Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Family connections in the berry patch & beyond June 25, 2021

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

JUNE PROMPTS MEMORIES of Junes past, when our then family of five headed south of Faribault to Straight River Farm to pick strawberries.

We made a game of it, seeing who could harvest the most berries. It added an element of fun as we collectively picked 20-plus pounds of sun-ripened strawberries.

Years have passed since the kids left home and Randy and I picked berries. But now our eldest daughter continues the family tradition by taking her two children to a berry patch. Together the three of them (the kids are two and five) recently picked close to four pounds. While that’s not a lot of strawberries, it’s not all about the quantity. It’s also about time outdoors. About being, and working, together. About learning that strawberries come from fields, not just the produce section at the grocery store.

My grandchildren are a second-generation removed from the land. I want them to understand the origin of their food and to appreciate that their maternal grandparents grew up on family dairy and crop farms. Agriculture is part of their heritage.

Our granddaughter zooms along on her scooter last year at North Alexander Park in Faribault. This past Saturday we shared a picnic lunch near the shelter in this image. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

As their grandmother, I hold a responsibility to continue that connection to the land. This past weekend, when Isabelle and Isaac stayed overnight, we enjoyed the stunning summer weather with lots of time outdoors. That’s one simple way to link to the land. We packed a picnic lunch, with the kids “helping” to make their own sandwiches. Then it was off to North Alexander Park, where they learned to side step goose poop on the paved trail before we finally found a picnic table in a goose-poop-free zone. (Note to City of Faribault: Please place more picnic tables in the park among all those shade trees.)

While eating our picnic lunch, being in nature spurred conversations, which prompted questions, observations and more. Grandma, how many oak trees are there in the world? Leave that grape on the ground; the ants will eat it. The airplane is in the blue sky. Oh, how I love viewing the world from the perspective of my grandchildren. Life is so uncomplicated and simple and joy-filled.

Randy and the grandkids follow the pine-edged driveway at a family member’s central Minnesota lake cabin last summer. This is one of my favorite photos from that time in the beautiful outdoors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

Later that day, Randy and I took the kids to Wapacuta Park near our home. Rather than follow the most direct path up a steep grassy hill, we diverted onto a narrow dirt path that winds through the woods and leads to a launching point for disc golf. The kids loved that brief adventure into the woods, where we found a broken park bench (Note to City of Faribault: Please repair or replace.) and art flush to the earth. Exposed tree roots and limestone provided insights into the natural world and local terrain.

Randy also posed the kids next to a gigantic boulder near the playground while I snapped photos with my cellphone. Our three adult children responded with enthusiasm to the texted images. Wow! It looks the same as 30 some years ago! It has barely eroded. Amber and I will have to climb it the next time we are in Faribault.

A second trip to Wapacuta the following afternoon led to a lesson about storms as thunder banged, rain fell and we hurried home. Not through the woods this time.

I love every moment with my grandchildren. The time making cut-out star cookies for an upcoming July Fourth celebration. The time in our backyard blowing up a bubble storm. The time at the playground. The time reading and laughing and building block towers and putting dresses on the same Little Mermaid dolls Izzy’s mom and aunt played with some 25-plus (or less) years ago. These are the moments which link generations, which grow family love, which I cherish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another look at storm damage in Faribault, in & near my neighborhood September 25, 2018

Trees felled by the Thursday evening storm block the entrance to Wapacuta Park up the hill and within a block of my home.

 

AS CLEAN-UP CONTINUES in southern Minnesota, the National Weather Service has now identified 10 tornado tracks, five of those in my county of Rice. The strongest, an EF2 tornado with winds of 111- 135 mph, occurred in Morristown some 10 miles to the west of Faribault. Folks in that small town lost homes. The remaining nine were identified as EF1 tornadoes with winds of 86 – 110 mph. The nearest tornado occurred northwest of Faribault in the Roberds Lake area up to Interstate 35 by the Faribault airport, which was destroyed.

 

One of many fallen trees along about a two-block section of Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

The damage in Faribault neighborhoods, including mine, was apparently caused by straight-line winds/downbursts. Sunday afternoon Randy and I drove along Fourth Avenue Southwest, a few blocks up the hill from our home. It is one of my favorite neighborhoods with a tree-lined street fronting many stately old houses. The area has always reminded me of the beautiful homes along Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis.

 

Fallen trees, limbs and branches edge Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

A tree yanked from the ground along Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

More fallen trees along the avenue…

 

Now the landscape of perhaps two blocks of Fourth Avenue looks much different with so many trees fallen or damaged. In many parts of Faribault, there is no evidence that a storm ever hit. I’ve seen only widespread pockets of damage that affect a block or two or three, no more.

 

Taking a pause from tree removal Sunday afternoon near the Wapacuta Park playground.

 

Evidence of energy crews working in my neighborhood for 1 1/2 days to restore power.

 

A look at damage to a neighbor’s property where a tree landed on his garage.

 

Chainsaws buzz as folks and tree removal services continue with clean-up.

 

We piled branches from a large fallen limb onto the boulevard for city pick-up next week. Our friend is keeping large hunks of wood (stacked on our driveway) for firewood.

 

Sunday afternoon Randy and I focused on our own backyard, where a large branch broke off a neighbor’s tree and fell into in a small wooded section of our property. It didn’t hit our garage. But limbs loom above a neighbor’s house. Randy cut branches while I hauled them curbside before our friend Steve arrived with a chainsaw. Steve is Paul Bunyan strong with a heart of gold, always willing to help anyone. Anytime. Saturday he led a crew (including Randy and me) removing a fallen tree from our friend Lisa’s house where three trees uprooted, one landing on her house. Even with 16 people, the job of removing a single tree and branches took several hours.

 

Along Third Avenue Southwest by Wapacuta Park.

 

Sunday Randy and I worked several hours on the fallen limb in our yard. After we were well into the project, I learned that the city of Faribault is doing a curbside tree branch pick-up beginning October 1. But they won’t take anything longer than four feet. Alright then. I may be sorting through the pile…

As I write on Sunday evening, Randy is back at our friend’s house helping Steve load chunks of tree trunk and limbs…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fox trot in Faribault January 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:21 PM
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A MINUTE LATER, a minute earlier, and I would have missed it—the beautiful fox that stood on the snowy wooded hillside in my backyard late Saturday afternoon as my husband and I arrived home from a Walmart run.

“Fox,” I shouted to Randy, as he drove into the garage. I grabbed my camera bag from the floor, unzipped the case, pulled out my Canon DSLR and flung open the car door, all the while hoping the fox hadn’t trotted away.

 

 

I raced to the side of the garage. Any shots I took would come from that spot or the patio. Even though I wore boots, I had no intention of flailing through deep snow. I fired a few frames, then moved to the patio where I got an even better look at the unexpected wild animal moving with agility through the snowy woods.

 

 

At one point the fox stopped, turned and looked directly at me, just like my initial sighting. Given my excitement, I was uncertain whether I had managed any clear photos. I did. We’ve lived here since 1984 and had many wild animals on our property—raccoon, skunk, possum, woodchuck, deer and the usual abundance of squirrels and rabbits. But never a fox.

Now I’m left wondering whether the fox has a den on this hillside next to my home, next to Wapacuta Park in the heart of a residential neighborhood in south central Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling