Free Spaces

Take Ten: thrifty shopping

The adage “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” is attributed online to the Great Depression, the Amish, pioneers and evangelists. The words are a partial solution to surviving hardships, but don’t underestimate the thrill of the hunt, regardless of income or circumstances. Underwear and socks are about all that(…)

Alto Fair: smallest in Wisconsin, big respect for tradition

In the community center are tables with handicrafts, bakery, veggies – typical fair fare – but one thing seems obvious pretty quickly: Attached to an easy majority of entries are blue ribbons. You won’t see that at the average county fair, but this is Alto – AL-to, not ALL-to. The Fond du Lac County township(…)

Rustic Roads crisscross Wisconsin for scenic autumn drives

When asked to recommend a scenic Wisconsin drive for USA Today a few years ago, I deliberately veered away from the Mississippi River’s Great River Road and other grand but obvious choices. I favored a five-mile stretch of dirt and gravel that sashays around little lakes and post-glacier forestation, north of Rib Lake in Taylor(…)

Take Ten: pretty places to hike in Wisconsin

Editor’s note: Wisconsin-native Kevin Revolinski is the author of 60 Hikes Madison, Best Hikes Near Milwaukee, Paddling Wisconsin, Best Tent Camping Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide. His blog is Revtravel.com. By KEVIN REVOLINSKI You don’t have to go as far as the Appalachian Trail for a fine walk in the woods. Wisconsin’s state park(…)

Take Ten: beautiful, challenging places to canoe in Wisconsin

Guest columnist Lynne Diebel of Stoughton is the author of numerous books about the outdoors, and the most recent is Crossing the Driftless (University of Wisconsin Press, $20). The book is both a traveler’s tale and an exploration of the land the glaciers missed, an ancient landscape of bluffs, ridgetops and steep valleys that long(…)

UW Terrace closes soon for major makeover

I’m not a University of Wisconsin alum but love to linger at Memorial Union Terrace on a sunny day or evening, facing pretty Lake Mendota. The Terrace is one of the most-loved outdoor destinations in Madison, but on Sept. 1 most of the area closes until next summer. A $52 million renovation aims to enhance(…)

Take Ten: Fun farmers markets in Wisconsin

When trees bud and bulbs blossom, the arrival of fresh asparagus and morels can’t be far behind. Hoop houses and greenhouses hike the likelihood that locally grown spinach, tomatoes and more will ripen all year, but now is the time for farmers markets to move outdoors, rain or shine. Count these among my favorites. Dane(…)

Rural artists at work in Northwoods to Driftless studios

Outside are the tools and materials of a welder. Inside is the precarious pirouette of a dancer, the menacing glare of a warrior. The unusual combination of what you see is as unexpected as the story of how Sara Balbin leaves her mark in the Northwoods, between Drummond and Cable in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. She(…)

Midwest rural art parks: a smooth blend with nature

When fall colors hit their peak, we hit the road in search of the most brilliant blaze of hues. That part is expected. What adds surprise to the awe of autumnal landscapes? Plan it right, and rural sculpture parks pop up amidst the flaming oaks, maples, birches and sumacs. These unusual destinations, with typically free(…)

Odes to rock ‘n’ roll in Clear Lake, Iowa

The half-mile walk between northern Iowa cornfields leads to a pinwheel of copper Jell-O molds and, lower to the ground, stainless steel cutouts of a guitar and a pair of wings. People who make this fence-line trek tend to leave a little something behind: loose change, notes, scarves, ribbons, flags, beads, needlepoint, necklaces, flowers. The(…)

Red Wing museum gains $1.5 million pottery collection

Red Wing, a Mississippi River city on the Minnesota side, has been home to a pottery museum for years – but now it’s billed as home to the nation’s largest pottery collection. The donation of a Nebraska couple’s private stash, 5,000 pieces worth around $1.5 million, motivated the all-volunteer Red Wing Pottery Foundation to successfully(…)

Chauvin Sculpture Garden: Kohler Foundation at work in Louisiana bayou

Seventy miles southwest of New Orleans, thick fields of sugar cane are plentiful and even gas stations sell shrimp po’ boy subs that earn raves. I am here to seek signs of redemption and find them between marshy waterways in Chauvin, population about 3,000 and true Louisiana bayou. Where the highway ends, a mere 15(…)

Sheboygan’s Bookworm Gardens inspires reading in children

Gardens are about planting and growing, but most fruits of harvest on a 2-acre plot in Sheboygan are not edible. What visitors reap are the words, characters and lessons that good books teach. Bookworm Gardens, on the city’s outskirts at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, opened in 2010 as a way to inspire reading and make(…)

Sacred spaces to retreat, seek peace of mind

December is a month for reflection, even during an ordinary year, but I think 2012 nudges us more than most. The massacre of innocents in Connecticut hits the heart hundreds of miles away, regardless of our ethnicity, politics, education or income bracket. Add the stress of family dynamics during the holidays, and the uncertainty that(…)

John Deere Pavilion in Moline: ag life in the fast lane

While scooting behind the wheel, I’m not sure what astonishes me more: the windshield view, or the fact that I’ve gained eyes in back of my head. I can maneuver a steering wheel or use a hands-free steering device. Gears shift with the touch of a button. The engine, with dual turbochargers, kicks out 373(…)

New Karpeles manuscript museum at Rock Island, Ill.

Is “fool” or “numskull” the best way to describe a poor card player? After learning a lesson, he never “tasted a drop” or “drank a drop”? Anyone who has tried to write accurately and thoughtfully understands the painstaking search for just the right words. It was this way with Mark Twain, too, and anybody can(…)

Lake Geneva shoreline walk: free, 21 miles

The path is clear but ever-changing. Being aware means being alert. Some surprises remain mysteries. What sounds like fortune-cookie prophecy are a few observations from walking seven miles between Lake Geneva and Williams Bay at the best time of year, before the air’s nip turns biting. Surrounding Geneva Lake in Walworth County are millions of(…)

Water skiing shows, tourneys: smooth flow in Wisconsin

I’m not surprised to learn that Florida is home to the Water Ski Hall of Fame and Museum, considering the state’s temperate climate and all those beaches, but the Midwest is the sport’s birthplace and Wisconsin apparently is home to the most performers. Ninety years ago, 19-year-old Ralph Samuelson came up with the bright idea(…)

Cutting into the mustard at Middleton museum

Shortly after our host delivered a platter of shaved corned beef and rye bread, he returned with a word of advice: If you need mayo, leave now. Barry Levenson, founder of the National Mustard Museum, was smiling but not kidding. About 30 of us were at his Middleton museum on a recent Sunday afternoon, rating(…)

Making magic: Houdini, other tricksters

Would you go out of your way to watch a guy escape from a straitjacket? How about if he was hanging upside-down outdoors, several stories higher than your neck could stretch? The peculiar antics of Harry Houdini, 1874-1926, easily drew curious crowds by the hundreds. We have long known of Houdini as an escape artist(…)

Glass as art: Movement began 50 years ago

Before Dale Chihuly – the celebrated architect of big, bulbous, vivid and swirly glass sculptures – there was Harvey Littleton. Before Littleton, glass was for eyeglasses and windshields, goblets and vases – but not heating and blowing into fine art. People worked with glass in industrial settings, not art studios. That changed when Littleton, now(…)

College museums: majors in birds to geology

Freethinkers buck conventional thinking and make their way through the world in unusual ways. This is the way I peg James Newman Clark. The Meridean farmer, southwest of Eau Claire, in the late 1800s successfully grew ginseng and goldenseal, both medicinal plants. Taxidermy of birds began as a hobby, then turned into a second business.(…)

Madison’s Chazen art museum doubles size

Live anywhere long enough, and you’re likely to take good things for granted. That’s the way it is for me in Madison, where always-there treasures since 1970 have included a free-admission art museum on the University of Wisconsin campus. I know it as a lovely place to hear classical music on Sunday afternoons, plus an(…)

Mount Horeb: home to trollway, tool museum

Trolls rule in Mount Horeb, a peculiar, creative and vibrant Dane County village of 7,000. The scruffy, impish troll carvings – happy-crazed-creepy in expression, dwarfs to giants in size – have defined and guarded the community since the 1970s. The first trolls were Norwegian imports. Then local wood carver Mike Feeney took over, commissioned by(…)