Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: When graffiti overtakes nature & history May 6, 2021

A view of the Straight River and the railroad bridge crossing it, photographed from the footbridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

IF NOT FOR THE OFFENSIVE GRAFFITI, the natural setting would be particularly inviting. But obscene words and disturbing messages kept me from fully enjoying the trail leading from Faribault’s Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center.

Along the trail from Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center, I saw trees tagged with graffiti. Here I’m approaching the footbridge crossing the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even trees were tagged with paint. That’s a first.

Randy looks over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

On the footbridge which spans the Straight River, I found the most disturbing of accusations—J**** killed my mother. That shifted my already on-alert mode to what the h*** is going on in these woods? I read derogatory comments about Faribault. And I thought, why do those who hate this community so much stay here?

This marker on one end of the bridge remains unmarred. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I tried to overlook all that awful graffiti, but it was just too much to dismiss. I wouldn’t bring a child here, not one who can read anyway.

I expect there’s a story behind this beautiful railroad bridge over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Yet, there’s much to see and appreciate here, if you look beyond the tagging, the offensive messages. Nature and history intertwine, leaving me with more questions than answers.

I felt tempted to climb these stairs, but didn’t have the energy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

A lengthy stairway climbs a hillside. Slabs of limestone and chunks of concrete—perhaps foundations of long ago buildings—cling to steep banks.

Graffiti mars the tunnel entrance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then there’s the tunnel. The 442-foot-long tunnel, which I refused to enter. One look at the graffiti at the entry, especially the rat art, and I knew, no way, would I walk through that former root cellar. So I photographed that space, editing out the obscenities (which proved nearly impossible).

A sign above the tunnel details its history. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I photographed the sign above, which summarizes the history of this 1937 Works Progress Administration project. Workers hand dug the tunnel with picks, hauling the dirt and rocks away with wheelbarrows. Once complete, the tunnel served as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony (later known as The Faribault State School and Hospital). The Teepee Tonka Tunnel once held 25-30 carloads of vegetables to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees. Most of those potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and cabbage were grown on the school farm.

Another snippet of the tunnel graffiti. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Now the history, the hard work, the humanity were dishonored by those who use this as a canvas for words and art that shouldn’t be here.

Trees tower over the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

All of this saddened me as I retraced my steps, watched as a young man walked along the railroad tracks, backpack strapped on, county music blaring. This should be a place of peace. Not only noise-wise, but also mentally. I pictured picnic tables near a footbridge devoid of menacing messages. I pictured a beautiful natural setting where I could bring my grandchildren. But, in reality, I understood that those tables would only be defaced, maybe even burned.

The beautiful Straight River, which winds past Teepee Tonka Park and River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This could be so much. A respite. Water and woods converging. River flowing with history. Images of men hard at work tunneling into a 60-foot high hill. I could envision all of that…the possibilities beyond that which I’d seen.

© Copyright 2021 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

 

In pursuit of Bambi April 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:56 AM
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OH, FOR A TELEPHOTO lens on my camera…

Since that is not in the cards, the budget or the plan, I find myself often lamenting missed nature shots. It’s not like I can holler to Bambi, “Hey, hold still, will you, so I can take your picture! Move that way a little bit. Just one more shot.”

Nope, can’t do that.

So I shoot anyway, firing my camera in the hopes that once, maybe once, I’ll get something decent on my CF card.

So…, Wednesday evening my husband and I are checking out the rivers in Faribault. We are driving toward Teepee Tonka Park from the viaduct that crosses the Straight River and railroad tracks. And there they are. Four deer. Standing. In a yard.

I am so excited. But already the deer are fleeing, alert to the danger of our approaching van and a car driving up the hill toward them. My only thought is to photograph this quartet.

But I am frustrated because the lollygagging car is in my way. Can’t the driver see that I have a camera? Probably not.

Oh, well, I try anyway, shooting seven frames through the van’s windshield.

And although the results are not stunning or fantastic or overly-impressive, I’ve managed to capture at least one photo that is good enough to show you. And that, folks, is all I can ask for without a telephoto lens to shoot Bambi.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Those of you who live in southeastern Minnesota are probably wondering, “How did she shoot these photos on Wednesday when we didn’t have snow on the ground?” You would be correct in questioning that.  I wrote this three weeks ago and forgot about it in my post drafts. However, since we got snow overnight here in Minnesota, I thought it appropriate to publish today.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Navigating through flood-damaged Teepee Tonka Park October 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:34 AM
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UNDERNEATH MY FEET the ground felt spongy, earth saturated with too much water. So when I could skirt the matted-down, unstable lawn, I did. I moved onto the sand, sculpted across the ball field where once there had been grass.

Sand sweeps across a ball field at Teepee Tonka Park.

This is Teepee Tonka Park in Faribault, some 10 days after torrential rains caused the Straight River to rise and inundate this city park. Situated next to the river on the city’s east side, this low-lying park is prone to spring flooding.

But this time the floodwaters swept across Teepee Tonka in a rare autumn flood, wreaking havoc on a park that is now closed for the season due to all the damage.

Sunday afternoon I walked across the bridge, which just 10 days earlier had been covered by rushing Straight River waters that rose an estimated 10 feet. It seemed nearly improbable to me that the waters could already have receded this much, back into the confines of the river channel.

During the flood, the Straight River flooded the bridge into Teepee Tonka Park.

Waters have receded, allowing entry across the bridge into Teepee Tonka Park.

As I walked across the park, across the grass flattened to the earth, across ballpark fences slammed to the ground by the powerful floodwaters, past bleachers swung into awkward, out-of-place positions, I marveled at the force of nature. Imagine how impressed I would be with buildings shoved by the angry river.

Floodwaters twisted and flattened ballpark fences, swirled bleachers and redeposited sand.

A displaced dead tree limb in the ball field.

But on this Sunday afternoon, calmness prevailed. A young boy dug, with his parents, in piles of sand, for earthworms. And nearby, within its banks, the Straight River, which is misnamed given its winding path, flowed strong and steady.

During the flood, the Straight River rose over the Teepee Tonka bridge in the foreground and overflowed its banks underneath the viaduct in the background.

I shot this image of the Straight River from the Teepee Tonka bridge Sunday afternoon.

Floodwaters have receded from under the viaduct just outside Teepee Tonka Park.

I took this photo during the flood, when the Straight River overflowed its banks under the viaduct.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling