Posts Categorized: Places

RAGBRAI Fun in Northeast Iowa!

By Sara Friedl-Putnam
Illustrations by Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the summer 2017 Inspire(d)

RAGBRAI is known for its seven fun-filled days, with upwards of 9,000 riders pedaling west to east across the entire state of Iowa. The three days scheduled in Northeast Iowa this year (2017) are no exception. There’s so much fun stuff here, in fact, we thought we’d put together just a few ideas to get folks started (do adventure on your own too!). Have fun, and welcome to the Driftless!

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THURSDAY, JULY 27, 2017

Today’s relatively short 54.6-mile ride should give you plenty of time to explore Cresco and its surrounds before calling it a night.

CRESCO (overnight)

Lovely day out? Discover unique prairie wildflowers and grasses at Prairie’s Edge Nature Center – and relax beside the small waterfalls and sloping pools at Vernon Springs Ladder Dam, Iowa’s first rock-arch rapids project.
Read a fun feature on Cresco here!

Cresco Theatre and Opera House
115 Second Avenue West

Are you looking for someplace fun to rest those weary bones? Look no further than the cushioned seats of this architectural gem of a theatre, opened in 1915 (to a packed house) and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Once a popular stop for vaudeville performers, today the 425-seat theatre hosts concerts, stage productions, and, of course, recently released films. The price at the door may be more than the five cents it was a century ago, but the experience is worth every (additional) penny.

Dough and Joe Bakery
114 North Elm Street

A full day in the saddle awaits, so why not start your ride off right with a full dose of carbs and caffeine? This family-owned bakery offers plenty of both, from the latte of the week to cookies and cake pops. But it’s the heavenly cream-filled long johns that helped earn Dough and Joe Bakery the seventh spot on Travel Iowa’s list of best donut establishments in 2016.

FRIDAY, JULY 28

What’s on tap for day six? You’ll climb 2,483 feet as you traverse just about 60 miles of scenic Northeast Iowa terrain. First stop is Decorah, where the town’s annual Nordic Fest promises to be in full swing. Then Ossian, Castalia, and Postville await before you call it a day in Allamakee’s county seat: Waukon.

DECORAH

Outdoor highlights:
One town, three waterfalls! At 200 feet, the truly spectacular Dunnings Spring waterfall is just minutes by bike from downtown Decorah. Out of town but right off the Trout Run Trail (map here!) you’ll find Siewers Spring, located just steps from a popular trout-rearing station. Further off the RAGBRAI path is Malanaphy Springs, near Bluffton but well worth the ride if you have the time and inclination to make it.

Nordic Fest
Water Street and environs

Dish up the kringla, krumkakke, lefse, and lutefisk. Cue up theNordic Dancers and Luren Singers. Each July since 1967, small-town Decorah has put on one big Norwegian celebration, featuring an array of entertainment and, yes, lots and lots of energy-boosting Scandinavian food, most served up by friendly locals from food booths up and down Water Street. Even if you don’t know varme polse from rømmegrøt, hop off your bike, partake in the fun, and take advantage of the opportunity to be a little bit Norwegian for the day.

Oneota Community Food Co-Op
312 West Water Street

Swing by and stock up on some healthy fuel for the road. Locally grown organic produce, piping-hot panini sandwiches, and fresh-baked breads and pastries – this thriving community co-op has them all, as well as shelves stocked with everything from natural peanut butter and sweet potato chips to bulk bins with nuts, dried fruits, and other nutritious treats.

College Drive Breweries:

Toppling Goliath

Small-town Decorah has some big-time beer. Poured inside the modest Toppling Goliath taproom is craft beer so remarkable it’s widely considered among the best in the world. And as locals will tell you, the outdoor patio is tailor-made for kicking back and enjoying popular tap varieties like Pseudo Sue pale ale and Dorothy’s New World Lager.

Pulpit Rock
Just down College Drive you’ll find Pulpit Rock, which opened its doors in a retrofitted laundry / garage in 2015 and has quickly made a name for itself as a destination taproom. Thirst-quenching pale ales, delicious Saftig IPA, and variations of (local) Impact coffee-infused pour-over porter – there truly is something to satisfy even the most discriminating of beer enthusiasts at this adventurous craft brewery. While you’re at it, swing down around the corner on Water Street and hit the Courtyard & Cellar for beer garden or cellar-shade nirvana

What cyclist doesn’t crave ice cream on a hot summer day? Take your pick of soft-serve at the Whippy Dip on College Drive, or hand-dipped Sugar Bowl on Water Street.
Read our “thoroughly researched” Driftless ice cream guide here!

Its nitro cold brew on tap may be perfect for a hot July day, but Impact Coffee Bar also offers a full menu of custom-roasted coffee, pour overs, espresso-based drinks, and loose-leaf teas. Read more about Impact Coffee  in our ‘Summer 2017’ magazine!

EN ROUTE

Need to make a quick pit stop before you hit Postville? Then be on the lookout for Shooters Bar and Grill (Main Street, Ossian) and Susie’s First Chance Saloon (Greene Street, Castalia).

Home to one of the smallest YMCAs in the nation, the small but diverse town of Postville also boasts some memorable restaurants, including the Brick Oven Pizza and Eatery on Greene Street and the authentic (and tiny) Mexican restaurant and carniceria, El Pariente, next door. Not hungry yet? Swing by the city park and relax to the strains of live Mexican music, or check out the music and beer garden downtown.

RURAL WAUKON

Empty Nest Winery
1352 Apple Road

Want to take in the countryside without pedaling? Then check out this off-the-beaten-path winery, established in 2011 by husband and wife team Dave and Pam Kruger. Folks can sit back and relax with a glass of wine while enjoying the picturesque woods, hills, and fields of Northeast Iowa. In addition to its handcrafted pure-berry wines, the Empty Nest will be serving up beer, sangria, and slushies – plus a tasty food buffet – for RAGBRAI riders (or any visitors, really!).

The “Old” Rossville Store
851 Volney Road

There’s nothing more quintessentially Midwest than the supper club. And the homespun “Old” Rossville Store has a reputation as one of Iowa’s best. Be sure to come hungry, though, as large portions of entrees like its popular prime rib come with choice of potato, steamed veggies, AND a trip to a far-from-ordinary salad bar. Be on the lookout for marinated carrot salad, cottage cheese, pea salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, tomato salad, and even chocolate pudding and strawberry ambrosia.

WAUKON (overnight)

W.W. Homestead Dairy
850 Rossville Road

When nearby Luther College needed a dessert (literally) fit for a king, it was this small dairy that got the call. That’s right – in October 2011, King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway capped off a luncheon at the college with a helping of W.W. Homestead Dairy’s cinnamon ice cream created just for the occasion. No doubt RAGBRAI riders will be equally pleased by the rich, flavorful ice cream – made with farm-fresh, cream-line milk – served up in dishes, cones, and carryout containers. Or if ice cream’s not your jam, swing by and sample the dairy’s fresh cheese curds, just as sought after by the hometown crowd.

Main Feature Theater and Pizza Pub
38 West Main Street

Pizza. Popcorn. Beer. And, yes, a movie. What more could you ask for after a long, hot day biking Iowa’s back roads? First opened as the Town Theatre in the 1930s, this Main Street fixture was re-invented as a dine-in theatre in 1989. Since then, it’s been welcoming hungry adults and kids for an affordable, one-of-a-kind entertainment experience. Word on the street is that the pizza & movie combination may be going away soon, so catch it if you can!

Steel Cow Gallery
15 Allamakee Street

Her works decorate the sides of barns and the walls of homes, businesses, and galleries throughout the Midwest. Hop off your bike and check out the bovine artistry of Valerie Miller, creator of the popular Steel Cow line of original paintings and canvas prints. 

SATURDAY, JULY 29

Further explore the splendor of the Driftless Region as RAGBRAI ascends 3,200 feet over 44.8 miles. Wind through Waterville, then the Yellow River State Forest, with its 8,500 acres and 25 miles of trails known for rocky outcrops, stunning bluffs, and steep slopes. Gotta stop for a quick drink or bite to eat? Check out Missfitz Bar and Grill or Spillway Supper Club, both in Harpers Ferry, before finally conquering the last 13-mile leg to Lansing, the last stop on RAGBRAI XLV.

LANSING

Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center
Great River Road

Learn more about the Driftless flora, fauna, and other natural features you’ve seen from the seat of your bike. Be among the first to experience the interpretive displays of this just-opened center, which overlooks the mighty Mississippi River and explores the mysteries of the region, including its limestone bluffs, Native American mounds, and algific talus slopes.

Horsfall’s Lansing Variety Store
300 Main Street

Itching to hitch up your bike and head for home? Better press that pause button because no trip to this scenic Mississippi River town is complete without at least a brush through the bargain-stacked aisles of the store known simply as Horsfall’s. Variety is the name of the game at this storied establishment, which celebrates the glory days of five-and-dimes and carries pretty much anything you can imagine. From greeting cards and sunglasses to cookbooks and cat toys, Horsfall’s has it all.

Safe House Saloon
359 Main Street

Kick back, relax, and write the final chapter of your RAGBRAI adventure at this fun local eatery. As its name suggests, the Safe House Saloon offers plenty of beer, both bottled and on tap, craft and otherwise. But you’ll also find beer-battered cheese curds, wings slathered in homemade sauces, and an array of gourmet pizzas with entertaining names like the Naked Cowboy and the Bootlegger to satisfy those hunger pangs before you hit the road back home.

Congrats to all who are making the 2017 trek across the state – we hope you find your way back to the Driftless soon – and please tell all of our friends above that we sent you! Cheers & happy riding!

Crystal Creek Magic!

Crystal Creek Magic

A Minnesota couple launches a Citizen-Artist Residency program in their magical Houston, Minnesota, cabin in hopes of connecting artists and residents to create a better region…and world.

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Somewhere around its 100th birthday, Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge moved on up – up a bluff – to Oak Forest Lane just outside of Houston, Minnesota. There, a former owner reassembled the log cabin and built two thoughtful additions. Typical to a country cabin, there are gorgeous views for days, but untypical is that this log house also has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fairly open floor plan, and laundry on-site.

Erin Dorbin and Taylor Harris bought the 1890s home in the spring of 2016.

“I feel like ‘1890’ is what they say when they’re not sure exactly when a place was built,” Taylor says with a laugh, eight-month-old baby Maple in hand. “I know, right?” Erin agrees, laughing. “Sometime in the late 1800s, anyway, this cabin, we believe, was built in Viroqua, Wisconsin.”

Beautiful, old, salvaged doors and windows, exposed beams, and giant porches welcome visitors. Just “cabin-y” enough, the 100-year-old logs peek out from behind the breakfast nook and next to the ladders – yes, ladders – that lead upstairs and downstairs. A love note to the former owners’ kids is etched into the mortar that literally holds the house together.

Maple squeals as she plays with a tiny toy giraffe, and their sweet dog Georgia leans in for a pat as rain pitters outside and mist rises from the bluffs surrounding Crystal Creek below. It’s a little bit magic.

So it’s no surprise that finding the cabin was a like finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Erin was pregnant at the time, and the couple was looking for ways to facilitate careers in two locations. Erin worked in Rochester for Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, a non-profit dedicated to preserving historic buildings and places. Her outreach took her to counties across Southeast Minnesota. Taylor is an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Northeast Minneapolis.

They had planned to park their vintage Avion camper at Maple Springs Campground (which even inspired their baby name!) in Forestville, but the universe – aka their future cabin – stepped in.

“I found this place and was like, ‘Oooh my gosh!’ Erin says.

“I was mad,” Taylor says. “We weren’t planning to buy a house! But it was so amazing. We couldn’t pass it up.”

“Seriously! One early foggy morning I took the gorgeous and tightly winding Highway 76 to Caledonia on my way to work. I saw this fox and bird playing together on the side of the road, but they probably weren’t really playing together, they were probably fighting over roadkill,” Erin says with a grin, “But it sure looked like it. And I thought to myself, ‘This is it.’”

Erin grew up in Michigan, in a place rural enough to be 15 minutes from the nearest town. So Houston – population under 1000 – seemed just right.

“I feel very rooted here,” she says.

Taylor, on the other hand, hails from New York City, although he’s spent the last two decades in the Twin Cities. He feels very rooted there. So the two-home set-up made sense for the young parents, both in their mid-30s.

Things went smoothly with the closing on the cabin, and shortly after, Erin and Taylor listed it on Airbnb. They had bookings immediately.

“We had to turn people away, in fact,” Erin says. “People would come here to stay and be absolutely taken with the place. In Minnesota, everyone says, ‘Go North,’ but we say, ‘Go Southeast.’”

Inspired by a variety of organizations – such as the Wormfarm Institute’s Artist Residency program in Reedsburg, Wisconsin; a wild McKnight grant artist named Dan Senn who produced a sound and video installation in the 90s in the “Catacombs of Yucatan” (Houston, Minnesota); and by the region itself, it didn’t take long for Erin to hatch the idea for the Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist residency program.

“The phrase Citizen-Artist just came to me one day,” Erin says. “It just felt right. It described how I, and other creative professionals, were performing creative and professional community-connected work. It took off from there.”

“And I just follow along on the crazy schemes,” Taylor says, laughing. “I hold the baby.”

The plan is this: Erin and Taylor will host three (this year four) artists, individually, for week-long residencies during the months of July, August, and September 2017 (those months may vary in future years).

Each year, they will select one local or regional artist, and two from outside regions, meaning, beyond the Driftless Region. Artists’ work will be inspired by the Driftless, though, and will help the larger community of Southeast Minnesota re-imagine their locale right alongside the citizen-artists-in-residence.

The Citizen-Artist program goals are twofold:

  1. To introduce people to the Driftless Area of Southeast Minnesota
  2. To connect with and leverage Houston County’s natural, social, and cultural assets. A big proponent of the program was that the Citizen-Artists-in-Residence (CAIRs) didn’t need to have a “traditional” fine art background. Erin and Taylor welcomed writers, chefs, social scientists, historians, podcasters, dancers, musicians – you name it – to apply.

“We wanted to broaden the perception of what art means to people and institutions in Houston Co. Minnesota – it can be place-based; it can be interactive; it can influence civic matters,” Erin and Taylor say together, one idea on top of the other. “It’s not necessarily rural or urban, either; it’s art for everyone.”

The amazing luck that seemed to follow Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge continued through the CAIRs project – “Cabin Porn,” a popular cabin-living book and website, picked up Erin’s Citizen-Artist Facebook post and shared it. That post got an 18,000 reach. Their first application came from Montana.

So while Erin and Taylor can’t get a cell phone call out at Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge, they can get artists all the way from Victoria B.C. and New York.

“There were at least nine applicants that we really would have loved to have come, but we finally settled on four,” Erin says. “One residency is being shared by two CAIRs.”

The 2017 CAIRs are as follows:

  1. Harry Graff Kimball, a place-based songwriter from New York
  2. Melissa Wray and Todd Melby, from the Twin Cities as the regional representation and shared residency. Both artists host podcasts and are excited to interview the people of Houston County while exploring the tension between rural and urban life.
  3. Cimarron Corpé, a geographer and multimedia artist from Victoria, B.C.

“I wanted to find a way to expose people to this area, and know they’ll leave with a little piece of it in their hearts. The CAIRs won’t just be tourists, they’ll hopefully become part of the place; residents themselves, even if for a brief amount of time,” Erin says. “After they leave, they can connect their experiences here in Southeast Minnesota with their own larger communities and global networks.

Although funding wasn’t totally in place when Erin and Taylor jumped into the project, Houston Arts Resource Council (HARC) quickly came on board as an active partner.

“HARC is committed to creating vibrant communities in Southeast Minnesota through promoting arts and cultural programming. I would love it if new ideas were generated in Houston County that can help pave the path for the region as a whole,” Erin says.

Other area partners – local arts, history, and community organizations – are also working with Erin and Taylor to help realize their vision. To further facilitate community interaction, there will be workshops and meet-and-greet sessions in different locations – from coffee shops to visitors’ centers. Plus, next spring, a Citizen-Artist Showcase is planned to promote works created during the residency, and to hopefully inspire other rural arts activities in Houston County.

“I wanted to be a conduit for connecting all these things,” Erin says. “I’ve worked in economic development, planning, education, historic preservation, and – although I’m not totally comfortable saying this – I’ve worked as an artist too. So I’ve infused everything I’ve done with this creative vision.”

Her passion for the project and Houston County, as a whole, is evident.

“I really want to trigger our local assets,” Erin says. “Let people come here with fresh eyes and let the people of our community look at things with fresh eyes, and together find a way to make life here in the Driftless even better.”

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Aryn Henning Nichols was taken, herself, with the magic of Houston County and Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge. She thinks connecting people in the region and larger world to make life better is what we should all strive to do, everyday, and this project is a great step in that direction!

 

Inspire(d) caught up with each of the 2017 Citizen-Artists in Residence via email to ask a few questions about their upcoming trips to the area, and why they applied. For more details about the CAIRs project, check crystalcreekcitizenartist.com.

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Residency 1: July 16-22 – Harry Graff Kimball, from New York
Meet & Greet: July 18
Workshop: July 20

Harry Graff Kimball is a songwriter, producer, and builder-storyteller. A classical guitarist by early training and a member of the late ’90s, almost-almost-famous NYC indie group Ensimismada, Harry is also the bassist and co-founder of Los Chinches, the only group ever described as a “Pavement-meets-Dead Kennedys” revelation. He is “a halfway-decent carpenter, an inveterate tinkerer, and a budding amp maker. He writes speeches to pay the bills.”

On his art medium:

I write songs and play them. Some of the times I’m like a singer-songwriter, some of the times I’m in a rock band, and for this I’m trying to focus on people and place, so I’m calling the art product ‘place-based story-songs.’ But yeah, folk songs.

Why did you apply?

The thought certainly crossed my mind: “Why should I go to rural Minnesota for a week to write songs?” But seeing Erin and Taylor’s enthusiasm in the words they put down, and feeling the vibrancy and beauty of the region and the people that live there made it easy, even necessary. “Of course I should! There are a lot of songs there, and I bet people there are already writing them!”

How will you spend your week?

I think a lot of artists would love to be alone with their thoughts for a week with no interruptions or expectations – but this is different. It forces a duality: look inward and outward at the same time. I’m not the most outgoing person, so I’m basically going to force myself to be manically collaborative with whoever will talk to me or play music with me or share a song or a ride or a meal. That said, I would also like to write some music, so I will try to enjoy the peace of the place and engage with the writing process. I also want to go fishing. So I guess a third of the time getting to know people and hopefully making some music with them, a third of the time writing (or writing with other people!) and a third of the time just being in the region, in the woods, on the roads and gathering experience.

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Residency 2: Aug 12-18 – Melissa Wray/Todd Melby, Minneapolis
Meet & Greet: Aug 14
Workshop: Aug 16

Melissa Wray

Community and stories are at the heart of Melissa Wray’s creative work. Melissa co-founded Hazel & Wren in 2011, a community resource organization for writers. As a writer herself, she mostly writes poetry and creative nonfiction. She is the Marketing Coordinator at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she produces The Loft Podcast.

On sending in that application:

When I heard about this residency, I immediately knew I had to apply. I grew up near Caledonia, Minnesota, on a sheep farm. My family still lives there, and it’s a place dear to me that I always consider home. However, I have made my adult home in Minneapolis since 2006. I’ve constantly felt this tug between my two ideas of home. One home is this rural environment that taught me so many things about community strength, the importance of the natural world, and my roots. The other home is the vibrant urban environment in which I’ve been able to build a sustainable career working in the nonprofit arts world, grow as an individual, and meet my now-husband.

This rural-urban divide is even more poignant now as our nation faces the reality of this same tension. I had already been developing ideas for creative projects that address this, and knew that this residency was the perfect place to start, back where it all started for me: home.

How do you plan to spend your week?

After applying, Erin reached out to me and another applicant, Todd Melby, about sharing a residency. Todd has done amazing work with radio journalism, and we’ll be working together to gather audio stories, asking Houston County residents to talk about sense of community and culture.

Todd Melby

Todd Melby is a reporter, interactive producer and filmmaker. He’s best known as lead producer of Black Gold Boom, a public media project documenting North Dakota’s oil boom – and bust. His radio stories have aired on MPR, Marketplace, and The World. He’s also a senior producer at 2 below zero, a public media nonprofit, and has created interactive and television documentaries, including one which recently aired on PBS stations. In 2013, he was awarded a McKnight Media Artist Fellowship. His newest project is the podcast The Drunk Projectionist.

On the agenda for Todd:

I plan to wander and talk to anyone who is willing to talk with me: teens playing basketball, guys smoking outside of bars, farmers sipping coffee at the local cafe at 6 a.m., whatever. I’d also ask those connected with the residency to recommend elders or anyone else they think might have a great story to tell.

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Residency 3: Sept 10-16 – Cimarron Corpé, Victoria, B.C.
Meet & Greet: Sept 12
Workshop: Sept 14

Cimarron Corpé is a human geographer whose interests focus on landscapes and the role sound and images play in our orientation and construction of place. He has lectured and presented creative works internationally, on topics such as physical and human geography, environmental science, and sustainability. Cimarron is currently Director of Policy Development with the Province of British Columbia, where he leads projects including technical building requirements, energy efficiency, accessibility, and climate leadership.

On his art:

I am a multimedia artist working with images (photography and video) and sound (field recording, acoustic instruments, and electronic synthesis). My works range from exhibits and installations to live performance. I also dabble in expressionist painting and collage.

Why did you decide to apply to be a Citizen-Artist?

I was attracted to the unique physical geography of the Driftless Region and felt that the topography, caves, sinkholes, springs, and subterranean rivers offered numerous opportunities to engage with the landscape and draw creative inspiration.

I also found the broad criteria for applying for the residency to be very refreshing and inviting. There are very few other residencies that encourage chefs, podcasters, community organizers, and artists to apply. This is a very innovative and forward thinking approach.

What’s on the agenda for the week?

I intend to explore the bluffs and network of caves, ride a bicycle along the Root River Bike Trail, and visit the many small towns. Along the way I will be preparing a comprehensive audio and visual record of my observations and experiences. This collection of images and sound will form the foundation for the work I will produce during my stay, which I will first present at a citizen-artist meet and greet sponsored by the Houston Arts Resource Council.

Later in the week I will host a community workshop on field recording. We’ll start with an introduction to the history, philosophy, techniques, and practice of field recording, then move outdoors to capture sounds in the field, finally reconvening to listen to our recordings and share our experiences.

crystalcreekcitizenartist.com

Smithsonian Water/Ways in Lanesboro, MN

Photo courtesy Smithsonian . Pakhnyushchy/Shutterstock.com

Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways” lands in Lanesboro, Minnesota, January 7 through February 19, 2017. The exhibit showcases how water forges bonds more complex than ‘H’ to ‘O’.

By Kristine Jepsen

Water. It hauls 108M tons of freight annually within the banks of the Upper Mississippi River alone, makes up 84 percent of any Honeycrisp apple and carries every single molecule of metabolized carbs and protein to each cell in – you guessed it – your body.

But stats alone cannot tell the story of water’s universal importance to life, nor inspire anyone to take action to conserve it. Driving home the awareness that water is a resource we must respect, honor, and absolutely protect is at the heart of Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways.” Lanesboro, Minnesota was one of six locations in Minnesota that was chosen for this national exhibit. It is installed in Lanesboro January 7 through February 19, 2017, and there’s with a huge variety of corresponding events scheduled throughout town – from Lanesboro Arts Center openings to Commonweal Theatre plays to film sets to moonlight snowshoe hikes. (See below for full event details.)

Historical photos of Lanesboro – ranging from 1876-1950 – courtesy Lanesboro Historical Museum

 

Designed in collaboration with state humanities councils, the project weaves the science of water conservation together with individual experiences of the power and poetry of water. Lanesboro’s narrative will, naturally, feature the Root River and its impact in the development of the region, from its meaning to Native American tribes on through to the more recent life threatening flooding of 2007-08 and 2016.

“Rivers move. They’re alive. They have this flow to them that just is fascinating,” says John Weiss, outdoor reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin for nearly 40 years. Project technology coordinator and award-winning ethnographer Erin Dorbin recorded the interview with Weiss as they hiked along the Root River, one of several audio pieces produced for the exhibit.

Top: Fishing on the north branch of Root River, 1950. Bottom: A more recent view of the Root River Valley.

“You gotta love water. You gotta protect water. You got to cherish water. But never, ever, ever trust water,” Weiss continued. “You got these two sides of it – the beauty and the beast. Moving water, as everybody knows, is dangerous. You have to respect it.”

Water/Ways was brought to the area by state sponsors like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a variety of local organizations – see sidebar for a full list. Credit for Lanesboro’s selection as a host location goes to Nancy North, who initiated the town’s application. She is principal at the Lanesboro-based communications and design firm, NewGround, specializing in environmental education and outreach. Partnering organizations have been planning the exhibit and related events since its announcement in June 2015.

Alongside Smithsonian’s Water/Ways is a companion exhibit specific to Minnesota, We Are Water. This interactive story-collecting showcase includes recordings from Minnesotans – including Lanesboro locals – who reflect on the meaning and experience of water. There are also opportunities for exhibit visitors to share their own stories and images. We Are Water MN connects visitors with ways to take action in water conservation, including in-depth resources for youth educators, regardless of whether they visit the exhibit in person. Visit mnhum.org/waterways for details.

The scientific side of the exhibit is spearheaded by Friends of the Root River, a non-profit advocacy coalition, and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, which brought on a Minnesota GreenCorps staff member to train local docents for the Water/Ways exhibit. Friends of the Root River organized several Science Sunday public lectures in downtown Lanesboro, such as “Contaminants: What the Data Show” given by Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab. The Eagle Bluff Center itself, located on the bluff northwest of town, will host candlelight snowshoe hikes, several themed dinners, and a family sled dog day.

Stephanie Davidson

“Talking about water strictly in the language of scientific research and conservation can get dense,” says Eagle Bluff fellowship coordinator Stephanie Davidson. What’s inspiring is that a lot of water quality sampling, especially in the Driftless Region, is done by citizen scientists, she says. An introduction to water sampling is offered year-round through Eagle Bluff’s “Stream Lab” unit for students grades 4-8. Adults and/or parents of children interested in office training can sign up with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/citizen-water-monitoring.

“Literally, grade-school students can be eyes and ears for streams in their backyards,” says Davidson. “You can collect valuable information on the pond you pass on your way to work. It’s one reason our watershed has some of the broadest and longest-standing water data in the state.”

Adam Wiltgen

Lanesboro’s installation of Water/Ways differs from other Smithsonian stops across the country – locations ranging from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Okeechobee, Florida – in that the exhibit’s home-base isn’t a science center or historical society, though both are integrally involved, says Adam Wiltgen, program director at Lanesboro Arts, a key collaborator.

Instead, viewers will find Water/Ways rooted in the historic St. Mane Theatre and Commonweal Theatre, both on Parkway Avenue, Lanesboro’s main drag. There, viewers will gather for educational events, film screenings, and musical productions. The resident Commonweal Theatre Company will present dramatic readings of locals’ most striking memories of water, as well as creative short plays, written and produced by Commonweal staff and alumni.

One script pushes the envelope on water scarcity, says Commonweal executive director Hal Cropp. In the future it imagines, a bottle of water appears in a museum exhibit – because it no longer exists as we know it.

St. Mane Theatre will also debut the work of student videographers Olivia Obritsch (grade 12), Jared Peterson (grade 7), Nora Sampson and Mai Gjere (grade 8), whose short documentaries on Lanesboro history and culture were funded by a nationally competitive Youth Access Technology Project grant. Just six communities received the award.

Dorbin, who directs graduate-level ethnographic programs for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted four months of field training with the students. “We covered everything from interviewing skills to research and editing,” she explains. “At one point, their assignment was to approach people on Main Street and ask, ‘When was the last time water made you laugh?’”

The result, Dorbin says, is some of the best work she’s seen. “I have loved seeing their exploration of their environment and community and their growth as citizens, uncovering history and realizing that they are also creators of history and can influence local decision-making.”

Mai Gjere, who studied Lanesboro’s economic history and plans to attract young people in the future, put it this way: “Our community won’t get better with chance. It will get better with change,” she concluded in her documentary, citing the town’s need to supplement thriving eco- and arts tourism with professional employment in more sectors. “Hopefully, my generation will be the one to change it.”

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Kristine Jepsen writes for magazines and the Web and enjoys grant writing for small businesses. She’s grateful for awesome educational resources, like Water/Ways, available in the Driftless – particularly as she embarks on homeschooling with her young daughter. Read more of her work at www.kristinejepsen.com.

The Lanesboro Water/Ways + We Are Water schedule is subject to change, so if you’re thinking of heading to one of the events listed here, please check mnhum.org/waterways/lanesboro for any updates.

January 7, 4-6 pm — “Currents of Change” – Visual Art and Historic Photograph Exhibit Opening Reception + Water Bar! Lanesboro Arts and the Lanesboro Museum at the at Lanesboro Arts Exhibition Gallery (Exhibit will run throughout the Water/Ways exhibition)

January 7 & 8 — “Ripples of Reflection” theatrical performance, Commonweal Theatre

January 8, 2 pm — Science Sunday, River Sojourn Film Screening with Sara and Ken Lubinksi, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 13, 7:30 pm — “Our Mighty Mississippi” with Steven Marking, baritone, St. Mane Theatre

January 14, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Protecting our Waters with Dr. Joshua Lallaman, Phd., Assistant Professor at SMUMN, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 15, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Wild Caving with Bill Brueck, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 21 – Giant bass snow sculpture will be created today! Downtown Lanesboro

January 21, 5 pm — Fish Fry, Lanesboro American Legion

January 21, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 22 — Science Sunday, Contaminants: What the Data Shows with Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 27, 6:30 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 28, 1 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 27-28 — Lanesboro Ice Bar, High Court Pub

January 29, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Swimmable, Fishable, Fixable? with Cathy Rofshus from the MN Pollution Control Agency, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 4, — Family Dog Sled Day, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 4, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 5 — Science Sunday, Improving Water Quality with Land Conservation with Kevin Kuehner, Field to Stream Partnership, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 4 pm — Chasing Niagara, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 7:30 pm — Aqua Adventure Film Set, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 12, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Ironwood Landfill with Gary Peterson, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 16-18, 7:30 pm — “H20 Ten” eight 10-minute short plays about water, Commonweal Theatre Company

February 18, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 19, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Mysteries of the Driftless Film with Co-Producer George Howe, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

Contribute your story to Water/Ways or listen to oral histories collected in your area through Smithsonian’s app for smartphones.

Water/Ways and We Are Water are made possible by:
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)
US Environmental Protection Agency
National Endowment for the Humanities
Minnesota Humanities Center
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota section of the American Water Works Association
Minnesota Public Radio
Lanesboro Arts
Commonweal Theatre Company
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center
Lanesboro Museum
Friends of the Root River