Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

trail-1-deer-hunt-sign

 

THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

trail-3-limestone-buildings-up-close

 

So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

trail-4-side-of-limestone-building-with-barrels

 

I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

trail-10-pallets-stacked-by-limestone-building

 

I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

trail-8-tire-by-river

 

Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

trail-9-single-leaf-on-tree

 

I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

trail-12-limestone-wall-and-limestone-building

 

trail-22-posts-in-woods

 

trail-13-padlock-on-pipe

 

Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

trail-17-dirt-bike-in-woods

 

trail-19-dirt-bike-spinning-wheels

 

Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

trail-26-fishing

 

trail-30-faribault-woolen-mill

 

trail-32-sunset-over-the-cannon-river

 

We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

trail-41-duck-swimming-in-cannon-river

 

And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The power of water, in images & words November 11, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

WATER. What is it about this compound of hydrogen and oxygen that fascinates us? Or at least me.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The sound of rushing water, like rushing wind, soothes. It comforts me in the sort of way a lullaby can quiet a crying baby. It’s as if that rushing sound is locked away in our subconscious, there before birth. Undeniable, connecting us to the water womb comfort of our mothers.

Wind-churned water bobbed this mud hen along the surface of Lake Kohlmier.

Wind-churned water bobbed this mud hen along the surface of Lake Kohlmier.

Water’s powerful pull extends well beyond the audible. Water sustains us. Physically. Yet more. Visually, water draws us near to watch its movement—flowing, tumbling, rushing, rocking.

The Straight River flows toward the historic Owatonna Public Utilities building.

The Straight River flows toward the historic Owatonna Public Utilities building.

I am captivated by the musical, rhythmic movement of water.

Still, clear creek water in Kaplan's Woods.

Still, clear creek water in Owatonna’s Kaplan’s Woods.

Sometimes a ballad.

Water rushes over the Morehouse Park dam.

The turbulent waters at the Morehouse Park dam.

Other times rock-n-roll.

A close-up of the churning Straight River as photographed from the Morehouse Park recreational trail bridge.

A close-up of the churning Straight River as photographed from the Morehouse Park recreational trail bridge.

Maybe a turbulent county western song of love lost, love found, too much booze and too many late nights. Bluesy. Sad. Hopeful.

I can rest beside a waterfall, a dam, a creek, a river for considerable time, almost hypnotized by the sights and sounds. It’s as if water washes away my worries, sending them downstream, far, far away. I find peace in water.

A creek in Kaplan's Woods.

A creek in Kaplan’s Woods.

Water holds such power.

TELL ME: What power does it hold for you?

© Copyright 2016 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

 

What makes a great park, in my opinion June 23, 2015

IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, after visiting Bridge Square in Northfield and Morehouse Park in Owatonna, I’ve thought about what makes a great community gathering place. When considering a spot for a picnic or simply a place to relax, what do I seek?

A view of the Straight River from the pedestrian bridge in Morehouse Park.

A view of the Straight River from the pedestrian bridge in Morehouse Park.

Water. Whether a river or a fountain or a lake, water tops my list. There’s something about water that soothes, that eases life’s worries. I’m not a water sports person. But I love the sound of rushing water like that of the Straight River roaring over the dam in Morehouse Park or the fountain spraying in Bridge Square, just across the street from the Cannon River.

Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Moreshouse Park.

Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Morehouse Park.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes the Straight River.

On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes the Straight River.

Water offers a place to wish, to think or not, to fish, to canoe, to observe nature. Still as geese gliding. Hopeful as pennies tossed into a fountain. Turbulent water tumbling over rocks as calming as white noise.

A recreational trail slices through Morehouse Park, bridging the Straight River.

A recreational trail slices through Morehouse Park, bridging the Straight River.

I also want a park that’s aesthetically pleasing, clean, green, obviously cared for and appreciated.

Gorgeous flower baskets hang along the recreational bridge.

Gorgeous flower baskets hang along the recreational bridge.

In Morehouse Park, generous baskets of petunias suspended from a pedestrian bridge make a statement that says this community cares. The park is a busy place with a trail winding through that draws bikers, skaters, walkers and photographers like me.

At Bridge Square, the fountain entices all ages to perch beside the water, to rest on benches, to purchase popcorn from the popcorn wagon.

Morehouse Park includes a playground, tennis court and horseshoe pits along with other amenities.

Morehouse Park includes a playground, tennis court and horseshoe pits along with other amenities.

In both parks I feel a sense of community, of closeness in appreciating a beautiful spot in the heart of a city. There’s a certain vibrancy, a rhythm, a definitive weaving of people and place.

Ducks and geese overrun Morehouse Park. So watch for droppings. Everywhere.

Ducks and geese overrun Morehouse Park. So watch for droppings. Everywhere.

And that is what I seek in a park. Not just a picnic table under a tree. But a certain sense of belonging, of connecting with nature and community on a Minnesota summer day.

BONUS PHOTOS from Sunday afternoon at Morehouse Park:

A sign next to the bridge reads: "When we preserve a historic place, we preserve a part of who we are."

A sign next to the bridge reads: “When we preserve a historic place, we preserve a part of who we are.”

A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.

A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Geese hug the riverbank.

Geese hug the riverbank.

© Copyright 2015 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

 

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling