Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Frozen” comes to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest October 17, 2017

 

THE WORLD OF ELSA and Anna and Olaf is mostly foreign to me. But to anyone with young kids, those are wildly popular characters from the hit 2013 Disney animated film “Frozen.”

 

 

So it was a smart move on the part of SeptOberfest organizers in Wabasha to theme a straw maze after the movie.

 

 

Set along the main drag through this Mississippi River town in southeastern Minnesota, the “Frozen” Straw Maze features handcrafted characters from the film staged atop straw bales.

 

 

When kids aren’t tracing the winding trail or climbing atop bales, they can rock and bounce on mini horses or scoot down one of two slides propped against bales.

 

 

The “Frozen” maze presents just another fun and engaging free activity for families visiting Wabasha during SeptOberfest. This is my kind of family-friendly small town.

 

FYI: This concludes my three-part series on three key family-focused aspects of SeptOberfest. Click here to read my first post about Zootopia on the RiverFront. And click here to view my post about the Pumpkin Patch. This fest runs until October 21.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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In the Pumpkin Patch under the bridge in Wabasha October 13, 2017

 

MASSIVE MAMMOTH PUMPKINS sprawl across brick and cement walkways under the bridge in Wabasha in this season of autumn. Here among dried leaves drifted from trees and below traffic crossing the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, locals have staged the Pumpkin Patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a place that attracts all ages, that draws people here to wander among the gigantic pumpkins somehow wrangled into place. This year’s winning pumpkin, grown by Gary Russell of Plainview, weighs 879 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As enthralled as I was by these hefty pumpkins, I observed that my 18-month-old granddaughter and a lot of other kids (and their parents and grandparents) and others were equally as impressed.

 

My granddaughter carries a bean bag to toss into the candy corn prop.

 

 

 

 

The Pumpkin Patch certainly celebrates the season with pumpkins of all sizes, festive fall displays, themed kids’ games, occasional pony rides and music, and more. It’s the perfect mix to bring people to this spot, to draw them into nearby boutiques, eateries and more as they explore this southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

Izzy loves owls, including this one painted onto a tree in a bean bag toss game.

 

 

 

Families pose for photos on the stage against backdrops of fall decor.

 

Just across the street, more autumn-themed activities await families. Check back tomorrow as I showcase that portion of Wabasha’s SeptOberfest celebration.  Wabasha wins my high praise for crafting creative spaces that focus on families and celebrate autumn in Minnesota.

 

FYI: For more details on all events in Wabasha’s nearly two-month-long SeptOberfest, click here.

To read about Zootopia on the RiverFront, my first post in this three-part series from Wabasha, click here.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Free family fun at Zootopia on the RiverFront in Wabasha October 12, 2017

My first view of Zootopia on the RiverFront from the hill overlooking this play area along the Mississippi River in Wabasha.

 

ON AN EARLY OCTOBER Sunday in Wabasha, brilliant sunshine angled sharp shadows across the beaten grass of a riverside attraction teeming with kids and watchful adults.

 

 

 

 

 

The lion tunnel proved especially popular.

 

Here, while a young boy carried his tacklebox and fishing pole along a busy Mississippi River walkway, kids tossed rings, rolled balls, scrambled through a tunnel, zipped down a slide and more in a magical land. Here adults encouraged and interacted with the little ones and clicked endless photos.

 

 

 

 

My son-in-law, Marc, takes Izzy’s photo as she walks through the tiger tunnel while her mom (my daughter Amber) watches.

 

Walking on the colorful walrus crafted from tires…

 

My husband and I joined in on the SeptOberfest kids’ activities along with our 18-month-old granddaughter and her parents.

 

You can zip down this elephant slide into Zootopia on the RiverFront.

 

 

I discovered the play area after sighting an elephant slide behind Hill’s Hardware Hank. I walked the half-block to check it out and found the city of Zootopia. The good folks of Wabasha crafted a temporary themed play area after the movie of the mammal metropolis. What a delight for not only grandmas like me, but also for all those kids and other adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wabasha has always impressed me as a small town that knows how to bring visitors into the community. The addition of Zootopia on the RiverFront to this year’s nearly two-month long SeptOberfest just notched up my respect for the tourism, business and other leaders in this southeastern Minnesota town of some 2,500. These folks are smart enough to realize that bringing families into town equals an immediate financial return plus an investment in future returns. The kids’ activities are free. But the local economy benefits from monies dropped in restaurants, gas stations, and ice cream and other shops.

 

Randy waits for Izzy to emerge from the lion tunnel.

 

Running in the kick ball croquet area.

 

Even the big kids/aka grandpas can have fun.

 

Watching my 1 ½-year-old granddaughter crawl multiple times through the lion tunnel, place rings on elephant trunks, roll a ball in the kick ball croquet area and more simply made me happy. Even at her young age, Izzy could participate in most of the activities.

 

 

This Zootopia rated as just plain good old family fun—Wabasha style.

 

In the foreground, on the hillside, giraffes (and zebras) overlook Zootopia.

 

FYI: Zootopia on the RiverFront continues through October 21. Click here for more details.

Check back for two more posts on kids’ SeptOberfest activities in Wabasha.

This community is also home to the National Eagle Center, another family friendly place to visit.

 

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My appreciation for small town hardware stores January 13, 2017

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

IF YOU GREW UP in rural Minnesota like I did, you likely hold fond memories of the local hardware store.

Two hardware stores once served my hometown of Vesta, a farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. While I remember Joe Engel’s Hardware store as the place to buy rolls of perforated caps for my cap gun, my father shopped there, or a few doors down at Marquardt’s Hardware, for all his hardware needs. Like bulk nails and screws stashed in cubbies, the merchandise weighed and parceled into brown paper bags.

I remember, too, the worn wood floors, the narrow aisles, the old fashioned screen doors that banged shut.

To this day, I find myself drawn to the hardware stores that still exist in many small towns. They represent a connection to my past, to simpler days, to outstanding customer service, to a Main Street necessity. So I photograph them, usually the exteriors.

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including this Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

Nothing says “small town” like a hardware store, including Hill’s Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

One of my hardware store images—that of Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha—will soon become part of a renovated “Our World” gallery at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The photo will grace signage for a mini town that includes a hardware store. Hill’s inspired the facade of the replica hardware store in which children can play. The updated exhibit opens this spring.

I am honored to have my photo displayed at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. I hope it inspires others to appreciate the value of hardware stores in rural Minnesota. They are as important today as they were when I was growing up in the 1960s. In Owatonna, Arrow Ace Hardware plans to relocate into a new and much larger space by next Christmas, more than doubling its size to some 11,000 square feet. That’s encouraging. There’s still great value in local hardware stores.

TELL ME: Do you shop in hardware stores? If yes, why? Are they still of value in today’s marketplace?  Or what are your hardware store memories? Let’s talk hardware stores.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering art in downtown Wabasha March 24, 2014

BRICK, A BENCH, A RIVER…

Each provides a canvas or backdrop for art in Wabasha, an historic Mississippi River town of 2,500 in southeastern Minnesota.

On a recent visit here to the National Eagle Center, where art abounds inside, I also noticed art integrated into the downtown.

Wabasha, Wapahasha II

A 10-foot tall bronze sculpture of Wapahasha II, a Native American after whom the city of Wabasha is named, stands atop a fountain next to the riverside eagle center.

If you shift your eyes a bit, you’ll notice a bridge in the distance. I view that 26-year-old link between Minnesota and Wisconsin as art given the overhead span of trusses.

Wabasha, eagle bench

Just up the street, set atop brick pavers, co-joined park benches have become artwork, too, with eagle paintings backing the benches. It’s a nice touch, emphasizing Wabasha’s eagles and the reason many visitors come here.

Wabasha, Riverside Dollar

Around the corner, Riverside Dollar also incorporates eagles into its signage on a cozy building tucked between taller historic buildings. Fifty properties in Wabasha are on the National Register of Historic Places, another reason I appreciate this community. The buildings, in and of themselves, are works of art with ornate details that showcase the craftsmanship of another era.

Wabasha, Squirt sign

A block away, a faded vintage Squirt sign painted onto the side of a brick building contrasts with a sleek and shiny Pepsi vending machine. That amuses me.

Wabasha, Rivertown Cafe front of

At the Rivertown Cafe, I appreciate the aging signage suspended from the second level. It adds a certain charm to the exterior and directs the eye toward the business.

Wabasha, street corner sculpture

A stone’s throw away, a modern sculpture graces a street corner.

Wabasha, cafe sign up close

Certainly, Wabasha features more art; I had time to photograph only this sampling this trip.

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CLICK HERE TO READ my previous post about art inside the National Eagle Center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Eagle art in Wabasha March 21, 2014

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An eagle sculpture defines the exterior of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

Two eagle sculptures (one atop the dome) define the exterior of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota.

WITH ALL THAT THE NATIONAL Eagle Center in Wabasha offers, it is perhaps easy to overlook the art.

Art, eagle head 3

But the eagle sculptures and other artwork showcased in this Mississippi River side building deserve study and appreciation.

Art, eagle painting

The eagle possesses a certain strength and beauty worthy of symbolizing the United States of America. As such, many artists have recreated this symbol of freedom.

The Bicentennial Eagle by A. Giannelli.

The Bicentennial Eagle by A. Giannelli.

From a sterling silver and 24K gold sculpture by A. Giannelli to a child’s colored drawing of an eagle discovered on a shelf, art abounds in this Minnesota eagle center.

Art, colored eagle

Simply look and you will see.

Art, eagle head 2

Art.

Art, eagle mugs

In the gift shop.

Art, feathers

In a wing on display (although not from an eagle).

Art, eagle head

Everywhere.

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CHECK BACK for a post on more art, this time outside of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

Click here to read my first post on the eagle center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling