Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From the 70s to today, caring about Earth September 12, 2022

A massive wind turbine at Faribault Energy Park dwarfs my husband, Randy, walking near it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

COMING OF AGE in the early 1970s, I held a general awareness of environmental concerns. A respect for the earth and the environment was beginning to emerge as young people and others raised their voices.

Cattails flourish in the park wetlands. Restoration, rather than draining, of wetlands is the norm today. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I remember the anti-littering campaigns. The concerns about water and air pollution. The efforts to limit billboards. I recall, too, Earth Shoes, although I’m uncertain what that footwear had to do with anything environmental.

This trail leads to the wind turbine, a teaching tool inside Faribault Energy Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Perhaps previous generations cared, too, but it seems the young people of the 70s started a new environmental movement that pushed personal and societal responsibilities in caring for our planet. Those efforts continue today, but with additional focuses: climate change, alternative energy, electric-powered vehicles and more. Today’s young adults are among those leading the way in discussions and effective change.

I grow milkweeds in my Faribault yard. I photographed this milkweed flower with an unknown insect atop at the energy park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such hope. Within my own family circle, my eldest daughter and son-in-law compost food and bio-degradable paper products. My son owns an e-bike, not a car, his primary mode of transportation between his Indiana apartment and Purdue University. We recycle, donate or give away items we no longer need. Every little bit helps. My young granddaughter wears hand-me-downs from her cousins. Just like her mother before her, whom I outfitted primarily via rummage sale purchases.

Unlike this dead frog flattened on a road at the energy park, thrifting/recycling/upcycling is very much alive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Thrifting is in vogue. I recently spoke with a shop owner in Northfield who said local college students flock to her antiques and collectibles store to buy vintage clothing from one particular vendor.

Solar panels inside the park focus on alternative energy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Across the Minnesota countryside, solar fields are replacing crop fields. Wind turbines are popping up, too, adding to those that have been around for decades.

Bold red berries burst color into the park’s landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It makes a difference—these seemingly small and big changes. A shift in attitudes with a new-found appreciation for our natural world can preserve, and hopefully, improve this place we call home.

A sign posted inside Faribault Energy Park lays out the rules. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Faribault Energy Park, owned and managed by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, aims to model environmental responsibility and innovation, according to its website. The power plant is a dual-fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility which runs only during periods of high demand for electricity.

Dirt roads wind around two ponds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Although I’ve never been inside this power plant (tours are offered, primarily to schools), I’ve walked the grounds many times. The MMPA created a public park here on its 35 acres of wetlands. I love following the dirt roads that wind around ponds. And while it’s not the most peaceful place given the location along busy Interstate 35, the park still holds an appeal for me.

Beauty even in a thistle growing along pond’s edge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On this particular visit, I didn’t see any waterfowl, unusual, but perhaps not due to avian influenza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

One of many birds observed inside the park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That enjoyment comes in vegetation—cattails, flowers, trees, grasses—and in the birds, including waterfowl.

Anglers fish this pond next to the Faribault Energy Park power plant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Other visitors fish here, in the large pond next to the power plant. This is also an educational grounds with a massive wind turbine and a stand of solar panels in place.

I especially like walking this park around sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Combined, these elements remind me that I cannot take the natural world for granted, that I need to be environmentally-aware, that I need to do my part to protect and preserve Earth. I continue to learn, some 50 years after an awareness sparked within me that I really ought to care about this planet on a personal level.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning about the Wahpekute in Faribault September 2, 2022

Signage marks an entry to Wapacuta Park near my Faribault home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FOR 38 YEARS I’VE LIVED in the same house, “the Swanson house,” along Willow Street in Faribault. Just below Wapacuta Park, blocks from the home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Wednesday evening I learned information about the park up the hill, about my neighborhood, which left me feeling unsettled and troubled, but newly-informed.

This shows just a small section of Wapacuta Park, shelter in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The park atop the hill, according to Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, was used by the Wahpekute, one of the seven “Council Fires” of the Dakota Nation, for honoring their dead. Not for final burial of their loved ones in this place which now houses a picnic shelter, playground, disc golf course and basketball courts, but rather for the construction of scaffolding to temporarily hold the deceased. Letters and other documents verify the placement of the scaffolding in Wapacuta (incorrectly spelled) Park.

I had no idea. No idea at all that this hilltop land held such importance in the lives, and deaths, of these Indigenous Peoples who called Rice County home long before French Canadians and others settled here.

Peace Park, where Wahpekute were buried, is located near Buckham Memorial Library in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The monument in Peace Park honors those who served in WW II. There is no mention that this slice of land is a Wahpekute burial site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The WW II monument at Peace Park. That’s Willow Street running aside the park. The area across the road is being cleared for apartments and senior housing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But Garwood shared even more unknown-to-me information. After a year, the bodies of the Wahpekute were removed from the scaffolding to a nearby burial spot. That’s the current day Peace Park, located near the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60, Division Street and Willow Street by Buckham Memorial Library. The site, she said, is considered a cemetery, confirmed many decades ago by the discovery of bones wrapped in bark and hide. There were 14 burial mounds and sacred sites in the county, according to Garwood, who said this is closely-guarded information known to historians.

To learn all of this proved enlightening and left me wondering how many others are unaware. And what can be done to raise awareness and respect? Garwood asked the same question during her public presentation on “The Indigenous History of the land that is now Rice County, Minnesota.” She was the first presenter in a new endeavor, the Faribault Diversity Coalition Speaker Series, which will introduce those who call/called Faribault home through these monthly speaking events at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This was part of an outdoor art installment at Bridge Square during Northfield’s Earth Day celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Near the end of her hour-plus-long talk followed by questions and comments, Garwood encouraged attendees to remember and acknowledge the Wahpekute, who are still here. She referenced a Land Acknowledgment Statement and “Eagle Relatives” sculpture now in place in neighboring Northfield. She also mentioned efforts underway to honor the culture, history and places of the Wahpekute in Faribault. She encouraged all of us to become informed, to educate ourselves, to listen to the stories of Indigenous Peoples.

These first peoples lived in harmony with nature, with the land, Garwood noted. Life changed when fur traders came to the area and a dependency grew as the Wahpekute traded for goods that would make their lives easier. The US-Dakota War of 1862, centered to the west in Redwood, Renville and Brown counties, brought more change, including the loss of life, land and relocation for Indigenous Peoples. That aspect of Garwood’s talk was familiar to me given I grew up in Redwood County.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this artwork gracing the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

She talked, too, about Alexander Faribault and Bishop Henry Whipple and how they befriended and helped the Dakota. Faribault, after the 1862 war, offered land he owned (today River Bend Nature Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind) as an “Indian Camp,” Garwood said. Sixty-five Wahpekute from 12 families lived there.

Peace Park is located at a major Faribault intersection. The Alexander Faribault house can be seen in the background, just to the right of the red-roofed gas canopies at the local co-op and behind the hedge row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Garwood focused primarily on the Wahpekute, the first people of Rice County, the “Shooters Among the Leaves.” They were, she said, hunters and gatherers who did not work the land but rather moved from place to place to find food, to sustain themselves. Every lake in the county was home to a Wahpekute village, she said. Rivers, too. Teepee Tonka Park along the banks of the Straight River in Faribault was among their riverside homes. Not far from Peace Park. Not far from Wapacuta Park. Near my home.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“A quiet place to be” in Mission Township August 31, 2022

Looking skyward at Mission Park, where slim, towering pines are prevalent. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

MISSION PARK IN MISSION TOWNSHIP, “a quiet place to be” north of Merrifield in the Brainerd lakes region, rates as a favorite hiking spot when I’m at the lake. The extended family cabin is conveniently located about two miles away.

At the end of a grassy trail, the woods open to a pollinator garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I enjoy walking here along the 3/4-mile paved trail that winds primarily through the woods. Grassy paths are another option, but I typically keep to the hard surface, with one exception. That deviation is the grassy route leading to an open field Pollinator Habitat.

Milkweeds fill the prairie garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

A dragonfly clings to a stalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I’ve always loved the dusky hue of the milkweed flower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Last trip to the cabin in early July, Randy and I discovered the field of milkweeds and other pollinator-attracting plants pulsing with dragonflies. I’ve always delighted in dragonflies—how they flit, their translucent wings beautiful to behold.

Dragonflies up close are a study in intricacy and beauty. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But dragonflies also pause, giving photographers like me ample opportunity to photograph them up close. To see and capture details of webbed wings, of hairy legs, of bulging eyes…proves rewarding, amazing, wondrous. This insect is so intricate.

The lone Monarch caterpillar I spotted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I noticed, too, a chunky Monarch caterpillar descending a milkweed stalk. Milkweed is a host plant of the caterpillar which will eventually form a chrysalis and later emerge as a Monarch butterfly, now considered an endangered species.

A wide view of the Pollinator Habitat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Days later, I led the way back to the Pollinator Habitat to show my granddaughter, her little brother and parents the dragonfly haven. The insects were not as abundant and the crew was less than impressed, especially when Randy discovered a wood tick on his leg. Not a deer tick, but the common wood tick which I am quite familiar with as is Randy. We both grew up on farms and wood ticks were a natural part of our outdoor summer adventures.

Marc, left to right, Isaac and Randy head out of the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The six of us quickly exited the pollinator patch right after Randy’s revelation, which he should have kept to himself.

Every time I’m here, I discover a different fungi in the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I had hoped to walk along the paved trail to show everyone the massive orange mushroom I spotted previously. But, instead, we headed back to the park’s main recreational area.

The grandkids loved the new playground equipment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Mission Park offers plenty of play space for those who prefer to stay off grassy trails into the woods. Like new playground equipment.

A spacious pavilion among the pines, next to the playground, provides a place to gather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Other recreational options abound with several pickleball courts, disc golf, a ball field, tennis courts, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts. A pavilion offers shelter for outdoor dining. Noticeably missing are bathrooms. There are outhouses, though, with which I am also familiar having used one for the first 11 years of my life.

Thistles flourish in the Pollinator Habitat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I appreciate the forward thinking of the good folks of Mission Township who, in 1959, purchased 39 acres for $1 with the intent of maintaining the natural beauty of the land and making it available for recreational use.

Ferns, one of my favorite plants, grow wild in the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2020)

This “quiet place to be” has quickly become a favorite nearby place to explore whenever I’m at Jon and Rosie’s lake cabin.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Richter Woods, rural Montgomery October 19, 2021

Richter Woods County Park and the on-site barn in LeSueur County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

EACH DAY OF SUNSHINE and warmth this late in October in Minnesota presents as a gift. We long-time Minnesotans understand that and celebrate. One less day of winter. One less day of cold and snow when the season of autumn extends. The recent weather has proven simply glorious.

Richter Woods Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Late last week Randy took two days off work to savor these final days of autumn. And while we didn’t travel far, we delighted in nearby discoveries. We got a late start on Thursday, catching up on some much-needed rest. So we stayed close to home, aiming for western Rice County into LeSueur County.

Trees line both sides of the gravel road leading to Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Eventually, we landed at Richter Woods County Park 1.5 miles west of Montgomery. I’d heard of the park, but had yet to visit.

The hilly countryside near Trondjhem Church, rural Lonsdale. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We followed the slow-paced route there along mostly back country gravel roads.

An unexpected sighting of two swans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We paused once so I could photograph a pair of swans gliding across a small lake.

An aged barn along a gravel road. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I photographed, too, a weathered barn with fieldstone foundation. I often wonder how long barns will remain a landmark of our rural landscape. I feel an urgency to document their existence before roofs cave, boards rot, and only foundations remain.

A playground sits next to Richter Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

At 80-acre Richter Woods, a mammoth barn looms, centering the park gathering space. The barn is available to rent for $75/day from April-October. With a spacious loft and main level, the barn offers plenty of room for events like weddings, reunions and much more.

Looking up to the haymow. Trees shadow the barn door. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I couldn’t access the locked barn. But I could envision the interior, especially the haymow with its curved wood frame. Many bridal couples covet rustic settings like this. I wonder whether many have discovered this barn circled by woods in the quiet countryside near Montgomery.

A splash of red/pink flowers bloom on a bush next to the green barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As much as I appreciated the barn, I couldn’t get over the forest green color. I longed to see that barn in red, a historically-accurate hue. I expect others, too, have wondered at the unusual color choice. As a photographer, I find a red barn much more visually-pleasing.

One of two trails we took into Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
No maps in this mailbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
There are lots of picnic tables on-site, some nice, others not so much. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Before pulling out our picnic lunch to dine near the barn, Randy and I stretched our legs. We followed a leaf-strewn dirt trail into the woods with no map to guide us. The on-site mailbox was without the promised maps.

Maple leaves galore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Maple leaves, especially, blanket the earth.

Looking up toward the colorful tree canopy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In a few spots, I looked overhead to a canopy of red and yellow trees set against the deep blue sky of October.

A recently-sawed tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We noticed, too, the many rotting and recently-sawed trees, I felt inwardly thankful for an afternoon without strong winds to possibly topple dead trees, loose branches.

Mushrooms on a fallen tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mushrooms thrive in decay.

Loving the graceful curve of the barn roof. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mostly, though, I noticed the peace. The quiet. I feel incredibly grateful to have access to natural settings like Richter Woods County Park. And I feel grateful, too, to live in this decidedly rural region of Minnesota within an hour of downtown Minneapolis. I feel grateful for gravel roads to follow. For barns that still stand. For warm and sunny October days that draw me into the countryside, into the woods.

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PLEASE CHECK BACK as I take you on to more backroads in Rice and LeSueur counties.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota northwoods experience: Climbing a fire tower (or not) October 6, 2021

Just a short distance from this roundabout by Pequot Lakes, you can see the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower peeking through the treetops. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Really high! Be careful and don’t climb if you fear heights or experience dizziness.

The warning sign and rules posted at the base of the fire tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

I heeded the warning and stayed put. Feet on the ground. Camera aimed skyward. Toward the 100-foot high Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower just outside Pequot Lakes in the central Minnesota lakes region. The top of the tower pokes through the trees, barely visible from State Highway 371. Turn off that arterial road onto Crow Wing County Road 11, turn left, and you’ve reached the fire tower park.

A little background on the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

The Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park (named after the county commissioner instrumental in developing this 40-acre park) offers visitors an opportunity to hike to, and then climb, the historic tower built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. As one who prefers low to high, I was up for the 0.3 mile hike, but not the climb.

Lots of info packs signs in the outdoor interpretative area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
The iconic Smokey the Bear reminds us that we can prevent forest fires. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
We are to blame for nearly all of Minnesota’s wildfires, according to this park sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Before Randy and I headed onto the trail, though, we read the interpretative signage featuring information on the tower (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), Minnesota wildfires and other notable fire facts. This summer marked an especially busy fire season in the northern Minnesota wilderness. Those of us living in the southern part of the state felt the effects also with smoke drifting from the north (including Canada) and from the west (California). That created hazy skies and unhealthy air some days, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Lots to read here, including Paul Bunyan’s fire tower story. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

We also read a bit of Paul Bunyan lore, a fun addition to the park located in the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway area. This region of Minnesota is big on lumberjack stories about Paul and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. The Pequot Lakes water tower is even shaped like Paul’s over-sized fishing bobber.

The pristine picnic shelter. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Signs point the way to the fire tower trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
On the way to the tower, this large yellow mushroom temporarily distracted me. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Once we’d finished reading, and then admiring the beautiful new picnic shelter, we started off on the pea rock-covered trail through the woods and toward the tower. Up. Up. Up.

When the trail gets especially steep, steps aid in the climb. I took this photo on the descent. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

After awhile, I began to tire, to wonder, how much farther? And just as I was about to declare myself done climbing steps, Randy assured me the tower was just around the bend. Yes.

Looking up at the tower, all of which I couldn’t fit in a photo, I determined I was not climbing that high. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Once there, I stood at the base of the tower, reading the rules and warnings. I decided I best admire the ironwork from below. And I did. There’s a lot to be said for the 1930s workmanship of skilled craftsmen.

The underside of the tower shows layers of stairs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Randy, though, started up the layered steps leading to a seven-foot square enclosed look-out space at the top of the tower. At that height, fire watchers could see for 20 miles.

If you look closely, you can see Randy with only a few more flights to reach the top. At this point, he decided not to go any farther. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

As I watched, Randy climbed. Steady at first, but soon slowing, pausing to rest. “You don’t have to go all the way to the top,” I shouted from below. He continued, to just above treetop level, and then stopped. He had reached his comfort height level.

The tower is fenced at the base. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

I can only imagine how spectacular the view this time of year, in this season of autumn when the woods fire with color. We visited in mid-September, when color was just beginning to tinge trees.

Randy exits the tower, several flights short of reaching the top. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Eventually, we began our retreat down the trail, much easier than ascending.

An incredibly vibrant mushroom thrives trailside. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Occasionally I stopped to photograph scenery, including species of orange and yellow mushrooms. Simply stunning fungi.

Sadly…a carving on a birch tree along the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

We also paused to visit with a retired couple on their way to the tower. They have a generational lake home in the area, like so many who vacation here. While we chatted, a young runner passed us. I admired her stamina and figured she’d face no physical challenges climbing the 100-foot tower.

The story of Sassy the bear is included in the interpretative area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Just like a domesticated black bear that once escaped and scampered up the tower. A ranger lured him down with a bag of marshmallows. That is not the stuff of Paul Bunyan lore, but of life in the Minnesota northwoods. This historic fire tower, which once provided a jungle gym for a bear and a place to scout for wildfires, now offers a unique spot to view the surrounding woods and lakes and towns. If you don’t fear heights or experience dizziness.

FYI: The Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower is open from dawn to dusk during the warm season, meaning not during Minnesota winters. Heed the rules. And be advised that getting to the tower is a work-out.

Right now should be a really good time to catch a spectacular view of the fall colors from the fire tower.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up North: Of autumn & mushrooms & bears September 27, 2021

Looking skyward toward the trees inside the woods at Mission Park, Merrifield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

A QUIET PLACE TO BE.

That message banners signs in Mission Township in the heart of central Minnesota’s lake country. The nearly 35-square-mile rural community is, indeed, quiet, if you tuck yourself in among the woods, off the main routes Up North to the cabin.

Leaves are changing color in the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

From mid-May fishing opener well into autumn, until the first hard freeze, vacationers and seasonal cabin owners travel into and through Crow Wing County to reach their personal and resort destinations. And now Randy and I, too, are living the Minnesota Up North experience thanks to family who are sharing their lake property. Thrice this year we’ve spent time at the cabin, each visit heading to nearby Mission Park.

We typically follow the well-maintained paved trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

The close-to-the-cabin proximity of the park and its 3/4-mile paved hiking trail draw us to this quiet spot in the woods. During our most recent stay in mid-September, we twice hiked in the park. Here leaves are already turning color and I paused often to photograph the autumn hues.

In an open spot in the woods, a pollinator garden has been started. I caught the end of the season. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Seed heads in the pollinator garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I spotted a few wildflowers still blooming along trails. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Once, while detouring along a mowed grass path to a pollinator garden, I also stopped to examine a pile of dung. It glistened in the sun, indicating freshness to my untrained non-expert eyes. The sheer volume of excrement led me to wonder…bear? Later, when I shared this with my brother-in-law who is especially knowledgeable about the outdoors, I determined this likely was not bear scat given the lack of acorns and other such matter in the pile. That said, bears (yes, plural) have been sighted in the area, according to the brother-in-law and a park worker who advised to “Make yourself as big as possible and don’t run” if you encounter a black bear. Alright then. Thank you.

Among the colorful mushrooms I found. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Another unknown to me mushroom, nearly camouflaged. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I have never seen a mushroom in this vibrant hue. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

As long as he was parceling out advice, I asked about the many wild mushrooms growing in the park. That, he said, was not within his realm of knowledge. Nor is it in mine. So I admired the fungi, in varieties and hues I’ve never seen. Ever. Anywhere. Bold yellow and orange. Stunning. Still life art.

Discovered growing on the forest floor, a large disc-shaped mushroom. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

If quick research is correct, the more colorful the mushroom, the more likely it’s poisonous. Deadly. Nope, you’re not going to catch me picking mushrooms in the woods. I’ll settle for photographing them, as much as I like the taste of (store-bought) portabella mushrooms.

I spotted this broken off mushroom on the grass at woods’ edge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

The park employee noted, however, that a guy knowledgeable about mushrooms forages for them here.

Set among the slim jackpines, a picnic area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

If you’re not into mushroom hunting or photography or hiking, Mission Park offers plenty of other options—tennis and pickleball courts, a disc golf course, ball fields, horseshoe pits, playground, picnic shelter and much more.

Every single time we’ve hiked through this park, the motto, A QUIET PLACE TO BE, holds true. Here you can hear the quiet, even as you listen for bears.

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PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Mission Park and a post on the area’s connection to my Faribault church.

If you are familiar with mushrooms, feel free to educate me on those I photographed.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetic reflections from Faribault Energy Park September 14, 2021

Among the many beautiful wildflowers growing at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

DESPITE THE STEADY THRUM of traffic along adjacent Interstate 35 and the drone of the power plant, Faribault Energy Park remains a favorite place to walk. Not because it’s quiet—because it’s not, not at all. But because of the dirt trails that wind through 35 acres of wetlands and ponds.

Dirt trails ring the ponds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Here, when I put sneaker to ground, I feel connected to the land. There’s something satisfying and comforting about earth directly beneath my soles.

The foxtail, especially, remind me of the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2021.

And although this isn’t prairie, the openness of this park appeals to me. It reminds me of my prairie roots, of the gravel drives and roads I biked and walked while growing up in southwestern Minnesota. Sometimes my heart hurts for missing those familiar wide open spaces and spacious skies.

The park’s single wind turbine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

At Faribault Energy Park, I pause occasionally to look skyward, to the expanse of blue. Or toward the churning arms of the wind turbine which, during my most recent visit, spun shadows across the land.

A view of the power plant from across the pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

It should be noted that I’m not particularly fond of wind turbine fields. I understand their importance, but don’t like their visual intrusion upon the landscape. Like visual pollution, they detract from the beauty of the land. They seem out-of-place, invasive to my eyes. I feel the same about massive solar panel fields planted on farmland. But here at Faribault Energy Park, only one wind turbine stands, across the road from a solar garden (not field).

Goldenrod, one flower I can identify. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I’ve always loved milkweeds from fluff to pods to how they are necessary for the monarch butterfly population. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Dainty wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Mostly, I notice the wildflowers and grasses. Goldenrod. Black-eyed Susans. An endless variety of plants that I should take time to research for identification. Rather, I settle for photographing them and appreciating their beauty. How they sway in the wind. How they appear in the sunlight. How they splash color into the landscape.

I especially love how these grass plumes bend and blow in the wind, like poetry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Bold berries jolt color into the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I love the hue and texture of this grass, whatever it may be. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

If my current photos were poems, they would write of Autumn and her floral dress flowing, billowing as she walks the runway of Faribault Energy Park. (My poetic interpretation of all those colorful wildflowers edging trails.) Audience applause rising. (My poetic interpretation of the droning traffic on I-35 and the noisy power plant.) I imagine that as easily as I recall prairie memories.

There is an abundance of cattails at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Faribault Energy Park, 4100 Park Avenue North, keeps drawing me back. To follow the dirt trails. To appreciate the landscape. To, for a short while, escape, even if quiet remains elusive.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Our growing & evolving city parks August 10, 2021

Creative climbing apparatus at Faribault’s newest park, Fleckenstein Bluffs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

AS A GRANDMOTHER OF TWO, ages 2 ½ and 5 who sometimes spend the weekend with Randy and me, I’m appreciative of public playground equipment. The City of Faribault is doing a great job of installing/updating playground equipment and other amenities in our city parks. Our park system is growing as our community grows and our needs change.

A paved recreational path, part of the city trail system, runs right next to the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Among the newest of parks is Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, located near downtown (First Avenue NE) and along the Straight River. Next door sits an under-construction apartment complex. A riverside recreational trail runs nearby. This park is sure to be well-used, especially once a picnic shelter, canoe launch site and river overlook are in place.

Just waiting for kids to discover, hidden animals. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Fossils are imprinted in the “stone” too. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Love these acorn cap seats. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Recently, I stopped at the park to check out the nature-themed playground equipment. The closer I looked, the more I discovered—like animals and fossils hidden in the mini rock climbing walls and stacked logs, the acorn caps, the replica branch supports, the toadstool and stump stepping points, and much more. What a creative way to incorporate nature in to play. I expect my grandchildren will delight in finding a chipmunk, for example, among the logs.

Kids can make music at Fleckenstein Bluffs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Opportunities to create music on an over-sized xylophone also impress me.

The natured-themed playground equipment at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate, too, that this playground is subdued in brown hues, fitting into the natural environment rather than splashing bold colors. This spot, after all, highlights the river, the woods, the backdrop bluffs. Nearby, the Fleckenstein Brewery once stood—thus the park name.

Meadows Park on Faribault’s east side. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Across the river on the east side of town, another new park offers diverse playground equipment. My friend Brenda, who lived in Faribault until moving to Connecticut with her family, tipped me off to Meadows Park during a summer visit. Her daughter, Lyla, played with friends at this park along 14th Street NE across from Milestone Senior Living Faribault.

I appreciate that the playground equipment is labeled by age appropriateness. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate Brenda’s recommendation as this will be a good play space for my grandchildren, especially given their age differences. The park offers distinct play areas marked for specific ages—one for ages 2-5 and another for ages 5-12. I don’t always feel comfortable with Isaac playing on the same equipment as his big sister, Isabelle. So this arrangement is ideal.

Up close playground details. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And, if I ever decide to pick up pickleball, Meadows Park also has courts.

Age labeled at Meadows Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Likewise, Windsor Park in south Faribault offers pickleball courts and playground equipment sized to various ages. I liked what I saw from a distance, although I didn’t stop to investigate close-up.

“Call of the Wild” details at Meadows Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And just up the hill from my home, the city recently installed a basketball court in Wapacuta Park. It was much-needed and is already well-used. In the evening, especially, I hear young people playing basketball, their voices drifting over and down the wooded hillside. I smile thinking of these teens bouncing balls and shooting hoops outdoors rather than locked inside staring at screens. Years ago this park housed basketball and tennis courts, which, for whatever reason, were removed. I’m thankful the tall metal slide that our daughters climbed is gone and replaced with safer playground equipment. The grandkids enjoy Wapacuta, too.

An overview of the Meadows Park playground. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Finally, I’m especially excited about another planned park, this one in a green space under and around our historic viaduct. The park, as yet unnamed, will be in a highly-visible location along Minnesota State Highway 60 and just a block from Central Avenue (the main street through our historic downtown). So many possibilities and opportunities exist to make this a community gathering spot. A place for the arts. For enjoying the outdoors. For recreation. For showcasing Faribault.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating Faribault’s riverside beauty May 17, 2021

A view of the still Cannon River, looking toward North Alexander Park, and near the dam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

THE RIVER RUNS through, spilling over duo dams by the historic Faribault Woolen Mill and also by North Alexander Park and the Rice County Fairgrounds.

A section of the Northern Link Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love walking here in the evening, when the sun begins its golden descent. A paved path curves along the bank of the Cannon River.

A lopped evergreen along the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate the gracefulness of the Northern Link Trail, how it winds around trees rather than tracing a straight line.

The Cannon River roars over the dam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I appreciate the power of the river roaring over the dam, over rocks. There’s something about churning water that mesmerizes me. The sound. The sight. The reminder that water, harnessed or unharnessed, is a powerful thing. It’s a bit terrifying.

A section of the dam walls the river. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Standing on the narrow dam walkway widens my perspective to include fishermen/women/children angling from the shoreline. This is a popular fishing spot, any time of year.

On the other side of the bridge and about a block away, the Cannon and Straight Rivers merge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then, if I look directly before me, I see the river flowing under the Second Avenue bridge. A short distance later the Cannon joins the Straight River at Twin Rivers Park.

I never tire of watching, and listening to, the river churn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I feel grateful to live in Faribault, a community with incredible, easily accessible natural beauty. Two rivers. Woods. A beautiful nature center (River Bend). Parks galore. Trails aplenty.

© Copyright 2021 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.

PUSHING PAUSE ON COMMENTS

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.

THE POSITIVES OF FARIBAULT

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.

BEYOND WORDS

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