Posts Tagged: Maggie Sonnek

Glamping: Eclectic Escapes in the Driftless

Bending River Cove photo by Kassidy Renee Paige / kassidyreneepaige.com

 

Ever wanted to spend the night in a silo? Get closer to nature, but not so close that you’re actually sleeping on the ground? Or maybe you’d like to see what tiny homes are all about?

These days, there are more options than ever for overnight stays in the Driftless – from amazing hotels to B&Bs to glamping-esque experiences (like the aforementioned silo). We caught up with three Driftless locals who have worked hard to reclaim materials, buildings, and properties, bringing new life to forgotten pieces of history, and, ultimately, creating fun and innovative spaces for guests to lay their heads for the night (or longer!).

The Driftless Region is a unique mix of landscapes and ecosystems, artists and farmers, cheese shops and pizza farms all living and existing in harmony – so get out there and explore all there is to offer! The adventure lies in the journey, AND the destination.


Not your average roadhouse

At The Chocolate Escape overlooking the Mississippi River in Wabasha, a group of third graders sit outside, licking their dripping chocolate and vanilla ice cream cones. They hoot and holler when an eagle flies overhead. At another table, a couple enjoys a cup of coffee. And, across the street at the local pub, a group of bikers clad in leather jackets, black boots, and sunglasses drink a cold brew. Time seems to stand still as three unlikely troops congregate contently on Main Street. Such is the vibe in towns along the Mississippi River.

As you head north out of town onto Highway 61, the sweeping green valleys and rolling bluffs overlook the wild yet graceful river. And there, perched on the side of the highway, sits a handful of tiny homes, campers, and cabins. Welcome to Bending River Cove, a resort with a cottage and five tiny homes, founded in 2017 by co-owners Mike Burke and Denay Kelly.

Bending River Cove

Bending River Cove photo by Kassidy Renee Paige / kassidyreneepaige.com

Mike is a treasure hunter in overalls. He – along with four friends – manage Barndoogle Productions. They travel through small towns across Southern Minnesota “barndoogling” – their word for finding treasures and history in old barns and buildings.

“All barns have a story,” he says. “And each one is unique. We believe it’s important to save and preserve not only the boards, but the stories too.”

Bending River Cove, barndoogling

Barndoogling / Photo courtesy Bending River Cove

When Mike was approached about crafting structures for a tiny home resort between Lake City and Wabasha using his reclaimed treasures, he jumped at the chance. It took Mike and business partner Denay Kelly two years to gather materials and build the tiny homes. But now, Bending River Cove is open for business, sitting just above Lake Pepin on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi.

The handcrafted tiny homes – between 200-400 square feet each – contain a kitchenette, a bathroom, a bedroom outfitted with luxury linens, and a fire pit outside.

“I use as many reclaimed boards and wood as I can,” Mike says. “With those materials, I find I can create intimate and cozy spaces.” Mike uses the term inglenook – a 17th century Scottish word that means chimney corner – to describe the feeling they’re going for at Bending River Cove. Before central heating, the fireplace was used for cooking, and the inglenook – or enclosing alcove – became a natural place for people to gather and stay warm. Looking at the river below while nestled on a comfy couch, with a mug of coffee in one hand and a book in the other, you catch a glimmer of that contentment.

“This area is near and dear to my heart,” Denay adds. “As a child, one of my favorite things to do was camp. Through these tiny homes, we’re trying to recreate that same experience.”

Sign at Bending River Cove

The sign at Bending River Cove / Photo courtesy Bending River Cove

Bending River Cover “tiny house nation”

Each tiny home is nestled between the bluffs of Southeast Minnesota and the breathtaking Lake Pepin. Nightly stays range between $75-175.

The Birch Studio. Sleeps 2. Includes twin daybed and trundle

Fat Bottom Girls. Sleeps 2. 1950s camper-turned-glamper

Homegrown Honey. Sleeps 6

Includes loft and lake-facing outdoor patio

Bohemian Rhapsody. Sleeps 4

Includes private bedroom and fire pit

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem. Sleeps 4

Includes outdoor hot tub with lake views

River Queen. Sleeps 6

Includes two separate bedrooms and outdoor deck space

For more information, visit brctinyhomes.com or search Bending River Cove on airbnbn.com.


From pizza farm to glamping

Maren and Tom Beard have been busy. In 2013, they bought their 133-acre farm just outside of Decorah, now known as the beloved Luna Valley Farm. They hosted their wedding ceremony there in the valley, two years later. In 2017, they harnessed Tom’s skills as a farmer and chef and Maren’s passion for sustainable food systems and procurement (she’s an excellent chef, as well) and kicked off their pizza farm. Then, last year, the couple decided to introduce glamping. What’s that, you say? Glamping, AKA glamorous camping, is a way to experience nature with the added bonus of real beds and other plush offerings.

Glamping tent at Luna Valley Farm

A glamping tent at Luna Valley Farm / Photo courtesy Luna Valley Farm

At Luna Valley, the glamping happens in two 12 x 14’ canvas wall tents, which were once used at a Camp Tahigwa, a former Girl Scout camp located north of Decorah. For years Camp Tahigwa hosted groups of girls for week-long camps in the summer, some of which were in wall tents in the woods, overlooking the local trout stream. When the camp got sold a few years ago, Maren and Tom purchased a few of the tents with the dream of someday pitching them on their farm to welcome guests for a farm stay. “We have a passion for breathing new life into remnants of the past and doing what we can to repurpose things of deep history and profound beauty,” Maren writes on their Airbnb listing. “A local Amish tarp repair shop helped us fix up the tents and they have found a new life on our farm, where we hope they will be enjoyed for many years to come.”

The tents are situated in a beautiful oak savanna and feature king-sized beds, whimsical lanterns, rough-sawn hardwood floors, and spaces to read, write, and relax. Set up on a platform that extends into a deck, each tent offers a stunning view of the farm.

“This is a chance for people to unplug, connect with the land, and spend time on a working farm,” Maren says. In addition to pizza and glamping, Luna Valley grows organic crops, and graze sheep and cattle on pasture. “There’s something magical about waking up in the woods in a comfortable bed. It’s so quiet and peaceful.”

In the morning, down at the barn – a three to four-minute walk from the tents – glampers will find local coffee waiting for them, plus lovely bathrooms and a luxurious shower (with room for two). You can even add on glamping extras – mason jar mimosas, anyone? The barn also houses Maren and Tom’s commercial kitchen and pizza oven. Bonus for glampers: On Friday nights, you can take your Luna Valley wood-fired pizza up to your own private patio.

Glamping tents and renovated showers at Luna Valley Farm

Glamping tents in the Oak Savannah at Luna Valley Farm & the renovated showers in the Luna Valley barn / Photos courtesy Luna Valley Farm

Tents are available on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer. $150/night, 2 night minimum

Pizza nights: Fridays, 4-8 pm • April – October

For more information, visit lunavalleyfarm.com


Reconstructing history

Five miles north of Decorah, you’ll find a barn silo and a 1973 train caboose, both lovingly restored by Jim Dotzenrod, a Decorah native who proudly welcomes visitors to his land – and the region.

“We are super laid back and friendly up here on The Ridge!” Jim writes in his Airbnb profile. “I grew up in this area and know lots of folks, so no matter your interests, I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for during your stay with us.”

CR Train Caboose

The CR Train Caboose / Photos courtesy Silo on the Ridge & CR Train Caboose

Jim says lots of his renters come from the Twin Cities looking for something different.

“They don’t want to stay in town. They’d rather enjoy an experience,” he says. “And out here, they can pet the horses in the pasture, pick raspberries and apples, and watch the sunset.”

The silo came first. Jim – with the help of his brother – restored the structure, adding a roof and building bunk beds and a bathroom on the second level. They even incorporated a grapevine that was originally wrapped around the outside of the silo – the horses had chewed it off, so it was fair game. It now acts as the handrail leading upstairs to the sleeping area. A sofa and kitchen space fill the main level, and a large deck wraps around the entire structure.

Silo on the Ridge, petting horses, picking raspberries, and grapevine handrail

Two above – the Silo on the Ridge & that grapevine handrail / Photos courtesy Silo on the Ridge & CR Train Caboose

After seeing the silo book up frequently, Jim decided it was time for another reno project. That’s when he found the CR Station train caboose — one of the last of its kind, according to Jim — sitting on a set of railroad tracks at a local recycling center. Although a carpenter by trade, Jim wasn’t set up for the ironwork inside. But, with the right tools and help from his daughter, the two of them went for it, gutting the train car – repurposing the original conductor chairs and handrails in the front room, and fitting a queen bed and bunkbeds in the loft. The main level holds the kitchen and bathroom. With help from a crane and semi, the 52,000-pound train car now sits 200 feet away from the silo.

Prices range from $75-$121/night. For more information, visit airbnb.com and search Silo on the Ridge and CR Station Train Caboose.


When Maggie Sonnek isn’t spending the night at unique and cozy destination properties like these, she can be found sipping an iced coffee with her husband, watching their three kids play with Max the puppy.


Looking for more out-of-the-norm spots to spend the night? Add these to your list:

Little House on the Farm & The Guest Barn – Postville, Iowa

The Little House on the Farm – a 750 square-foot cabin located outside of Decorah – was built in 2009 on the foundation of an old barn that was once located on owners Donna and Dave Dull’s farm. The cabin has the look and feel of an authentic pioneer cabin, but with modern touches. The Guest Barn was built in 2012 with materials salvaged from a nearby barn and corncrib. The pieces were used to build a smaller 700 square-foot “new” barn. The space is cozy, but open, with exposed original barn beams and high ceilings for an authentic, yet modern farm stay. www.littlehouseonthefarm.com


Elkader Jail House Inn – Elkader, Iowa

Hosts Julie Carlisle-Kane and Dr. Tim Kane have transformed the old Clayton County Jail – located in Elkader Iowa, and originally built in 1870 – into three spacious suites. Nothing like a jail cell, these suites are beautifully renovated and outfitted with luxurious beds and baths, while still retaining the historic character of the stately old limestone building.

Guest can hang out in the “cell block” – a public space that was once actually the cell block of the jail. These days you can play a game of shuffle board, watch TV, or just relax there! www.elkaderjailhouseinn.com


Trout River Log Cabin – Decorah, Iowa

The Trout River Log Cabin was built in the mid 19th century as a Norwegian-Lutheran parochial school, then taken apart in 1898, moved across a field, and rebuilt as Norwegian immigrant Peter Losen’s home. Then, Decorah residents Paul Cutting and partner, Nathan Thompson, come into possession of the cabin. They stripped it to the logs, numbered everything, and once again moved it – to its new location on the Cutting family farm seven miles from downtown Decorah, perched on a bluff overlooking Trout River valley. It took three years to piece the house back together, and the results are stunning. The cabin is small, simple, and beautiful, with everything you need to make your stay comfortable and relaxing. www.troutriverlogcabin.com


Historic Tobacco Warehouse – Viroqua, Wisconsin

The Northern Wisconsin Co-op Tobacco Pool warehouse – listed on the local, state, and national registries of historic places– is one of the most unique and recognizable buildings in Viroqua. The owners, Valorie Schaefer and Richard Bock, bought it in 2008, and have been slowly renovating it to include their family home, several offices, a photo studio, and now a private guest suite that folks can rent through Airbnb. And that only fills about half of the 24,000 square-foot building! To book, search “Guest Suite in Historic Warehouse” on Airbnb.


Trempealeau Hotel – Trempealeau, Wisconsin

Directly above the Trempealeau Hotel bar and restaurant are eight historic sleeping rooms. Take a step back in time – there’s no TV or air conditioning, but each quaint room has a comfy bed, dresser, chair, and window. Two restrooms with showers are shared with the other lodgers. There is live music most Thursdays and Saturdays and many days in between, so if you need a quieter experience, you may want to book one of the other Trempealeau Hotel lodging options (suites available!) or choose a night without music. Book ahead of time for Reggae Fest, Cajun Fest, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Catfish Days, Labor Day and all weekends in October. www.trempealeauhotel.com


 

Read Inspire(d) Spring 2019 Online!

The Spring 2019 Inspire(d) is all about planting the seeds of hope for the future!
Here’s what you’ll find:

Puentes/Bridges • La Crosse Promise • Folk Schools in the Driftless • Sum of Your Biz: Night Dive Swim • Q&A with Mollie B. • How to Make Friends as an Adult • Week of the Young Child • & More!

A note from Aryn:

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year (when I’m making the Spring Inspire(d), I suppose), I find myself thinking, “Thank freakin’ goodness; we’ve made it!” Spring!

Of course, there’s currently a blizzard outside. And there could be false spring or third winter or whatever we got last April (let’s hope not)! But I’ve got my fingers crossed for some spring-like weather, crocuses and daffodils, and open windows soon!

In the meantime, enjoy these pages of fun, positivity, and springtime vibes! We’re all about planting seeds of change with this Inspire(d). We hope to teach our kids empathy, kindness, and compassion, for starters, so that they can create a better future for themselves. This is one of the motivators behind Week of the Young Child, a national movement dedicated to spotlighting our youngest learners – learn more about local efforts in Sara Friedl-Putnam’s story on page 54.

In Maggie Sonnek’s piece about Puentes / Bridges, a Wisconsin non-profit that works to bridge the cultural gap between area farmers and their employees from Mexico, compassion and empathy are big components (pg. 34). It’s such a cool program!

Speaking of cool programs, you should definitely check out Sara Walters’ story on La Crosse Promise (pg. 58) – they offer a scholarship – up to $50,000 – to homeowners/buyers who are willing to invest in two challenged neighborhoods in La Crosse. It’s truly an innovative approach to neighborhood revitalization.

And we love the self-love that Heather Caye Brown promotes through her swimwear company, Night Dive Swim, and in this Spring’s Sum of Your Business. What better message to share with our kids than to Love Your Self?!

As for the literal seeds on the cover: You can use those for the Paper Earth Hearts Roxie and I made for this issue’s paper project (pg. 33)! We put them together on one of the many January snow days, and are thinking they’ll make great Earth Day presents for friends and neighbors this April.

Make sure not to miss Benji’s fun Q&A with polka music star Mollie B., my infographic, “How to Make Friends as an Adult” (it’s not as tricky as you think!), and a great line-up of fun events to cure your Spring Fever this year!

Thinking you need something a little more in-depth to get you out of the house? Consider signing up for a class at one of the great Folk Schools in the Driftless! Learn about offerings from Driftless Folk School, Eagle Bluff Skills School, and Vesterheim Folk Art School in Kristine Jepsen’s story on page 19.

We’ve got plenty more, too, to help keep you entertained until the snow melts and the seeds start sprouting!

Happy Spring, friends!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Click here to read the Spring 2019 Inspire(d) online!

Walk Your Talk: Women Mayors

How women are changing the political scene: Conversations with four female mayors in the Driftless Region

By Maggie Sonnek • Originally published in the Winter 2018-29 Inspire(d)

On a warm, sunny August afternoon in Wabasha, Minnesota, mayoral candidate Emily Durand sits in a lawn chair at the local Farmer’s Market. She sips on an iced chai she purchased at one of the stands and nibbles on a homemade cookie bought at another, and she chats with folks as they pass – locals and tourists alike – sharing her vision for the charming Mississippi River town. But more powerful than anything Emily could say, is how she listens. The joys, the frustrations, the worries – she hears them all, and she ensures her neighbors and friends that if she’s elected mayor, she’ll always keep an open ear, and an open mind.

Fast-forward four months to November 6, 2018. Election Day, the day Emily joined a wave of female candidates breaking barriers in this year’s mid-term elections. Candidates like Ilhan Omar from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, who, along with Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, became two of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s 14th District, became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Abby Finkenauer, another 29-year-old, defeated incumbent Rod Blum to represent Iowa’s 1st District, and Cindy Axne was elected to represent Iowa’s 3rd District. They will be the first women from Iowa elected to the House of Representatives…ever.

On an even more local level, women here in the Driftless are lacing up their boots (or sneakers) and striking out to lead their communities as mayors. We walked and talked with four such women – some the first to hold the office in their town’s history – to learn why they’ve decided to take up the mayoral mantel, and what they hope to achieve. One thing is clear: In addition to making their voices heard, they want to hear yours too.

Emily Durand, Mayor-Elect in Wabasha, Minnesota, says whether she won or lost the race this fall was beyond the point. She wanted to show her nine-year-old daughter, Thea, that having a voice is important.

“We, as women, have to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We have to learn to ignore the doubts and negative voices,” Emily says. “Sometimes politics can feel like an old boys’ network. I hope that instead of shutting women down, this inspires them to find their own way into leadership.”

An expert in the realm of research and project management, Emily toyed with the idea of running for office while she and her husband, Scott, were living in the Twin Cities. But when Scott became part owner of a dental practice in Wabasha, the couple and their young daughter moved the 60 miles south, and political plans took a backseat while they settled in.

This year, though, six years after the move, the timing was right. Emily ran for Mayor of the town of 2,500 – and won. She’ll be the first female mayor in Wabasha. Her plate is full: She plans to continue working as a project manager, and she and Scott have two children now – their daughter, Thea, and now four-year-old son, Heller. But moving away from the idea that life needs to look a certain way is freeing, she says.

“Women get asked the question, ‘How will you do it all perfectly?’ And the answer is, you will not,” she says. “And that is totally fine. Once you realize that perfection is not the goal – and it’s actually not healthy for it to be the goal – you can start moving forward.”

Lorraine Borowski, former director of Decorah’s Public Library System, was definitely qualified to run for Mayor in Decorah, Iowa. But she was scared, she says. And uncomfortable. She hated door-knocking. So she added a talking point: Bright red New Balance tennis shoes.

“I was confident in my ideas and what I had to say, but I was terrified at the thought of actually doing it,” Lorraine says of campaigning door-to-door. “But once I put on my red shoes and got out there and just did it, I was fine.”

Lorraine suspects other women leaders feel the same way. Like her, they have the skills and passion to lead, mobilize others, and make decisions, but they sometimes let fear take over. To combat these doubts, Lorraine found a mentor, a retired teacher who is active in state and local politics.

And once she was elected in 2017 as the town’s first-ever female mayor, she continued to surround herself with knowledgeable people, who made sure that even if she didn’t know the answers, they would.

Her favorite part of the job? Listening to her community (there’s a trend here).

“I love having open discussions,” she says. “I love allowing people to talk and creating space to listen.”

When Karen Mischel returned home to Viroqua, Wisconsin, after being away for 17 years, she jumped right into local government. The former Merchant Marine was proud to be from the small (population 4,500) Wisconsin community – and excited to be back. But she knew the progressive town, bordering the Ocooch Mountains and nestled in one of the best organic farming regions in the U.S., needed a change. Karen was ready to disrupt the status quo in a race against the incumbent mayor, who had held the position for two decades. This past spring, she did just that: She won the election and became Viroqua’s first female mayor.

“The former Mayor had a reputation for just going through the motions,” Karen says. “He didn’t show up for community events. He didn’t want to make waves or cause anyone, including himself, to feel uncomfortable.”

Karen knew Viroqua, with its historic downtown complete with unique shops and award-winning restaurants, deserved a leader who would move the community forward.

“How can we do that if our mayor doesn’t even show up?” Karen asks.

She cut through the white noise by holding listening sessions, and, simply enough, answering her phone. These people just really wanted to be heard, she says.

Her full-time job as an organic farm inspector gave her further opportunities to connect with the people of Viroqua. Vernon County, which encompasses Viroqua, has the highest concentration of organic farms per capita in the country.

“These farmers and their families are so devoted to their work,” she says. “Even though each farm operates differently, they’re all working toward the same goal. That’s how I’d like to see our town work too.”

Northwest of there, in Spring Grove, Minnesota, it was an argument that led Sarah Schroeder to politics. She got into it with the city administrator about proposed admission prices for the town’s new swim center. At the end of their conversation, the city administrator suggested she run for mayor. She initially laughed it off. But, after some thought, she decided to run. Sara jokes that she did most of her campaigning from her mother’s beauty shop.

“I think it all comes down to who is willing,” Sarah says. “Who is willing to hustle? Who is willing to have discussions? Who is willing to listen?”

Sara, who works as a graphic designer at Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse, is clearly willing to jump in and do the work. She serves on the board of the Ye Olde Opera House in Spring Grove, and sits on the town’s economic development authority, planning and zoning commission, and fireman’s relief association board.

She ran for mayor in 2015, when she was just 33 years old, and won. She was re-elected this fall.

“I would get asked, ‘Aren’t you too young to be mayor?’” she says. “By continuing to break down barriers, as women – young women – we are proving that we have a voice. We have ideas. And we can move communities forward.”

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Maggie Sonnek is navigating life in the slow lane. A transplant from Minneapolis, she loves living in the Driftless Region where she can hike in the bluffs and swim (not in the winter!) in Lake Pepin. She’s a wife to Eric, mom to three kids and writer.