Posts Tagged: Inspired Media

Interview with Artist Kelly Ludeking

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Sculpture artist Kelly Ludeking loves metal. Pretty much all kinds of it. And while he originally started with bronze and aluminum, it was an iron pour that really pulled him in. For Kelly, pouring iron is about community. It’s about learning and teaching, and it was this aspect that really sealed his path and passion.

Born in Decorah, Iowa, Kelly attended the local high school, and like many small town teens, was involved in essentially every extracurricular activity that he had any interest in. Mostly art-related things: band, drama, painting, sculpture, etc.

“It kind of amazed me to look back and see how much art I dabbled in to find my niche,” he says.

That niche was eventually found at the Minnesota College of Art and Design where he was studying metal work. Kelly and some friends were invited to an iron pour – their first – and they watched as nearly a dozen people worked together as a team to feed a fire, melt iron, and pour it into molds to make each person’s individual art works.

“It was more of a production,” Kelly says. “It was such an incredible event.”

After, Kelly and friends went back to their college, inspired. They wanted to build their own furnace. And with help from the school, they did. Amazingly, they hosted their very own iron pour later that year. That furnace lived on at the Minnesota College of Art and Design for several years until it was donated to a sculpture park. It’s still used today, and in fact, was recently done so by Kelly.

You see, this is what Kelly does. He is an artist. He’s only just relocated with his wife to Madison, Wisconsin, from the Twin Cities, and he’s already got a gallery showing lined up. He is doing it. He travels around the Midwest and nation to be a guest artist, speaker, or participant in iron pours and events. He was invited to three pours this spring alone, and even spoke at the National Conference on Cast Iron Art in Birmingham, Alabama. The goal was to help students realize there is “casting after college.”

“The conference helps teach the next generation,” says Kelly. “We want them to know that once they leave college, they can continue to cast. Through businesses and institutions, they can make a living at it.”

There are a lot of inventive ways to cast post-graduation, he says. One is to set up your own event, like the sixth annual Down on the Farm Iron Pour Kelly hosted on his family’s farm this past July. The whole thing started on a whim – after organizing more than a decade of pours elsewhere, Kelly was living in Decorah helping his family and decided to bring an event here.

“I figured I could show my family what I do and not have to leave the farm,” he says. “And this way I have control of things. My dad’s very cool about it, we can build a bigger furnace and I know there will be enough room for everyone. And from the sounds of it, it’s going to be quite a bit larger than it’s been in the past. It’s looking like 50 artists are coming.”

People of all experience levels will stay in rural Decorah out at the Ron Ludeking farm and cast and teach and learn from each other. They come here from a variety of locales –Kentucky, Minnesota, Wisconsin – for this “Down on the Farm” pour. Artists are beginning to look forward to the annual event, even recognizing the barn in the promo posters before they even know Kelly.

“I have a t-shirt with the barn on it and people say, ‘You’re that guy,’” Kelly says. “It’s growing. People are coming from all over to play at my farm. For some ‘weekend warrior’ kind of artists, this is their get-away. This is their time to make art.”

The entire four-day event is organized by Kelly’s company, Ironhead Sculptural Services, and is open to the public each day from noon until 7 pm. Visitors can come watch artists in the process of creating patterns and molds. Then on Saturday, June 27, at roughly 5 pm, Kelly and his crew of artists fired up the furnace and poured molten metal into the molds they’d been working on throughout the event.

After, DJ Efraim Santiago from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, fired up the tunes and mixed music for the annual iron pour party.

Kelly also taught classes at the farm June 24 through Decorah’s ArtHaus.

“I especially enjoy teaching kids, because they seem to be getting away from hands-on learning – tactile stuff. There’s so much virtual work,” he says. “Hands-on building is something so different from building on a computer. I think it’s just a good learning experience for them. And for the adults too.”
If things go as Kelly hopes, the entire Down on the Farm Iron Pour will really be one big learning process. Casting iron for fun and for an art didn’t start until the 60s, Kelly says, and a lot of the original “old dogs” are retiring from pouring and moving on.

“I want to learn as much as possible. It’s cool to be a part of something where the founders are actually still around,” Kelly says. “It hasn’t changed, why we do it. It’s the love of the metal. It’s really key to the process. If you can make iron beautiful and change the way people look at it – that it’s not machinery, it’s not something that’s cold and hard any more – if you can change somebody’s perception about it… that’s art. It’s pretty cool.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks molten metal is pretty darn neat. She hopes lots of people visit Kelly’s cool pour.

Down on the Farm Iron Pour: Stay tuned at for details on this annual event
According to Kelly: “Completely open to ALL skill levels”
Ron Ludeking Farm, 1421 200th Street, Decorah
To get more information or to be involved, contact Kelly at:

Miles of Trekking at Lake Meyer

By Lauren Kraus

Hello, Summer! As each day begins and every heavy rain passes, the trees and vegetation bring a bright green glow to Northeast Iowa. That fresh glow has been buried in snow for too long and now is the time to get out and play. The late sunsets, colorful flowers, and green leaves are intoxicating – you just can’t help but feel happy in the presence of summer! For me, this constant beckoning to be outside means tromping around in the woods and exploring area trails. I am excited to keep surveying the region’s greatness and continue the trail series featured in Inspire(d) last spring, summer, and fall. We checked out some pretty prime spots, and if you need a refresher, see the complete series of trails articles in the main “read” section. Whatever your mode – hike, bike, run, or walk – make sure you take advantage of the fantastic natural setting that is the Driftless region.

Know of Lake Meyer? No, no, not to be mistaken with Michael Myers, the fictional character from the “Halloween” slasher series. Winneshiek’s Meyer is much better and not scary. (Although, summer is definitely a great time to stay up late and watch horror movies or tell ghost stories.) Lake Meyer is a hidden gem that sits on 33 acres of rolling, rugged woodlands nestled just three miles southwest of Calmar off Highway 24. It’s not the land of 10,000 lakes here in Iowa, so a body of water surrounded with great hiking trails like Lake Meyer is unique and not to be missed. Home of the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, Lake Meyer Park not only has beautiful trails with a few rustic bridges (including a hidden draw bridge) to enjoy, but boasts a campground and nature center that is open for outdoor education and regular events such as the Women’s Canoe Workshop that happened this June.

In the mood for bluegill, largemouth bass, or channel catfish? Lake Meyer also has great fishing. So get out the picnic basket, pull out those fishing poles and brush off the old Eureka tent, ‘cause Lake Meyer Park has it all. For more information and specific event dates, check out

Itching for a new trail to check out or need a reminder of the sweet, sweet tromping grounds in Decorah? You asked for it. The folks of Decorah Human Powered Trails (DHPT) as well as several volunteers kept their momentum going – even after the flood damage last June – to build virtually one mile of new trail in the Dunnings Spring Park above Ice Cave Road. Deke Gosen of Decorah’s Oneota River Cycles expressed his excitement about the success in making this new trail a great loop with little elevation differential and a better entrance off Ice Cave Road. This is open to all types of bikers, runners, and hikers with varied skill level. To access this new trail, called “Mother’s Day,” head east on Ice Cave Road and keep a lookout for a trailhead on the north side (your left) of the road. You will notice a small, brown Decorah Parks and Rec. sign with a little hiker on it well after the entrance to Dunning’s Spring but before the Ice Cave. This is the older trail. Keep going about 100 yards and look for another trailhead. It is clearly tracked out, but not marked with a sign. Note the most recent, updated map included for a visual. Head up and enjoy the lush, thick forest!

If you love the trails in Decorah and are looking for opportunity to have a little organized fun on them, the DHPT hosts a variety of events each summer, competitive and non-competitive.

For information, dates, and contacts check out Get outside! Summer is in full swing and now is the time to take advantage of the awesome landscape of Winneshiek County. Soak in that sun and fresh air and check back in August for more fantastic locales to explore.

Lauren Kraus loves sleeping under the stars, enjoys eating food cooked over a fire in the woods and gets antsy when inside for an extended period of time. Does this surprise you? Unfortunately, she did not find one morel mushroom this season. She has a lot to learn.

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Happy Trails: Eventful tromping in the Driftless Area

By Lauren Kraus
Printed in the May 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

Spring is here and you should be too! The squeals of kids playing ice hockey on Decorah’s flooded and frozen 5th Avenue basketball courts have been replaced by chirping birds eagerly greeting the day ahead. Mammoth mounds of snow have disappeared. The Whippy Dip is open. Daylight is staying with us longer and the many miles of trails that weave in and out of the area’s wooded bluffs are beckoning for exploration. This is the first in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of our regions amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails.

We folks in Winneshiek County are lucky for several reasons. One, the Oneota Valley is located within the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of Iowa. I often have to remind my Colorado friends and family that I am not living in a giant, flat cornfield, say, like most of Nebraska, but rather am surrounded by deep river valleys, rolling bluffs and pronounced limestone outcroppings that are characteristic of this region.

The fine people behind Decorah Human Powered Trails and Decorah Parks and Recreation deserve praise for helping us take advantage of this geological luck. These two groups are concurrently pushing forward, and with the help of a myriad of volunteers, numerous trails have been constructed and secured since 1991. While talking with Deke Gosen of Oneota River Cycles in Decorah, I was thoroughly impressed with the evolution and documentation of the trails right in or near town. Gosen explained that, in the 80s specifically, only a limited amount of the Ice Cave trails existed. The year 1981 saw the birth of bicycles equipped with fatter tires to ride on terrain more technical than a road. Decorah led the state of Iowa in hosting the first mountain bike race on its (then few) backwoods trails. The rest is pretty much history… and some good organization, solid dedication and mindful trail building.

The current 15 miles of trails are truly something to be proud of. They form a foundation of outdoor life in Decorah that has caught the attention of people from all over the country.

“The incredible variety of trails in Decorah and the ability to totally lose yourself once you’re out there is awesome! The trails keep my running exciting and challenging,” says Yarrow Pasche, Luther College cross country and distance track coach from Bellingham, Washington.

Jesse Reyerson, biking enthusiast and secretary for Decorah Human Powered Trails, says on his website (, “The biking in Decorah, Iowa, is some of the best in the Midwest. From our gravel and road rides to our miles of singletrack, you’ll have a hard time finding the challenges and fun that our trails offer anywhere else.”

I have to completely agree with these two. While growing up in Denver, Colorado presented an exciting childhood full of all the hiking and skiing I could handle, a vehicle is a vital component in mountain access. The extensive and wide-ranging trails in Decorah are available right out our backdoor. The town is literally bordered by great trails of all sorts and sizes. Throughout my time as a Luther College student and runner, I explored them with utter excitement and awe. I continue to discover more and more accessibility to the peaceful stillness that awaits us in the woods. So, whether you’re clipping into a mountain bike, throwing on some hiking boots or tying a pair of running shoes, get out on those phenomenal trails for front-row access to budding trees, grazing wildlife, and riverside views.

To the trails
If you’re feeling like cruising through a natural-grass prairie while watching the sunset or hurdling fallen trees and large rocks in some rugged woods, we’ve got it all here. Check out the sidebar for a complete listing of trail recommendations.

A few of my favorites are: Twin Springs Park, Upper Ice Cave Hill in Dunning’s Spring Park and Van Peenen Park. All three offer a mix of jagged rock and mud trails that snake though the heavily wooded bluffs, the trickling of natural spring water never far away.

Twin Springs Park
Twin Springs Park is tucked on the west side of Highway 52 past Twin Springs Campground off a road of the same name. You can get there several ways – walk, bike or run from town off the Oneota Trail (Dug Road) below Phelps Park and head west past the campground and under Highway 52. Cross a single-lane bridge and you’re in the middle of the lush foliage and crystal clear water that is Twin Springs. Once you forget about the great grilling smell from the campground, you may almost think you’re on the set of Lord of the Rings – but pinch yourself – you’re still in Decorah. Hop on the trail parallel to the stream and continue west. Eventually you will come to the base of a bluff and have to head up. This portion of the trail is a loop and is roughly three-fourths of a mile in length. You’ll be happy you made the trip and may even work up an appetite to do some of your own grilling later.

Dunning’s Spring Park
If you’re familiar with Decorah, you’re probably familiar with Dunning’s Spring. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed a picnic there or climbed the wooden stairs leading to the top of the waterfall to see the natural spring’s source. But did you know that there are several trails in the woods above the legendary spring? Finish that peanut butter and jelly and go east of the waterfall to the trailhead. From that point, you’ll begin on a very steep path that eventually leads to an awesome viewpoint of downtown Decorah. Keep heading up and you’ll find yourself in a wooded area on top of the bluff, east of Dunning’s Spring. These trails form a series of loops that wind through pine groves and other native trees and provide perfect opportunities to spot deer, hawks, bald eagles and other animal friends. On the opposite end or east side of the bluff, there are exit trails marked #36 and 37 that let out onto Ice Cave Road. If you don’t feel like stopping here, head down the north side of Ice Cave Hill on Randy’s Trail or Backside Trail and find yourself in Van Peenen Park.

Van Peenen
In my opinion, the Van Peenen trails are the most astounding of them all. I get giddy every time I’m up there. You can access Van Peenen from the backside of Ice Cave Hill, near the intersection of Quarry and Ice Cave Roads or further up on the Quarry Road. If you’re ready to jump right into what Van Peenen has to offer, I recommend starting on the south side either from Ice Cave Hill or off of Quarry Road. Get on the trail marked #1, stay right and you will eventually be led into what the biking community calls “Death Valley.” It’s the valley between the Ice Cave Hill bluff and the bluff Van Peenen is situated on. From here, the only way to go is up. Hang a sharp right in Death Valley on a trail marked #3 that skirts around the bluff and is a little bit more gradual in elevation gain. You’ll cross two wooden bridges and notice a small spring to your left. Continuing up the hillside, pay attention to the trees above as I’ve spotted a large Barn Owl as well as several hawks on that trail. Back in Death Valley, if you take the other right turn at #23, you’ll find yourself on Fred Trail, a pretty direct ascent up the side of the bluff. With either route, you’ll be led to the main set of trails that make up the Van Peenen system.

On top, you will be off the jagged, wooded trails and into a rolling mix of open prairie and deep pine sections. Pines West and Pines East are beautiful pine groves that Decorah Parks and Recreation planted nearly 20 years ago. Now, they have grown enough to walk, run, or bike through the thick of them on a soft, narrow, winding trail covered in pine needles. At this point, sometimes I forget I’m still in Iowa, as it smells just like a pine forest in Colorado. From the Pines, you can continue north down the other side of the bluff onto the Dust Bowl Trail that eventually leads to the exit on Quarry Road. I promise, a thorough exploration of Van Peenen is well worth a Saturday afternoon.

So get out there! May is here and summer is just around the bend. Later sunsets leave plenty of time to get off the pavement, get dirty and check out the terrific trails I’ve mentioned here. Let us know which one is your favorite. And check back next month as I head north of Decorah to explore some other trails…

Lauren Kraus loves her family and friends, is stoked about the transition into warmer weather, and was most definitely a mountain goat in a previous life. This is evidenced by her need for climbing steep surfaces and maybe a correlation to her frequent cravings for chèvre. Goats don’t ride bicycles though.

Here are some details on other great Decorah trails:

College Ridge Trail: two miles of several loops of wide, grassy, rolling trails through beautiful pine area. Bring a picnic and enjoy the great view from the top. Access off of Pole Line Rd. west of Highway 52

Decorah City Prairie: two miles of awesome, flat, wide trail that winds through natural prairie grass alongside the Upper Iowa river. Access it from Ohio Street and make sure to check out the old oak tree.

Luther’s Cross Country course: a great two-mile loop on Luther’s lower campus. Walk over the dike toward Highway 52 into Gateway Prairie. Another flat, soft prairie trail to extend your mileage while you’re out on the course.

Van Peenen Park: see article for description and directions.

Upper Ice Cave Hill: see article for description and directions.

Lower Ice Cave or River Trail: an awesome, rugged trail that runs next to the river off of
Ice Cave Road. Check out the newest additions adding great variety to the trail. About _ mile in length.

Palisades Park: There is something for everyone here! Continue west on Ice Cave Road until you hit the gravel. Head up on the paved road or stay low on the gravel road. Either grants access to the great trail system that meanders through Palisades Park. Hilly, wooded and beautiful views of Decorah.

Oneota Drive Rec. Trail or Dug Road: paved path that provides a great look at what Decorah offers- limestone bluffs alongside the Upper Iowa River. Access on the west end off Hwy 52 on Oneota Drive or at the west end of Main St. (Dug Road portion closed until further notice due to large cracks in the trail.)
Twin Springs Park: see article for description and directions.

Other trails to check out:
Anderson Prairie and the Hickory Ridge Trails: located next to Luther’s Baker Village and across from the Decorah Pool, Anderson Prairie leads up to the trees where you can access the secluded Hickory Ridge trail system. Great for an evening stroll in the woods.

Upper Phelps Park Trail: Access from Phelps Park off of Upper Broadway. The wooded trail leads you west of the Park along the ridgeline and offers an awesome view of the river and town. Come up the backside near Twin Springs Campground. Cross the “Cut” and take a right up the hill to the trailhead.

Pulpit Rock: At Will Baker Park located on Pulpit Rock Rd., head up on the trail. Take a break at the awesome lookout spot and then continue onto a great trail system that borders the ridge of the bluff. Beautiful place to watch the sunrise!

Sites worth mentioning:

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