Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse August 18, 2021

Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota. The date on the building conflicts with the date on an on-site memorial and I don’t know why. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.

We ate our picnic lunch here. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.

Little Prairie United Methodist Church, repaired following a damaging tornado several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

When I finished my lunch, I grabbed my camera to document the country school and more, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church just across the road. Last visit, the then-pastor toured us through the church and then unlocked the schoolhouse. This time, I had to settle for peering through a school window.

A paver honors Little Prairie founders, the Emerys. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.

A memorial honors the people of Little Prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Among the “farmer” pavers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Students remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.

I pushed Randy briefly on the merry-go-round, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.

The mud scraper. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.

A necessity at rural schools, the water pump. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.

The outhouse has been painted since the last time I was here and a screen added.

I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.

A view inside the classroom through a window. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…

A back view of the simple country schoolhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Merry-go-round details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021.
Information on ordering and purchasing a memorial paver for $225 is available inside this mailbox on the schoolhouse steps. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

© 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

 

Let the little children come…to the playground February 21, 2018

 

TRAVELING DOWN A SNOW slicked county road toward Little Prairie United Methodist Church south of Dundas, I expected nothing out of the ordinary. Just a familiar country church with jolting red doors marking a rural intersection.

 

 

But then, to the left of the church, set back from the county road and next to the parking lot, I spotted a structure. Inaccessible unless I wanted to slog through snow. But visually accessible via the telephoto lens of my camera.

 

 

I noted a mini church facade marked as Little Prairie Playground, complete with those signature red double doors, stained glass and a bell tower. How clever. How fun. How cute.

Since I didn’t want to plow through snow for a close-up look, I checked out the church Facebook page, which reveals volunteers constructing this playground last spring with a June dedication.

 

 

Behind that mini church front and through those doors, kids will find a slide, mini climbing wall, swings and more, the more including an aged bell rung by the pull of a rope. The bell honors Anna Mae Little, whose farm family once lived nearest the church.

 

 

As I snapped a few photos, I considered that I need to return in the spring for another photo shoot and perhaps to bring my two-year-old granddaughter here to play in the quiet of the countryside in the holy presence of this place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: All images are edited using an artistic filter.

 

An Old MacDonald style park in Mankato August 18, 2015

One of two barn style buildings at Sibley Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

The barn style stable at Sibley Farm in Mankato, Minnesota.

GROWING UP, MY DAUGHTERS had a Fisher Price barn that, when the doors opened, “mooed.” For hours they would play with this toy farm. Being a rather unwise mom who determined that everything from their childhood could not be kept, I gave the barn, silo, Little People, tractor and animals to friends with little ones. My eldest once reminded me that was a mistake. I agree.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and a second barn type pole shed in the background.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and the farm’s barn in the background.

But now she, and other twenty-somethings who hold fond memories of the Fischer Price barn, can see a similar real-life barn at Sibley Farm in Mankato’s sprawling Sibley Park.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with fish and dotted with water lilies.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with koi and dotted with water lilies.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

The fabulous farm-themed playground.

The fabulous farm-themed playground. There’s also a traditional playground, shown in the background.

I explored the farm on a recent Sunday afternoon, delighting in the animals, the pond, and the agricultural-themed playground. What a brilliant idea, to create this educational and engaging tribute to the region’s rural roots in the heart of southern Minnesota farm country. The farm park opened in 2008 and was partially funded by a $200,000 gift from the Al and Erla Fallenstein fund through the Mankato Area Foundation.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

This agricultural-themed park makes my farm girl heart happy—to see kids petting farm critters, posing with farm animal statues, racing to tractors, and clamoring onto barn, silo, straw bale and even cornstalk playground equipment. This is a place for families, for anyone who grew up on a farm, and for those who didn’t.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

We need to hold onto our rural heritage. And one way to do that is through parks like Sibley Farm.

Your guide to Sibley Farm in Mankato.

Sibley Farm’s lay-out.

FYI: Sibley Farm is located at 900 Mound Avenue and is open daily from 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. mid-spring, summer and early fall. Admission is free. Click here to read a 2011 post I wrote about a goat-napping caper at this very park.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign at the playground.

A sign at the playground.

And the chickens.

The playground chickens.

I absolutely love the creativity of the playground cornstalks.

I absolutely love the creativity of the climbing apparatus designed to look like cornstalks.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There's also traditional playground equipment, background.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There’s also traditional playground equipment, background.

Playground pig sculptures.

Playground pig sculptures.

A musical detail on the playground.

A musical detail on the playground.

The miniature ponies are kid-sized friendly.

The miniature horses are kid-sized friendly.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn for employees.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Appropriately printed lockers.

Appropriately printed lockers.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a similar, but much smaller, project proposed for the Redwood Falls Public Library.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling