Posts Tagged: Wisconsin

Read the Summer 2016 Inspired Magazine

Summer_16_Cover

Inspired Magazine Summer 2016!

Welcome to the 2016 ‘Summer’ issue of Inspire(d) Magazine! As always, the summer issue of Inspire(d) has a fun local food theme. This year we explored the Roots of Food – family recipes and the stories that go with them. Next, we take a leap back in time with 50 Years of Nordic Fest Fun (plus an infographic!), share our Bike Love and ride ideas, have a quick Q&A with musician Mason Jennings, an “organic” business conversation with Sno Pac Foods in Caledonia, and the community series takes us to Cresco, Iowa. Plus, of course, you’ll still find all our regular features like the monthly calendars (wow – it’s going to be a fun summer!), What We’re Loving, and a very, very special back page probituary with an extremely inspirational figure from Nordic Fest’s history – you’ll just have to read it to find out!

Click on over to read the whole Summer 2016 Inspire(d) online.

Also: This is our largest issue to date! We’re super excited to have increased to 84 pages for this summer, and our circulation has expanded too – 16,000 magazines will go out to the Driftless Area and beyond. Woot!

A million thanks to our talented contributors:
• Illustrations by the incredibly talented and wonderful Lauren Bonney.
• Writing Contributions from Sarah Friedl-Putnam, Kristine Jepsen, Jim McCaffrey, and Joyce Meyer.
• Photos for our community story on Cresco from Tanya Riehle of Blue House Studio and Jessica Rilling.

And a huge, massive, very grateful thanks to all of our advertisers. They are the reason we have been able to create 46 issues of Inspire(d) and continue this awesome “experiment in positive news.” Buy local! Please support the awesome local businesses of the Driftless Region. And when you visit our advertisers, let them know you saw them in Inspire(d)!

If you’d like to see where you can pick up a copy, please click over to this link. Magazines will be on stands in early June, but often go fast. If you’d like to see them somewhere in your neck of the woods, drop us a note! (benji @ iloveinspired.com)

Now get out there and enjoy the summer!

-Aryn, Benji, & Roxie

Driftless Day Trip: La Crosse, Wisconsin

River and sunset in La Crosse

Driftless Day Trip: La Crosse, Wisconsin
By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Winter 2011-12 Inspire(d) • Updated January 2016

Within the high ridges and narrow coulees of Western Wisconsin, a wide plain nestles up to the Mississippi River. First spotted by Native Americans and French fur traders, “Prairie La Crosse” (named so by Zebulon Pike in the early 1800s) is a fun, colorful river town to its core.

From the days of fur trading and timber to the brewing industry and today’s education and health care economy, La Crosse has been a regional hub for more than 150 years. It holds the only passenger rail access for 100+ miles in most directions, serves as a major transportation route for barge traffic and river enthusiasts, and it was even claimed, at one time, to host the “highest number of drinking establishments in a single-mile stretch of road” in the country. While 3rd Street still has its fair share of fun, this river town offers a lot more than that!

Mt. La Crosse Skii Resort

Photo courtesy Mt. La Crosse

La Crosse really is a four-season destination. With easy access to the Mississippi, several hiking and biking areas, and a variety of festivals, it’s not hard to get outdoors in the Coulee Region – even in the middle of winter. Downhill skiing and snowboarding destination Mt. La Crosse lights up its 18 slopes – including one of the Midwest’s steepest runs, “Damnation!” – and opens for the season as soon as enough snow flies (don’t miss the St. Bernard room for an après ski beverage!). Upper and Lower Hixon Park offer great opportunities to get out and take in the views as well, with hiking, snow shoe trails, mountain biking, and even a pump track at the Upper Hixon parking lot. And there is a ton of fun – no matter the season – waiting in La Crosse’s downtown district.

Plenty of local lodging options can put you right in the heart of things – The Radisson and it’s Three Rivers Lodge restaurant are perfect for walkable dining, shopping, drinking, and entertainment. Looking for something special? Check out the new Charmant Hotel just steps from Riverside Park and the Mississippi – it is amazing!

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Styled to perfection, the Charmant is the epitome of luxury, but without being stuffy. We love it. The rooms are beautiful and efficiently designed, their check-in counter doubles as a colorful macaroon shop, and there are local goods in the mini-bar (even WiscoPop!). Grab a tasty Kickapoo Coffee and a croissant in the morning in the parlor, and head out on the town.

Charmant Coffee Bar, La Crosse

Charmant Parlor and Coffee Bar

One of the first places our family hits is a kid favorite: the La Crosse Children’s Museum. With a climbing wall and rotating children’s exhibits, the museum is sure to keep your kiddo busy for at least part of a day. Also check their calendar for ‘Night Out at the Museum’ evenings, usually offered once a month. Parents can drop their kids at the museum for a couple hours of structured play and then go out and enjoy a meal, shopping, or fun themselves – all for a very reasonable price.

Want to get really hands on? Go hands in…the clay! Generous Earth Pottery offers classes on the pottery wheel, and then you can head over to All Glazed Up (once your piece has dried) to paint it up! The friendly instruction and atmosphere is great for beginners and kids, as well as seasoned wheel throwers looking for studio time. Try the “Wheel Deal” to get started!

If you’re looking to bliss out, we’re also fans of the Iyengar yoga classes at The Yoga Place downtown – where Chris Saudek has been offering authentic instruction and practice since 1988. And what’s a date night without a dance? The Moonlight Dance Studio with Kellen and Kathy Burgos offer ongoing couples dance classes – 30+ years of instruction won’t get you off on the wrong foot.

With or without the kiddos, a stop at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor is hard to beat. This La Crosse landmark makes all of their ice cream on-site and also has a fantastic old time candy counter. (The homemade waffle cones dipped in chocolate and sprinkles are totally worth it!)

The Pearl Ice Cream La Crosse

Satisfy a sweet tooth at The Pearl.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves with dessert – La Crosse has no shortage of great dining spots. Recent favorites include The Mint on State Street by UW La Crosse (farm-to-table rotating menu), the Charmant’s restaurant (French-inspired cuisine), Kate’s Pizza Amore (casual but classy pizza and more) The Waterfront (Upscale) The Breakfast Club and Pub (breakfast, tots, & John Hughes), and the Root Note (crepes) – to name just a few!

the Root Note La Crosse

Creperia by day, chill bar by night.

Four Sisters Wine Bar and Tapas near the river is also a fabulous place to enjoy the company of good friends (the flatbreads are great for sharing!), and they are also opening a second location on 4th Street which will include catering and a self serve wine bar! Speaking of 4th Street, Fayze’s is another perennial favorite with an easy, kid-friendly atmosphere and solid choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a great bakery counter. And of course, you can’t forget the local, organic food mecca, the People’s Food Co-op. Order up something delicious at the deli inside, check out Hackberry’s upstairs for a tasty sit-down setting, or buy a nosh for a hotel picnic of your own.

Pheasant at The Mint in La Crosse

Pheasant at The Mint

Once you’ve filled your belly, La Crosse can, of course, still live up to its reputation – there’s plenty of 21+ fun to be had. Some of that may have stemmed from a beer culture long-fostered by the G. Heileman Brewing Company (famous for Old Style, amongst other beers), which called La Crosse home from 1858 to 1996. These days, you’ll find more craft-style beers in La Crosse (no offense, Old Style). Pearl Street Brewery has a taproom that is open most evenings and allows you to drink and talk hops. They’re located just northeast of downtown in the old La Crosse boot factory and worth searching out. (We love the Me, Myself, and IPA and the flagship Downtown Brown is an easy tipper.)

The newest hop on the block is Turtle Stack Brewery. Located right downtown, their micro-brewery highlights local hops and community-thinking. Try a seasonal tap and take in a sunset from their giant front windows!

And the really giant beers live at the Stein Haus – you could grab a (small or huge) stein, a brat, and if it’s nice out, a lounging chair on the patio. We love the chill atmosphere!

Turltle Stack Brewery La Crosse

Since you’re going out, you should probably catch some live music – there are plenty of excellent venues hosting great shows around town. We suggest you steer clear of the bigger neon-lit joints in favor for some of the smaller taverns. On 4th you’ll find The Bodega – a favorite spot to grab a great beer and a small show – and just across the street is one of La Crosse’s coolest spots, the Root Note (we mentioned their crepes earlier). Order one of their amazing taps or a pour of their select craft spirits and see what’s going on. They feature some of the regions best performers in an intimate setting. A few blocks over The Cavalier Theatre is bringing some great regional and national artists to the region. Support live music, friends! And amidst all that fun, make sure you swing by The Casino – it is neither a casino, nor does it usually have “Lousy Service” as the sign reads – but it has been there forever, and we love them for it.

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Feeling a little rough the next day? We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of our favorite meals/salads/breakfasts/drinks: the Bloody Mary. La Crosse and many of its fine establishments have pretty much perfected it. Ride your bike up the La Crosse River State Trail to the Nutbush City Limits in Onalaska, grab a local favorite at Del’s or one of those meal-in-a-glass offerings at Fayze’s, or head up the bluff to Alpine Inn. If you’re hitting up the latter, make it an outing and trek out onto Grand Dad’s Bluff ­– the most recognizable landmark from any vantage around the city –to check out the view of lovely La Crosse below.

Speaking of biking, you might want to plan your La Crosse visit around the La Crosse Bicycle Festival (held each Labor Day Weekend) or one of the Beer By Bike Brigade (BBBB) outings. For a few years now, a skeleton crew of folks have been organizing monthly BBBB rides. They also host special off-season rides and fundraisers for great local causes. What’s not to love about beers, bikes, and like-minded camaraderie? Check the “Beer By Bikes Brigade La Crosse” Facebook page for meet-up details. There’s no registration, no fee, and lots of fun included. The only rule is that you have to be 21 to participate as the Brigade hops from establishment to establishment with stops between (and you gotta bring bike lights, of course!).

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Photo courtesy BBBB

It was through BBBB that we heard about La Crosse SOUP – and let us tell ‘ya – it’s seriously soup-er (c’mon, you gotta do it, people)! La Crosse SOUP is another monthly, community building event, but this one is about micro-granting! Community members come together to eat soup (and bread and dessert) in a designated location, celebrate the best of La Crosse, and provide funding to folks planning creative projects that will make La Crosse an even more awesome and fun place to be. The first project funded – a bicycle fix-it station where people can share tools to repair their bicycles – was built at Riverside Park with the help of the SOUP funds (funded May 2015). Cool!

While you’re at Riverside Park, go old school and pop over to check out the La Crosse Queen schedule. She’s a modern-day replica of the grand river boats that traveled the Mississippi in the late 19th century – one of the few authentic Mississippi River paddlewheel river boats still on operation in the US. And if you’re into paddleboats and river history, swing by the Riverside Museum as well.

 

The Mint Bartender La Crosse

Careful crafting at The Mint Bar

If your idea of fun doesn’t involve drinking, biking, boating, or kids museums, don’t despair: check out some of the coulee “culture” that’s so prevalent in La Crosse.

The Pump House Regional Arts Center features great exhibits and some of the best in folk and solo performers, while across the street at the new Webber Center you can catch shows from both the La Crosse Community Theatre as well as Viterbo University. The La Crosse Symphony can be heard several times throughout the year (including Decorah’s own Nori Hadley!), and The UW La Crosse Art Gallery is also worth a visit. Or if your idea of a good show is one on a screen, check out what’s playing at the Rivoli Theatre (would a beer and pizza during the movie trip your filmstrip? It does ours!)

Deaf Ear Records La Crosse

You’ll also find unique shopping from local merchants in downtown La Crosse. Kroner’s Hardware is truly an old fashioned gem with modern merchandise beyond the typical hardware store. Meanwhile just down the street and around the corner on 2nd Street you’ll find The Toy Shop – filled to the brim with fun stuff! The Deaf Ear record store on 4th is still a beacon of music, comics, tons of vinyl, and various sundries. Beyond downtown, you might (okay, definitely) want to hit the hugely-expanded Habitat for Humanity “Re-Store” in its new location on the outskirts of town. Inventory of used home and construction wares changes by the day and varies incredibly (Aryn loves it!).

And, finally, if you like a good festival, this river town will definitely like you! From Oktoberfest to Irishfest to the annual RiverFest, Great River Folk Festival, Labor Day weekend La Crosse Bicycle Festival, and the Rotary Lights holiday display alongside that great Mississippi River, truly celebrate the seasons in this amazing river town.

So drive up, down, or over and park the car. Historic downtown La Crosse is made for walking – besides, a little fresh air between juke-joints is perfect, and a bit of exercise is the perfect excuse to enjoy that late night slice at Polito’s.

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Benji Nichols has been digging around downtown La Crosse since he was a kid and loves to escape now and again to a handful of favorite haunts along the Mississippi River. He is thrilled to see La Crosse continue to re-invent itself.

Making Cents of Electric Vehicles in the Driftless!

SunsetRoad_Fall_2015

“Electricity is really just organized lightning…”  -George Carlin

Story and photos by Benji Nichols, except as noted

Imagine pulling out onto the street as your foot leans into the accelerator. You move forward – silently – off on a trip to work, school, errands, or across the region. Now imagine not using a drop of gasoline to do it. Too good to be true? It’s not!

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new concept, but technological evolution and incredibly efficient operating costs are making EVs more realistic than ever for many households. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we’ve been enjoying the rewards of our own solar PV array for the past year, and we’re constantly engaged in what technologies are coming on line to help lessen our immediate impacts on fossil fuel use. Sure, there’s an immediate ‘feel-good’ effect, but increasingly the technology is actually making economic sense as well. Ride along as we cruise through our latest road-trip into electric vehicles.

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(Decorah resident George Hagen shows us the Nissan Leaf charging ports.)

Most EVs (only electric – not hybrid) have a rough average of 30 to 80 miles available without a charge, and Hybrid EVs that also operate on gas have ranges widely expanded  beyond that. According to recent US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration surveys, well over half of commutes and daily-use car trips in the US are under 30 miles roundtrip. Even with a sizable amount of commutes averaging 40 miles, there’s huge potential for EVs. Just think: All your quick trips can be done in a vehicle that requires no gasoline, and can charge anywhere a standard plugin is located – we think that idea is pretty cool!
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(Photo courtesy of Honda Motorwerks)

Many of our readers are familiar with Chris Schneider (aka The “Hybrid Guru”) of La Crosse’s Honda Motorwerks. Chris has been fueling the alternative vehicle movement in the Driftless Area for years and is an incredible source of information, and of course vehicles. A recent adventure included a trek across the state of Wisconsin to deliver a fully electric Nissan LEAF EV, which is quite an adventure considering that the LEAF has average range of about 80 miles. To top it off, the vehicle was being delivered to Milwaukee, so it was decided that a natural gas vehicle (NGV) would chase for the return trip – just to up the alternative fuel vehicle fun! With the range in mind, the trip required four stops for charging, three of which were about the standard amount of time for a coffee or lunch break. The trip was a grand success, and proved that EVs, although still having limited ranges, can make longer and longer trips as charging technology increases as well. Honda Motorwerks has been a regional and national leader in the use of alternative energy vehicles for years – and Chris is quick to point out that the Decorah area is full of early adopters. In fact, seven of the first 10 EVs that Motorwerks brought into the region years ago all went to the Decorah area. 

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(Electric Charging Station at HyVee, Iowa City – free for customers!)

Most of the major car manufacturers are now making, at the very least, a hybrid electric/gas vehicle – and many are making strict EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus EV that run on electricity only and, as mentioned, can be charged on a standard household plug-in (usually taking a few hours to overnight to reach full capacity). But many vehicles are charged more rapidly by different “level” chargers, which are becoming more common across the country – even in places along Chris Schneider’s Wisconsin road trip like Middleton, Madison, and Waukesha. Level 3 charges can bring charging times down to under half an hour for many models.  Some commercial recharging locations require small fees for electricity (a couple dollars) while companies like Tesla are creating their own networks of charging stations that provide the power for free – as an incentive to buy their EVs.

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(Tesla Model ‘S’ on display on the Iowa City PedMall during EntreFest, May 2015)

There are a lot of pro and some con points that could be made when considering EVs – from range to environmental to battery technology, and of course, that a large part of the electricity supply still comes from fossil fuels. But we think there is a unique place in our society right now where electric vehicles can truly help “bridge” the road to energy independence. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we installed a small solar system (eight panels – about 2kw) just about a year ago. We’ve seen a really nice decrease in our monthly electricity bills, but more importantly, it has also helped us to be even more aware of our electricity usage – and the really cool fact is that when we walk out to our garage and the sun is shining – we know we’re making electricity! It really is an amazing experience to know you’ve lessened your dependence on fossil fuels by any amount. As we think about how many miles we drive – and especially those local miles running kiddos around and doing errands, we can see where an electric vehicle could make a lot of economic sense.

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(George Hagen showing us the interior controls of the Nissan Leaf)

Decorah residents George and JoAnn Hagen agree. They have been big supporters of alternative vehicles for several years. George cites his background working as an engineer on conservation projects for Chevron in the late 1970s as sparking his personal interests. A 1980 Datsun was the first vehicle he owned that reached 40mpg, and that sparked a string of vehicles over the years that strived for economic impacts, including the Honda Insight – one of the first hybrid vehicles available in the US around 2000.

IMGP6837George still proudly garages their 2000 Honda Insight and is quick to point out that it was also one of the first four to make it to this part of the country via Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse. A Toyota Prius followed in 2005, and in October of 2014 the Hagens acquired their Nissan Leaf – the first 100% electric hybrid they’ve owned. Despite varying experiences on range of trip with the Leaf (both George and JoAnn comment that NE Iowa’s Hills take a toll on the EV’s range!) its clear that the vehicle is fun to drive and certainly does well on local trips, with plenty of power and take-off for around town as well as short highway trips. The Hagens also have a large Solar PV array on their garage and home, so again, the ability to produce one’s fuel for driving comes full circle with the Nissan Leaf.

IMGP6631Meanwhile in Decorah, more than a couple families have invested in the Chevy VOLT – a hybrid gas/electric vehicle that allows for a smaller electric-only range which is then assisted by a gas powered generating “engine” that enables further distance. Ben and Padrin Grimstad were kind of enough to give us a few minutes to check out their VOLT, which they – and their high-school aged daughter – enjoy driving. The electrical charging system allows for a nice around-town range, but isn’t necessary to use the vehicle, which still obtains excellent mileage without regular plug-in charging, as most hybrids do.
IMGP6638Ben says the car is fun to drive, with plenty of pick-up and acceleration, and fun on-board tools and design to let the driver see what is going on with the vehicle. As a local business owner, he also enjoyed being able to purchase the car from an in-town dealer, and that the family’s additional investments in solar power are paying off in multiple ways, like partially powering their VOLT.

Personally, one of my biggest surprises in researching EVs has been both the performance, and surprisingly good ride of these vehicles. They really do have a different ride and solid feel because of the additional weight of batteries and generally shorter wheel base. Combining their low-to-no-gas mileage ranges with the fact that many Driftless Region residents and businesses have installed solar arrays, EVs are becoming a more practical choice every day.

As more EVs hit the market, expect to see local businesses offering EV Charging stations and specific parking spots as well – we’ll be on the lookout to see who leads the way! We love the EV concept here at Inspire(d) HQ. Granted, like any vehicle, the investment is not small, but the benefits are certainly beginning to stack up. Who knows – we may be delivering magazines in a Solar powered EV soon! Vrrrrooom vrroooom!