Sep 25 2010
Engrave your name on a brick or add it to the back of an auditorium seat: That’s how a lot of nonprofit enterprises raise money. At Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minn., donors get their name on a Mason jar and fill it with whatever they choose.
So lining a wall are rows of containers that hold photos, paintbrushes, golf tees, messages and other mementoes of life. The Donor Pantry is novel thinking, but that seems to come naturally in Lanesboro, population 800, which in 2009 had the nerve to prod state legislators into designating the community as Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota.
More than one dozen B&Bs do business in this part of far southeast Minnesota, and many are historic Victorians downtown. Others overlook swoops of farmland, river or forested bluffs. Bicyclists on the 60-mile, paved Root River Trail (www.rootrivertrail.org) pass through Lanesboro and account for some of the tourist business. Others come to canoe, fish or hike along the limestone bluffs, which stretch up to 300 feet high.
“It’s one of the reasons I love living here,” says Adrienne Sweeney, a native of Philadelphia. “The bluffs, the river, the wildlife – we are so nestled in beauty. And as a community, we are so protective of our assets – very conscious of our personal responsibility to take care of them – and rabid about the cleanliness and habitat of the river.”
She says Pedal Pushers, a café that seeks and uses locally grown ingredients, “changed the quality of our food and our sense of ownership to it.” Das Wurst, a German deli, makes its own sausages, breads, kraut and root beer. Kari’s gravitates toward Scandinavian flavors: pickled herring to lingonberry spice cake. Winter cooking classes uphold ethnic traditions, like how to make Norwegian flatbreads.
An old feed mill houses shops and accommodations. Historic facades introduce boutiques and bistros. A consignment shop – the nonprofit Lanesboro Local Marketplace, in a refurbished gas station – is devoted to food, art, fishing lures, goat milk soap and other products made locally.
Sixty vendors within 50 miles of Lanesboro participate. “Live Local, Live Well” is one of the Lanesboro mantras. To the south live Amish families; visits to their businesses and farms are available seasonally.
Lanesboro also is the state’s rhubarb capital, selling bottled Rhub-Berry (a rhubarb-strawberry soda) and hosting a rhubarb festival on the first Saturday of June. Rhubarb cooking (according to a local cookbook) means Rhubarb Ginger Hibiscus Freeze, Rhubarb Popcorn, Delicate Poached Rhubarb with Ricotta and more. The annual Rhubarb Rant is a poetry recitation devoted to the tart vegetable stalks of spring.
By the end of October, as leaves drop and frost nips, the community’s pace slows.
Commonwealt Theatre began with summer-only performances in 1989. Now the regional theater operates April to December, with a season that mixes classics, performance premieres and (always) a Henrik Ibsen play. The venue – furnished and decorated with a conglomeration of recycled materials – is not your typical playhouse.
Pyrex plates and cookware lids are embedded into doors,. Rusty heads of hammers turn into door handles. Barn doors are bathroom stalls. Cattle stanchions are coat racks.
The 186 theater seats are pleasantly garish hand-me-downs from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Suspended from the lobby ceiling are a bed frame and eclectic mix of other items: banged-up shovels for moving dirt to snow, plungers, pitchforks and other everyday implements.
“These are the props of normal people’s lives, and historical to the region,” says Adrienne, the theater’s marketing director. Much of the scrapyard artistry is the work of Karl Unnasch, a local sculptor who specializes in the use of reclaimed and salvaged materials.
Lanesboro used to have its own thriving opera, flour mills and horse races – but things changed when the Milwaukee Railroad rerouted its tracks, leaving the community to die.
Being surrounded by steep hills, as remote Lanesboro is, discouraged industrial development because merchandise couldn’t easily be transported away. “Sewer City” became its nickname, until a core of local residents decided to fight back. By 1985, all of the downtown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, it won a Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In more recent years, Lanesboro ranks among the nation’s 50 best outdoor sports towns (Sports Afield magazine) and 20 best “dream towns” to live and play (Outside magazine).
For more: www.lanesboro.com, 800-944-2670. A tour of 15 holiday-decorated inns is 2-6 p.m. Dec. 5. A candlelight cross-country ski on the Root River Trail begins at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5.
On the outskirts of Lanesboro is one of Minnesota’s six nonprofit, accredited environmental learning centers. Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center is the newest and only one not in the northern part of the state.
“There was a void in this area,” says Joe Deden, Eagle Bluff’s executive director and a trained forester. “Kids were being driven seven hours north for this type of experience.”
He is referring to field trips and workshops that connect children to nature on Eagle Bluff’s 80 acres (which are surrounded by thousands of acres of state forest). Adults come on group retreats, take a class (topics range from sustainable living or firearms safety) or use the ropes course as a team-building exercise. Chefs periodically prepare gourmet meals, served after talks about living off the grid, the effects of Atrazine or another environmental topic.
Joe and colleague Jeff Kamm also lead Old Buzzard Birding Ecotours in May and June.
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center is three miles north of Lanesboro. For more: www.eagle-bluff.org, 507-467-2437.
Ten miles southwest, fly fisherman find sound advice about building rods and fly ties at the National Trout Learning Center in Preston, Minn.
Limestone bedrock maintains water temperature at 46 to 48 degrees and holds oxygen well, making it the perfect environment for all three species of trout – rainbow, brown and brook.
Preston may be the epicenter of trout fishing because of a highly unusual geological karst, which is a landscape of limestone caves, streams and fissures. The area has hundreds of springfed creeks, rich with minerals and cooled by limestone.
Local fishing guides and others will address questions about where fish are biting. Many streams are accessible to the public, even though they are on private land.
The learning center, at 120 St. Anthony St., awaits completion of a more permanent home in Preston. For more: www.nationaltroutlearningcenter.org, 507-765-4700.
“Roads Traveled” is the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.