We’ve seen this all before, in September 2010 and in June 2014. My community appears ready as we continue under a flood warning through tonight.

Be safe wherever you are/travel in flooded Minnesota today.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota festivals weather the weather June 19, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:11 PM
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JASON REHER, WHO VOLUNTEERS on the Faribault Heritage Days Committee, seemed a bit worried Wednesday evening. And rightly so.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about this concerns.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about his weather worries. Photo by Randy Helbling.

With more rain in the forecast and the City of Faribault in a declared State of Emergency due to flooding potential, he wondered whether festival events would need to be canceled or moved. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton this afternoon declared a State of Emergency for 35 Minnesota counties including my county of Rice and neighboring Steele, Waseca and Le Sueur counties. This declaration makes state resources available to areas of the state in need of assistance and “engages state agencies in response efforts.”

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags are in place at the Faribault Woolen Mill which sits along the Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. This was shot Wednesday evening.

Already the riverside Faribault Woolen Mill canceled its Heritage Days tours because of the rising Cannon River and the need for sandbagging its property. And Saturday’s Kids’ Fishing Contest at the King Mill Dam has been postponed until July 12 due to dangerous high water. (Click here to read my earlier post about flood prep in Faribault. River levels have actually dropped some since Wednesday evening but started to rise again Thursday morning as steady rains resumed.)

I'd bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday's competition.

A racer in the 2012 Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Saturday, Reher said, is the “make it or break it” day for the fest with a lengthy list of activities that range from tours to music to a soap box derby, fun run, garden tractor pull and more capped by the 6:30 p.m. parade. He was already tossing around the possibility of moving the parade route, which follows Second Avenue. A portion of that city street bridges the rising Cannon River.

Despite his concerns, Reher seemed hopeful at the Wednesday evening Heritage Days opening ceremony that the rain will stop and the sun will shine this weekend.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

Let’s hope, because this weekend is packed with area festivals and events, like my community’s Heritage Days, Straight River Days in neighboring Medford and the Arts by the River fest in Mankato’s Riverfront Park along the banks of the Minnesota River. Mankato has experienced lots of problems associated with mega rains, resulting in mud slides, closed roads and more. The downtown is protected by a flood wall.

In Medford, just to the south of Faribault, the City Council meets this evening for the purpose of declaring a State of Emergency in this Straight Riverside community. The volunteer fire department put out a call yesterday for locals to fill sandbags and build walls. As of now, this small town’s annual Straight River Days weekend celebration is still on with events subject to change due to the flooding river.

Locally, Faribault Area Hospice is celebrating 30 years of service with a free outdoor bluegrass concert by Monroe Crossing at River Bend Nature Center at 3 p.m. Sunday. Floodwaters and downed trees have closed numerous trails in the nature center. Should the venue and weather necessitate, the concert will be held at the American Legion. In past floods, the Legion has also been closed off because of flooding.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker” at the Old Stone Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Nearby, but indoors not out, the Old Stone Church is holding its annual worship service in this historic Norwegian church 2.3 miles southwest of Kenyon along Monkey Valley road at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday to the south also in rural Kenyon, Moland Lutheran Church celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival with a delicious meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cake, locally-grown strawberries, ice cream and beverages. There’s a bake sale, too.

Whatever you do this weekend, don’t sit at home. Get out and enjoy. Rain or shine.

FYI: Click here for more information about Heritage Days.

Click here to read a past post about the Old Stone Church and the Moland Strawberry Festival.

Click here to learn about Arts by the River.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

WEDNESDAY EVENING I WAS AMONG those honored at the Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony in Central Park. By default (mine was the only entry), I earned first place in the “personal heritage” category of the event’s first-ever photo contest with an image from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

My photograph shows children during a pinata breaking. It is one of my favorite photos from that international celebration for the perspective and the content. The image shows the many cultures of Faribault, particularly fitting for Heritage Days.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

That photograph and the two other entries (in the landscape/wildlife/historic views portion of the competition) will be showcased at Central Park during Heritage Days and then at Paul Swenson Photography (327 Central Avenue North), contest sponsor.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flood prep underway in Faribault June 18, 2014

Early Thursday evening along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, clouds build to the west.

Early Wednesday evening along the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, rain clouds build to the west.

FARIBAULT HOLDS ITS COLLECTIVE breath Wednesday evening as grey clouds hang heavy over this southeastern Minnesota city, once again threatening rain.

Co-honorary parade grand marshall Roy Anderson addresses the crowd at the opening of Heritage Days.

Co-honorary parade grand marshal Roy Anderson addresses the crowd at the opening of Heritage Days.

At Central Park, where the annual Heritage Days celebration kicks off with an opening ceremony, Mayor John Jasinski cuts short his welcome. He’s got more serious matters on his mind—tending to a community where a State of Emergency was declared Wednesday morning.

The rising Cannon River along Second Avenue nearly skims the bridge. Faribault Foods is in the background and the Faribault Woolen Mill is to the right.

The rising Cannon River along Second Avenue nearly skims the bridge. Faribault Foods is in the background and the Faribault Woolen Mill is to the right. This is near the Rice County Fairgrounds along a major roadway through the city.

The waters of the Straight and Cannon rivers, which run through town, are rising. And the city is preparing for possible flooding, with reminders of the September 2010 flash flood ever present.

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

At the Faribault Woolen Mill, Heritage Days tours have been canceled with the focus instead on sandbagging and protecting the historic building that sits along the Cannon River.

Photographing the rising Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible.

Photographing the rising Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. Typically, the river does flow against the rear of the mill.

Locals flock to Father Slevin Park, next to the Cannon, next to the Woolen Mill, Wednesday evening to photograph the scene. The Cannon River dam is no longer visible.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags hold down a pipe at the Faribault Woolen Mill factory and retail store.

Sandbags hold down a pipe at the Faribault Woolen Mill factory and retail store.

An overview of the Cannon River, looking south from Father Slevin Park to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

An overview of the Cannon River, looking southeast from Father Slevin Park to the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Several layers of sandbags rim the parking lot next to the factory store.

Sandbags also protect Faribault Foods.

Sandbags also protect Faribault Foods.

Straight River floodwaters block access to a Faribault Foods loading dock.

Straight River floodwaters block access to a Faribault Foods loading dock.

Sandbags border the door to bean receiving at Faribault Foods.

Sandbags border the door to bean receiving at Faribault Foods.

Directly across Second Avenue, sandbags likewise protect Faribault Foods. Behind the canning company, the rising Straight River has already blocked access to loading docks. Other doors are also barricaded with plastic-covered sandbags.

Working to protect the city's wastewater plant, which sits along the Straight River.

Working to protect the city’s wastewater plant, which sits along the Straight River.

The entry to the city's treatment plant.

The entry to the city’s treatment plant.

Just down the road, at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a steady flow of dump trucks enter and exit the facility, presumably delivering sand. Sandbags are already in place here.

Sandbag central.

Sandbag central.

Near the Faribault American Legion, just a block off the historic downtown, workers shovel sand into bags at the city’s sandbag central. Road closed signs are at the ready.

The Straight River has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and churns here toward the Highway 60 viaduct connecting the east and west sides of Faribault.

The Straight River has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and churns here toward the Highway 60 viaduct connecting the east and west sides of Faribault.

Flooded Teepee Tonka Park.

Flooded Teepee Tonka Park.

Across the Straight River in Teepee Tonka Park, the bridge into the park is blocked and the river rushes in a frenzy.

The bridge into Teepee Tonka Park is partially flooded and thus closed.

The bridge into Teepee Tonka Park is partially flooded and thus closed.

Onlookers step across police tape to photograph the scene—until the cops cruise up and advise that “the tape is there for a reason.” They don’t want anyone tumbling into the muddy, raging waters.

Police arrive to protect the curious public at Teepee Tonka Park.

Police arrive to check out the situation at Teepee Tonka Park.

Darkness falls and Faribault waits.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling