Category Archives: Outdoors

Big Muddy Brew N’ Que

Winona’s Levee Park was the site of the second annual Big Muddy Brew N’ Que during Labor Day weekend.  People from Winona and the surrounding area had the opportunity to experience live music, wine and beer tasting, a bean bag toss tournament, and barbeque tasting.

The Clams’ Alex Miller and Eric Wittenburg, perform classic hits for all ages during the first day of the Big Muddy Brew N’ Que.


The Big Muddy Brew N’ Que had a new layout this year.  Due to construction at west end of Levee Park, the location was moved to the east end or the park near Godfather’s Pizza.  Another first, was expanding the event to a two-day event.

Joe Piper competes in the second annual Big Muddy Brew N’ Que bean bag tournament.


Ben Knuesel, 27, of Winona attended last year’s event, and was pleased with how the second year improved.

“It was fantastic,” Knuesel said, “Last year was the first time we had something like this on the levee, and utilizing the river, which is a big part of Winona.”

Winona’s Awesome Eats food truck offered their barbeque pulled pork sandwich at the Big Muddy Brew N’ Que at Levee Park.


Co-founder of Insight Brewing from Minneapolis, Ilan Klages-Mundt, returned to his hometown to experience the event for the first time.

“It’s awesome to try local beer, so for people to hear that we’re from here,” Klages-Mundt said, “there’s a little bit of pride to bring the beer back to Winona.”

Klages-Mundt said he couldn’t attend last year’s event he said he was pleased with the professionalism and organization of the second year’s event.

Klages-Mundt said the venue made the experience seem busy, but not over-crowded.

“It felt like there was a really good energy the whole time,” Klages-Mundt added, “People came back to the booth multiple times, and I didn’t hear any complaints.”

Winona County: Helping Complete your Bucket List

Most people I know have a bucket list, you know that list of things that you want to do before you kick the bucket. And for some, their list may be filled with things they will probably never get to do. However, for those of us who live, work, and go to school in Winona County there are activities to experience, that someone may never have thought of, to add to their list.

One of these is hiking up the bluff in John Latsch State Park, near Lock and Dam 5, just north of Winona. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you take into consideration that you have to hike 405 feet straight up the hill it becomes a little more of a challenge, something each Winona County resident has to do at least once in their lifetime. This is the challenge that I took up, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Yes, I have done this hike before, however unlike some things on my bucket list, this was not a been there done that situation. On this day it was a I have been there and done that but I’m going to do it again situation.

Over 550 stairs wooden stairs make up the “Riverview Trail” in John Latsch State Park.

The sign at the beginning of the “Riverview Trail” said that this journey would be difficult and would take about an hour, I was ready. The trail consists of over 550 stairs and after 30 or so I began to get tired. A reason for doing this hike more than once is that you never see the same thing twice.

Ripe berries, are one of the things that, can be seen in the late summer along the “Riverview Trail.”

Different times of the year bring different stages of life to the forest, from seedlings to blooming flowers to leaves changing color in the fall. I get to see a lot of new things each time I hike up this trail. However, the best part is reaching the top, one because of the sense of accomplishment and two, the view of the river valley below.

The view of the Mississippi River valley from the bluffs overlooking John Latsch State Park make all the hard work worthwhile.

After I soaked in the view, took some pictures, and caught my breath I began the trip down the hill, which in some cases is even harder, on the legs, than the climb up. By the time I got back to the car, my legs were in pain and I was soaked with sweat, yet I was glad that I had once again made the journey. Because that is what life is, a collection of journeys.

Winona State Community Garden Brings Students, Professors Together

by Elizabeth Pulanco, featured photo by Taylor Nyman

With the spring season underway, flowers and outdoor projects are in bloom.

At Winona State University, the process of creating a community garden has taken root with the construction of a raised soil bed on April 15.

The Winona State SEED Garden is located on West 8th Street across from academic buildings on the Winona State Campus.

The SEED (sustainable, edible, educational, discovery) Garden has been in development for several years. Sophomore Jackson Ramsland has been the most recent student to take on the task.

Ramsland said his involvement with the garden began during spring semester of 2016 when friend of his, Allison Bettin asked if he wanted to take over the planning.

“Being very interested in gardening, I said ‘yes’ and took on the project,” Ramsland said.

Ramsland said his interest in gardening is connected to his time spent in the many gardens at his childhood home and summer jobs working at tree nurseries and organic farms.

“When I was growing up, my family had a pretty big plot of land so we had a lot of gardens,” Ramsland said. “We had a flower garden in the front yard and in the backyard, we had a couple of raised bed food gardens and we would always grow tomatoes and zucchinis.”

Ramsland said he had weekly meetings with faculty members, members of the university’s arboretum committee and the health and wellness department.

From the beginning, Ramsland said the creation of the garden has been a group effort.

“I have established some very important relationships with faculty members, student groups that are interested in working outside,” Ramsland said.

Jonathon Mauser, a chemistry professor and member of Winona State’s arboretum committee was also interested in the project and worked with Ramsland to find resources and funds to move the project forward.

Chemistry professor Jonathon Mauser fills a wheelbarrow with the gravel used to build the wall holding the raised soil bed together. The construction of the raised soil bed is expected to be finished by April 24.

Mauser said he had previous experiences working with community gardens and helped build the garden for his alma mater, the University of Portland in Oregon.

“I was an undergrad, so at this point I was on the student side of it and it is kind of fun to be on the other side of it now and kind of come full circle,” Mauser said.

According to Mauser, Winona State’s  SEED Garden is being funded by the university’s Green Fee.

“The Green Fee is a payment that every student pays starting this term It is a part of their tuition fees,” Mauser said.  “The Green Fee has gone to support this community garden and has also supported the spread of recycling bins on campus, which is going to be happening soon.”

The Green Fee also paid for reusable water bottles given to first-year students when they arrive on campus.

According to  Mauser, the mission for this project is an accumulation of different elements and involves different aspects of the university community.

Ramsland said  produce from the garden will be donated to the Warrior Cupboard, which is a food shelf that will be located in Winona State’s Integrated Wellness Center. Ramsland said this produce will be used to help combat food inequity and insecurity.

“About 56 percent of Winona State students qualify as being food insecure,” Ramsland said. “One of the biggest things with food insecurity is that most people aren’t getting adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables, so if students start using the garden, we hope that it will become very popular and that students will be getting the food that they need.”

Along with giving food to the Warrior Cupboard, Ramsland said hewould like to find a mobile way to distribute the produce from the garden around campus.

“I would love to set up a farm cart or something and drive around campus and give students produce. I think that it could be something that could become a very cool staple of Winona State,” Ramsland said.  “I can’t think of a lot of campuses that I have visited that have had a garden of this size for this purpose.”

At the moment, volunteers for the garden are working on the raised soil bed which will hold most of the produce. Ramsland said the plan is to have the soil bed finished by the week of April 24 and start putting plants into the ground by May 1.

The raised soil bed at the SEED Garden will contain different fruits and vegetables that will be sent to the Warrior Cupboard Food Shelf in the Integrated Wellness Complex on Winona State University’s campus.

Continue reading Winona State Community Garden Brings Students, Professors Together

Ban battle: two lawsuits filed against Winona County for frac sand mining ban

“We love the beauty of this area, a lot of things about it,” Jim Gurley, a Winona County anti-frac sand mining activist, said. “I couldn’t sit back and let it be ruined.”

By Samantha Stetzer

In the bluffs that surround and cut through Winona County, some of the most useful silica sand can be found, according to Johanna Rupprecht, policy program organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.

The sand is at the center of an on-going conflict between mining companies looking to utilize the perfect form of the sand for hydraulic fracking and the activists trying to preserve it and keep it in the ground.

Miners target the driftless area, of which Winona County is part, for sand crystals ice glaciers left behind as they split around southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa during the Ice Age.

With a push from local activism and the Land Stewardship Project, a non-profit supporting agriculture and farmland, Winona County commissioners passed a frac sand mining ban on all county land after debate and action by community members for and against the mining by a vote of 3-2 in November 2016.

Two joggers run past an anti-frac sand mining sign from the Land Stewardship Project on East Lake Boulevard in Winona, Minnesota The Land Stewardship Project gave out more than 450 signs across Winona County while it was working on creating a countywide ban against frac sand mining. The ban has sparked two lawsuits against it since it was passed in November 2016.

The ordinance only protects county land, which means local governments in Winona County can still approve the mines on city or town land, according to anti-frac sand mining activist Jim Gurley. If commissioners of a city or town in Winona County agreed to install a frac sand mine, they can still annex county land with a “ball-and-string” annexation, where towns and cities annex a small strip of land out to a “ball” of land, the main point of annexation.

Gurley added Minnesota’s government system also gives local governments more say over county and state governments on what happens on its land.

Following the ban, two lawsuits have been filed against Winona County claiming infringement on the rights of people and business owners to own and use the land as owners see fit, much to the expectation of the project, Rupprecht said.

Two parties, Richard Dablestein, owner of land in Winona County, and the Southeastern Property Owners of Minnesota organization, filed a lawsuit in March 2017. The lawsuit claims the ban violates the Minnesota and U.S. Constitutions and inhibits their ability to work on valuable land.

According to Rupprecht, the attorney’s office representing the plaintiffs in the first case, Larkin Hoffman, is commonly pro-frac sand mining and sent a lawyer to speak against the ban when it was being discussed.

A second suit was filed nearly a month later on Tuesday, April 18, by Minnesota Sands and claims nearly the same infringement on rights as the first suit. Minnesota Sands was founded in 2012 by Richard Frick and the company claimed on its website to have 10 leases for mining sites.

According to Rupprecht, Frick and his company were in the mining movement years before the ban was put in motion.

All mines, Rupprecht said, are required to produce an environmental impact statement about the impacts of their business on the land. The statement can cost millions of dollars, and in February 2015 Minnesota Sands paid $130,450 to begin the statement.

Since then, the company had produced no money or intention of continuing the statement and was virtually unheard of until the ban was enacted, Rupprecht said.

The saga of frac sand mining in Winona County for Gurley began in 2011. According to Gurley, prior to him getting involved, local farmers were being approached by sand companies offering to take their sandy land from them, since it was harder to farm on the land.

Gurley said there were no necessary conversations happening around the community, and public knowledge of the companies reaching out to residents was slim.

After investigating and researching, Gurley said he and his wife, whose home was located near a proposed mine, decided to devote time to advocating against the mine. He and fellow activists created Citizens Against Silica Mining in response.

“We love the beauty of this area, a lot of things about it,” Gurley said. “I couldn’t sit back and let it be ruined.”

While Gurley and other activists continued to fight, members with the Land Stewardship Project were asking for a ban to be placed, Rupprecht said. Gurley said two years ago he stepped out of his lead role anti-frac sand mining activism because the Land Stewardship Project had become more involved.

A house on East Lake Boulevard in Winona, Minnesota features a protest against frac sand mining in the county. Residents across Winona still have the signs in their yard, despite a ban on the mining in November 2016 being approved by the county. Lawsuits have been filed for repealing the ban due to claims of unconstitutional limits the ban proposes.

The project worked closely with Chicago-based attorney Ed Walsh, from the advice of anti-frac sand mining activist Joe Morse, to draft a version of the ban to present to the county.

Walsh, who has experience representing municipalities, said he primarily offered advice to the project for how to go about making the most constitutionally friendly ban possible, but he said the best piece of advice he thinks he gave was not legal.

“It was advice of making sure they felt they had county board members that were understanding and perhaps and philosophically in agreement with the concept of a ban on frac sand mining,” Walsh said.

According to Walsh, he advised the planning commission and the county board. He also reviewed the final wording and process by Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman.

In Walsh’s legal opinion, the ban is constitutionally sound and the process that led to it was legal as well.

“I believe the ordinance will withstand the legal attacks in the court,” Walsh said.

Despite the recent court filings, Morse and Gurley said when the ban was enacted, they were thrilled to see their activism coming to a conclusion point.

Morse, who has been a self-proclaimed environmental activist for 30 years, said he does not believe cities and towns in Winona will allow more frac sand mines in their limits because of commitments made by the local governments and lack of space within city and town limits.

Having the ban laid out in a court setting could be beneficial, Morse added, because it could either give the ban firm legal permission to continue or it will allow the county to re-visit the issue as soon as possible, if it is found unconstitutional. With elections and turnover on the county commission, Morse said the court decision could be crucial for the movement.

Regardless of the outcome, Rupprecht said she believes the ban sends a strong message to a currently stagnant frac sand mining industry.

“It’s disappointing that the industry would be that desperate,” Rupprecht said about the lawsuit. “You don’t have a right to destroy the land.”

Attempts to talk with Minnesota Sands, Dablestein, the Southeastern Property Owners of Minnesota and lawyers for the first lawsuit were never returned.

Re-cap the frac sand mining ban here.

From farm to city: rural artist, researcher opens community post in Winona

By Samantha Stetzer

“I was in the right place in the right time.”

Something about the Mississippi River has always drawn Matt Fluharty to it.

In the late winter of 2015, just as the river was roaring back to life after months of an icy stalemate, Fluharty was on his way back to his home in St. Louis, Missouri from a conference in Minneapolis. He said was tired, ready to be home and contemplated taking the interstate back.

“I called my wife Kelly, and she said, ‘No, you should really drive the river, again,’” Fluharty said. “’It’ll be so much better.’”

Matt Fluharty laughs as he talks about his relationship with his father and how it has grown due to Fluharty’s organization, Art of the Rural. The organization engages in promoting the rural arts, culture and policies through a digital platform and providing a space for the creation to happen. His father has always been interested in rural policy, Fluharty said, which the duo began to realize was similar to Fluharty’s interest in the rural arts and culture.

On his way down the river, Fluharty stopped at Blooming Grounds in downtown Winona for a cup of coffee. He continued to venture around the city, noticing stores like Yarnology, bars such as Ed’s No Name Bar and some empty storefronts. As a professor with a Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and as someone who studies modernism of rural America, Fluharty said he noticed the character of the town he stumbled upon.

“You could tell there were empty storefronts, but there was also this amazing vibrant economy happening downtown,” Fluharty said. “You see that in a lot of river towns, but there was something special about Winona, you could just tell. I think people sense it when they come downtown.”

Then the self-described river rat found his way to Winona’s Levee Park and the Mississippi River.

“I was just like, ‘Oh God.’ It was just like the best view of the river is here in Winona,” Fluharty said. “I mean every community along the river would kill to for that view and to be in between the bluffs, and then it really struck me.”

After the experience by the river, Fluharty said he texted his wife and his business partner, urging them to search for Winona online.

By April 2016, he and Kelly were moving their family to the river city for it become the new official headquarters of Art of the Rural, an organization founded by Fluharty. The organization focuses on connecting rural America to its arts, culture and policy, building off of the narratives already in place.

As a poet, designer and artist who has been published in art reviews, such as To Make a Public: Temporary Art Review 2011-2016, Fluharty said he began the organization in 2010 and has watched it transform to connect rural economic policy and its arts and culture.

The headquarters for Art of the Rural has officially opened as the Outpost on the eastern side of Third Street in Winona and will officially open with an exhibit featuring portraits of Winonans by Jon Swanson on May 5.

Back on the farm

It all started on a farm.

Fluharty is a fifth generation farmer in Ohio. During the 1980s, around the time Fluharty was in third grade, his parents lost their family farm to the farm crisis. Fluharty said moving away from the only kind of home he and his family had known for generations struck in him what he believes eventually led to Art of the Rural.

“I felt very connected to this place because those early formative childhood memories were of a farm that we no longer had, and for a long time that was source of personal pain,” Fluharty said. “But as I got older and became an artist and a writer some of those feelings began to be translated into a set of questions about what does it mean that I had that experience and that a lot of other people had that experience and that we don’t talk about it.” 

As Fluharty grew up, he said his family moved around the Midwest a lot, including Indiana and Missouri, but he eventually left home to study English and modernism in poetry and writing.

Fluharty said original ideas for the organization came to him when he was working on a project about the eastern side of St. Louis, Missouri while in graduate school. That side of the river did not have its own history, Fluharty said. It was scattered and mixed into different stories.

As he was finishing up his dissertation in late 2009, the passing of a grandmother he was close to prompted him to finally say out loud to someone how he was going to start Art of the Rural. He said was walking in the woods with his brother when he finally said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to start a blog.”

“After her funeral, I kind of had this moment of revelation,” Fluharty said. “…sometimes you just have to say something out loud to someone for you to feel responsible to that idea.”

Expanding beyond the blog

With the original blog up and running by January 2010, Fluharty said he kept the idea and concept a secret until April 2010, just to see if it was something he would actually continue.

When he finally started to spread the word, he said he found it had gained attention not only from audiences but also from people wanting to contribute to the writing and work Fluharty was doing.

The work started to include blogs about rural artwork, culture and histories of rural communities in the Midwest. Fluharty starting gaining more partners, such as Program Director Savannah Barrett and Kenyon Gradert with Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The organization also sponsored Next Generation, which supports a network of art possibilities and promotes engagement in younger people to the arts, according to Art of the Rural.

It was at Next Generation where John Davis, executive director of the Lanesboro Arts Center in Lanesboro, Minn., said he met Fluharty.

“Matt is an amazing individual,” Davis said. “I think he is thoughtful, articulate, always interested in learning about rural and arts and community, seeking out new ways to help communities.”

For the last four years, Davis said he has seen the significance of Art of the Rural, primarily on its impact with younger generations.

Swanson, curator at the Minnesota Marine Art Musem in Winona, said he also believes in the power of young engagement. Swanson first met Fluharty when

Fluharty was contemplating moving to the area and setting up the Outpost.

Swanson said he has often seen college students leave Winona after graduation because of the need for a larger city feel. With festivals Mid West Music Fest and Boats and Bluegrass, Swanson said he believes the addition of Outpost to the Winona scene will only be a more attractive feature to young graduates looking for a place to call home.

“I’d like to be able to retain some people that want to live here and have a better quality of life,” Swanson said. “Just trying to build a better community to live in.”

Curator of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Jon Swanson, shoots portraits of Winonans for his photography show, Winona Characters Portrait Photography, which will open on May 5 at the Outpost in Winona. Outpost is a collaborative space headquarters for Art of the Rural, founded by Matt Fluharty. (Contributed by Jon Swanson)

As Art of the Rural began to support more rural arts and works, it also became more engaged with larger organizations, such as M12 Studios, motivated by the same goal of promoting the rural arts, Fluharty said.

According to Richard Saxton, director of M12 Studios, working with Fluharty has enhanced his creativity and work.

“I think we’re kind of a sounding board for each other,” Saxton said. “What I do as an artist directing M12, and what he does with the Art of the Rural, there are some crossovers there. We’re friends as well as colleagues.”

M12 Studios, according to Fluharty, enters into a community and builds off its culture, creating statues and exhibitions within small rural communities. Art of the Rural, meanwhile, has more of a digital platform and outreach, Fluharty said. M12 Studios will utilize the Outpost in Winona as a space for most of its exhibitions, Fluharty added.

“I think it’s actually a really nice synergy, because between the two, we’re really talking and engaging with folks across a pretty wide series of disciplines and sectors,” Fluharty said.

Building personal connections

Art of the Rural began because of a farm, but it was in the city of St. Louis, Missouri where Fluharty said he started to understand its need.

Fluharty said he did have doubts about his ability to promote the meaning to this organization, as he remembered thinking about one day when he was dropping off his son Will at day care in St. Louis, Missouri.

He had a busy day of phone calls and meetings about rural culture scheduled for that day, and as he was dropping off Will, he began to realize he was raising his son outside of what he taught and studied.

“I had this moment of realization where I thought ‘Will isn’t rural.’ Like I’m talking about rural America and rural culture, and here I am taking my son to day care in St. Louis,” Fluharty said. “And for about 30 seconds that like kind of shook me on some level.”

The realization, according to Fluharty, eventually only encouraged him to keep pursuing what he was teaching and to understand the significance of the fluidity among rural and urban communities.

There has also been another father-son relationship in Fluharty’s life that has been impacted by his studies, Fluharty said.

Fluharty said his organization has brought him and his father together, which was something Fluharty said he would not have seen as possible when he was younger.

According to Fluharty, his father had always wanted to create a cultural center about the history of northern Appalachian culture and was always interested in rural economy and policy.

Meanwhile, as Fluharty grew up, Fluharty became more engaged in rural arts and culture. In the pair’s conversations together as Fluharty began Art of the Rural, he said they realized their goals were more common than different.

“You can do all the arts and culture you want, but if the economic development isn’t happening and if it’s not inclusive and we’re not welcoming young people, we’re still going to fail,” Fluharty said. “So it’s those three things coming together, and that I think to some degree was just the subject of just a lot of conversations we had as I got older and Art of the Rural began to grow a bit.”

Now, Fluharty’s organization has begun to work closer with economic policy and laws as a way to build and share the culture in small towns.

Fluharty’s father has since gone back to farming with Fluharty’s brother on the farm he took over from their grandparents, Fluharty’s father’s parents.

Back to the river that started it all

Fluharty said he envisions Outpost as a space designed after a building in Des Moines, Iowa. This building is an old fire station turned community center that on any given night can host events from open mic night to wrestling in the same building. Eventually the groups meet in the common area for food and drinks, intermingling among their interests and hobbies, he said.

“Maybe they’re sharing a snack or they’re having a drink together, and they’re building a really different kind of set of relationships there that you can’t make that happen,” Fluharty said.

Outpost has already hosted events, but it will officially open on from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 5 as it hosts Winona Characters Portrait Photography project by Swanson. The project includes 147 portraits of random people in Winona, with an age range of three months to 80 years old.

The project, Swanson said, is perfect for the Outpost.

“It directly aligns with their core values and their missions,” Swanson said., “bringing art to an audience in smaller more rural communities.”

One of Jon Swanson’s portraits that will hang at the Winona Characters Portrait Photography exhibit at Outpost in Winona starting May 5. Outpost is a collaborative space headquarters for Art of the Rural, founded by Matt Fluharty. (Contributed by Jon Swanson)

As for his ongoing project with Art of the Rural in Winona, Fluharty said they will be examining towns along the Mississippi River understand how the arts, cultures and economies are all interwoven together.

Landing in Winona as Art of the Rural continues this project and its outreac, Fluharty said, was just fate.

“I was in the right place in the right time.”

Fire, Parks Department conduct spring cleanup

by Allison Mueller & Elizabeth Pulanco – photos by Taylor Nyman

When spring arrives in Winona, the melting snow reveals a layer of trash. The beginning of this season is when the City of Winona Fire Department and the Winona Parks and Recreation Department work together to remove garbage and tidy up Garvin Heights and other parks.

According to Chad Ubl, director of Community Services for the City of Winona’s Parks and Recreation Department, the park maintenance department does daily trash runs for the park system, which includes Garvin Heights. He said the department needs assistance with items that require heaving lifting. Due to its access to machinery and on-call employees, the park maintenance team works with the Winona Fire Department.

On Wednesday, April 5, at 6 p.m., the two departments met at Garvin Heights to participate in the annual cleanup.

Captain Brandon Leuhman instructs firefighters on how to set up a pulley system for the annual Garvin Heights lookout trash cleanup on Wednesday, April 5. The team used ropes and pulleys to suspend crew members over the side of the lookout to pick up trash and to haul up garbage with a tarp from further down the bluff.

Joel Corcoran, assistant fire chief, said they have collaborated with the park maintenance department for the Garvin Heights cleanup for 15 years. Corcoran said he coordinates with park maintenance and organizes the event.

Ubl and park maintenance crew member Jon Mullen said the crew of 10 to 20 on-call fire department participants and the few park maintenance employees gather and dispose of 500 to 600 pounds of garbage during each cleanup.

Due to the use of equipment and climbing required to retrieve the trash, the only people who participate in the cleanup are employees from the park maintenance department and fire department.

The cleanups take place during the spring, Corcoran said, after the snow melts and before the trees and bushes bloom. Due to weather delays and staff changes, last year’s cleanup was cancelled.

“We got to it little too late in the spring season and the trees and bushes were growing up to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore,” Corcoran said. “We postponed the event until this year. There is a significant amount of garbage that you can see, and if you go below, there is even more.”

A Winona firefighter fastens a safety harness for rappelling off the side of the bluff during the annual Garvin Heights cleanup on Wednesday, April 5. The Winona Fire Department also uses this cleanup day as a way to train their crew members with the equipment.

Both Ubl and Corcoran said the trash found is usually plastic bottles and food containers. Every once in a while, someone will dump large items such as a microwave, bike or shopping cart.

During the Wednesday cleanup, the fire department retrieved an old sofa that was thrown over the edge of the bluff as well as a broken TV.

Ubl said the litter is a sad illustration of what is happening at the Garvin Heights lookout.

“It is a place where many visitors come and overlook the cities and members of the community use the park as well. It is sad that we have individuals dump bikes and couches over the edge of a park,” Ubl said.

In order to bring up the sofa, the fire department set up the Arizona Vortex on the west end of Garvin Heights. This equipment is an artificial high directional system that serves as a tripod, which allowed the firefighters to rappel down the side of the bluff and attach pieces of the couch to be pulled up.

Winona firefighter Charlie Casperson rappels from the west side of Garvin Heights’ scenic lookout using the Arizona Vortex to retrieve a sofa that was thrown over the edge. The team of firefighters and park maintenance crewmembers picked up trash from the lookout on Wednesday, April 5.
Winona firefighter Charlie Casperson rappels from the west side of Garvin Heights’ scenic lookout using the Arizona Vortex to retrieve a sofa that was thrown over the edge. The team of firefighters and park maintenance crewmembers picked up trash from the lookout on Wednesday, April 5.

On the main lookout at Garvin Heights, a system of ropes and pulleys were set up to lower firefighters over the edge to place trash in buckets. A fire engine ladder was also used to bring up a tarp full of large items from further down the bluff. Workers below filled the tarp with trash, while others walked around the lookout picking up trash with garbage pickers.

According to Corcoran, the workers collected 320 pounds of garbage in this year’s haul. For the disposal of the trash, a garbage truck was parked near the lookout that could hold up to 2,000 pounds of waste, according to Mullen who was operating the truck. Ubl said park maintenance will recycle what they can, and other items are taken to the scrapyard.

The Winona Fire Department pulls up a shattered television and other trash from the side of the bluff using a tarp during the annual Garvin Heights cleanup on Wednesday, April 5.

In addition to helping clean the community, the fire department uses the cleanup event as a way to train employees with the rappelling equipment. By giving his staff a chance to use the equipment on the bluffs, Corcoran said he is helping his staff prepare for emergencies in the future.

“You can only do so much training within the fire station until it becomes unrealistic and redundant. Getting out and doing something like this gives us a chance to encounter the real-world problems that we have when we respond to an incident,” Corcoran said. “Unfortunately, things happen and people may fall or need assistance hiking and if the first time we’ve ever been up there is for an emergency like this, we are not as prepared. This is good, real world training for the future.”

Winona firefighters Brandon Luehman, Jeff Harris and Ryan Geiger rappel off Garvin Heights and collect trash people have thrown over the past two years during the annual trash cleanup on Wednesday, April 5.

Corcoran said the team was at Garvin Heights for nearly three hours cleaning up trash.

“We got most of what we intended on getting picked up that night. I believe it was successful,” Corcoran said. “It is a nice thing to do, not only for the community but for our training purposes. Keeping our parks looking nice and clean is important to all of us.”

Besides the annual Garvin Heights cleanup, the fire department and parks and recreation department work together on other projects.

When the parks and recreation department was looking to remove buckthorn, an invasive plant species, Ubl said they were able to receive a burn permit from the fire department.

“They gave us a burn permit and monitored the burn following the removal,” Ubl said.

The parks and recreation department and fire department have also collaborated to clean up the Sugar Loaf bluffs, according to Ubl.

“As a city we are trying our best to keep the parks clean and attractive for all the users, so we appreciate everybody’s assistance in helping us do that,” Ubl said. “Whether it is volunteers, or workers from the fire department.”

For Corcoran, the chance to clean up the community and provide his staff with hands-on training is meaningful and important.

“Being an employee of the city and a lifetime citizen of the community, I enjoy making it a little nicer,” Corcoran said. “I also enjoy having good, hands on training for the employees. It’s meaningful to people and they are more likely to learn something from it.”

Cold Animals Receive Warm Welcome

In the frigid winter, humans rely on jackets, hats, mittens and scarves to keep themselves protected from the harsh weather. Animals have an advantage with their furry bodies, but during below-freezing temperatures, this may not be enough.

In Winona, animals found in the cold are collected through Winona County Animal Control, or brought into the Winona Area Humane Society.

Kelly Sackmaster, cat director at WAHS, works with the 100-plus cats that are currently at the humane society. During winter months, Sackmaster said she has noticed a trend of cats being considered insignificant.

“What has surprised me the most in the winter months has been how many cats are brought to us with frostbite, or they have been found in the cold, or they were burned on a car engine because they were trying to warm themselves; it is all because people view them as disposable.” Sackmaster said.

When considering the percentage of cats and dogs in the shelter, the reclaim rate is taken into account. The reclaim rate is the number of animals that are taken back by their owners after staying in the shelter.

“The reclaim rate, how many animals get brought here and then are reclaimed by their owners, for dogs in Winona is 70 to 75 percent. For cats, it’s less than three percent.”

Jingles the cat waits for a forever home while staying at the Winona Area Humane Society.

According to Sackmaster, freezing weather confuses and shocks the animals, which causes them to get lost. In addition to the frostbite and car engine burns associated with winter weather, the stressful and freezing conditions can increase the risk for upper respiratory infections.

Due to the lack of veterinary professionals in their staff, the WAHS is not equipped to treat these injuries. When an animal arrives with frostbitten paws, Sackmaster said it is immediately sent to Pet Medical Center. Dr. Deb Finnegan, a veterinarian at Pet Medical in downtown Winona works closely with WAHS and has treated animals with weather related injuries.

Most of the injuries seen by Finnegan in winter are frostbite related. According to Finnegan, animals with frequent blood circulation through their feet and fur on their paws, like squirrels, have a better chance of surviving during the winter. Animals like cats and dogs with shorter and thinner fur have a high risk for frostbite.

This winter, Finnegan provided medical treatment for a kitten brought in by the WAHS who was experiencing severe tissue trauma from frostbitten paws.

“We treated a little kitten who was sloughing off her leathery pads because of the tissue trauma related to frost bite. I wrapped her feet and she will grow her pads back, but she will be more susceptible to tissue trauma so she will have to be an indoor cat.

Finnegan also said microcuts on paw pads created by ice melting salt increases the risk for frostbite and burns. According to Finnegan untreated frostbite can lead to gangrene.

The WAHS relies on Pet Medical to provide proper medical treatment for animals within the shelter. According to Sackmaster, the WAHS spends close to $5,000 a month on their medical care for sheltered animals. The medical treatment for animals is paid through donations to the WAHS.

“We are funded 99 percent by donations,” Sackmaster said. “That means every dollar that is donated is going toward the animals directly.”

When treating stray animals from the WAHS, Finnegan offers a 50 percent discount for the procedures.

“We are meeting each other half way,” Finnegan said.

The WAHS and Pet Medical take care of the animals found outside.  Sackmaster said she believes the community is also responsible for watching out for vulnerable animals. When protecting animals from freezing temperatures, Sackmaster said there are two important aspects to focus on: investigation and action.

“When you have that little voice in the back of your head that says, ‘I should check this out,’ or ‘I should pull over my car and see what is going on,’ you should try and listen to that voice,” Sackmaster said. “There are so many times where we have heard stories from people where a cat has been hanging around outside of their apartment building for three weeks and then they bring it in and it is missing half of an ear from frostbite.”

Maze, a cat staying in the Winona Area Humane Society’s Yellow Bay area for cats, is one of the many cats waiting for forever home in the humane society.

Sackmaster said fast action is important when helping animals, because she said many of the animals exposed to extreme winter weather do not make it to the WAHS in time.

If an individual cannot bring one of the stray animals inside, Finnegan suggested setting out food and fresh water, along with straw or blankets the animals can nest in.

“Animals are designed to nest. Providing a bed made of straw also helps protect them from the cold surfaces,” Finnegan said. “Surfaces like concrete and metal can increase the risk of frostbite.”

The winter is not only a dangerous time for lost or stray animals. Winter can be a difficult time for house pets as well.  Besides the weather, animals can be hurt by different products used to combat the cold temperatures and icy roads.

“Don’t leave antifreeze around. Pets are drawn to that because it is so sweet smelling, but it is also poisonous,” Sackmaster said. “After you walk your dog, wipe their paws off, because they will lick their paws and the salt that they use to melt the ice is also poisonous.”

Sackmaster suggested keeping cats indoors and clothing dogs with booties or sweaters if necessary.

“If it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your animals,” Sackmaster said.

According to Sackmaster and Finnegan, providing shelter, food and water are all sufficient ways to help animals. Finnegan said the best way to solve the problem is to decrease the number of stray animals.

“The best thing we can do for these animals is population control,” Finnegan. “Spay and neuter your pets. If there are stray animals outdoors, less of them will be at risk for these temperature related health issues.”

Video of Animals Staying in Shelter:

SMU Ski trails are joint effort for community benefit

The room where skiers wax their skis and bundle up to face the cold will fill with Nordic ski enthusiasts at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3 in Brother Leopold Hall to honor a man that put Saint Mary’s University on the map as having one of the best cross-country ski trails in southeastern Minnesota.

Brother Jerome Rademacher, an SMU physics professor, made the trails in the 1970s. However when his health declined in 2006, Rademacher put the Winona Nordic Ski Club in charge of maintenance, said Bruce Johnson, WNSC member. Since then, he said, the club’s volunteer trail maintenance has groomed the trails nearly every day during winter.

“We’ve created a monster. We groom the trails so well that people expect them to be perfect all the time,” Johnson said with a proud smile.

The SMU ski trails, located in SMU’s backyard Yonn Valley, are groomed and maintained through the joint effort of SMU staff and WNSC volunteers. Cross-country skiers travel from neighboring states to train and ski on these trails, Johnson said. The trails are also open every day for public use.

The trails are groomed for two purposes: skate skiing and classical cross-country skiing.

Similar to ice skating, skate skiing is done by alternating skis away from each other at an angle. Classical skiing is done by putting skis in two parallel tracks cut into the snow and shuffling the legs in a striding motion.

Rademacher, the trail’s first solo caretaker, used a machine known as a piston boy to groom the snow, said Johnson. Luckily, when Rademacher gave up this passion, Johnson said he was able to continue that legacy.

“When I retired, I said ‘I can help. I can volunteer’,” Johnson said. “He said ‘here’s the key to the piston boy.’”

Since then, the community has shown massive enthusiasm to help make the trails what they are today, Johnson said.

“All hell broke loose—in a positive way,” said Johnson of Winona’s ski community grabbing this chance to maintain and improve the SMU trails. “There’s a hardcore group here.”

WNSC raised funds for two specialized snowmobiles called ginzus and state of the art equipment for trail grooming to replace Rademacher’s “stone age” equipment, Johnson said.

Today the WNSC and SMU staff maintains the trails using three primary pieces of equipment, said SMU Associate Vice President of Student Services, Chris Kendall.

“It’s not just like cutting the grass with a lawn mower,” Kendall said. “There’s more of an art to it.”

The trails need maintenance for a variety of reasons: fresh snow or change in temperatures, humidity or sun, Kendall said. Weather depending, the WNSC members may work every day or not for a week, he said.

After a fresh snowfall, Kendall said WNSC groomers renew the trail’s solid surface by knocking air out of fluffy snow with the Snowcat. Next they’ll use the ginzus to soften icy snow and further pack it, making a consistent base. Kendall said proper timing is critical in this process.

If Mother Nature decides snow isn’t in the forecast, then their two snowmaking machines come in handy, Kendall said. Furthermore, parts of the trail that get more sunlight are prone to melting, so maintenance makes snow and moves it to those spots.

“That’s kind of the art of it—managing what you have to make it as nice as possible,” said Kendall.

According to Kendall, cross-country ski enthusiasts travel from Northern edges of Minnesota for SMU’s advanced trails. Although these trails are unnamed, regulars give them names of affection, such as “rattlesnake,” a name given to an advanced trail.

“I think we’re a god on the map,” he said, due to the WNSC’s ability to fine-tune the trails, make them versatile and do the proper upkeep.

Since they’re well-maintained, the trails are used by a variety of local groups including physical education classes at SMU, the WNSC, the Minnesota Youth Ski League and the Winona Senior High School Ski team, who use the trails as their home court.

Jason Mork, WSHS Ski team coach, said his team practices six days per week on the trails. They’re maintained really well, he said. In particular, the ability to practice after dusk gives his team an edge.

“With the lit trails, we don’t have to rush,” Mork said, while other teams may hurry to cram practice in before nightfall.

Although they’re well maintained, Mork said the SMU trails could improve their outreach of adult programs, since there are several nights each week devoted to Nordic ski programs for children. Mork also wishes pedestrians would be more conscientious of skiers as well as keeping off the ski trails.

“We want them to shy away from walking,” on the trails Mork said. As these trails are used for hiking in the summer, pedestrians walk them in the winter as well. However, sometimes they walk directly down the middle, he said. “We just want to say, come on, you know, get a pair of skis and go fast.”

Pedestrians aside, Mork credits the growth of WSHS’s Nordic ski team to the trail’s youth programs. Since area children begin skiing earlier, more experienced skiers join the WSHS team each year.

As for Johnson, the SMU cross-country ski trails are not only a continuation of Rademacher’s work, but also an asset that encourages community health, he said.

“This is a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s the whole idea of get off your butt and go do something. Do you really want to stare at a computer screen your whole life?”

Winona bat condos, saving the residents under the bridge

With construction well on its way on the interstate 90 bridges, The Minnesota Department of Transportation is taking on an unexpected construction project. “Bat Condos” or bat hibernacula, have been installed alongside the Mississippi river due to the significant number of bats living under the interstate 90 bridge that is due to come down next year.

Heather Kaarakka, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the bats have lived under the bridge for years and are used to the noise from cars.

Kaarakka estimated that roughly 2-3 thousand Little Brown Bats were living under the bridge.

“When we first discovered the colony, we found them roosting in the expansion joint between the east and the west bound lanes of the bridge.” Kaarakka said.

Although the bats in the colony are acclimated to some level of noise, construction will likely disturb them, Kaarakka said, and potentially cause them to leave the area completely.

Since construction started, The Department of Transportation from Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the DNR’s from both states, have worked closely to help mitigate the loss of the bats’ habitat.

“Building and installing the bat condo and bat houses will help keep the colony around by providing alternate habitat.” Kaarakka said. Installing the bat houses before the roost is removed, will allow bats to find a new habitat and stay in the area.

MDOT has been the lead on the bridge project and have been more than willing to provide alternate habitat for the bats and take steps to help the bats move out of the bridge, Kaarakka said.

Robin Richardson, a biology professor at Winona State University, said she has seen success in bat condos located in the Winona community. In 2010, Richardson and some of her students put up a bat condo behind the Tau Center on WSU’s west campus.

According to Richardson, it could take years to see whether bats are using the bat condos near the bridge but says the bat condos near the Tau Center appear to be active.

“There are a lot of signs that they are using it. A lot of guano. It took about a year to see whether the bats where using it or not.” Richardson said.

Richardson advised community members who want to build a bat condo that bat condos should be located near water and should be in a warm location.

“The counterintuitive thing about bats is that they like it hot. People try to put them in a shady place but they like their houses 100 degrees and they need to be by water so they can fly into the house from the water.” Richardson said.

She also said that bat condos should be placed where other animals, such as squirrels, can not bother their habitat.

Kaarakka explained why Winona residents should want bats to remain in the area.

“A single bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in one hour and a pregnant bat can eat her weight in insects each night.” Kaarakka explained.

Because bats can eat so much, it makes them important pest control not only for human pests but also agricultural pests.

Bats have become increasingly important in the southern Minnesota ecosystem since White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal bat disease was discovered in 2007. According to Kaarakka, it is not uncommon to see 90-100% of the bats infected with this disease die. WNS has a high mortality rate and it is not specific to one species, so multiple hibernating bat species are at risk in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“If WNS continues on its present course, Wisconsin and Minnesota could soon see empty evening skies as bats disappear from the disease. “ Kaarakka said.

Building a bat condo is something anyone can do, Kaarakka said, and directions and instructions can be found on the Wisconsin Bat Program website.

Anglers Storm Lake Onalaska


It was a perfect day this past weekend for anglers in southwest Wisconsin to take to the lake and try their luck in the 6th annual Atomic Ice Derby.

Almost 800 anglers gathered on Lake Onalaska for a chance at prizes and enjoy an afternoon of fishing.

Scott Gartner, owner of Bob’s Bait and Tackle in La Crosse, started this tournament six years ago with a buddy to generate greater interest in the outdoors and support local businesses.

“We just decided we want to have an ice derby,” Gartner said. “It started out with just around 200 people and grew from there.”

This ice fishing contest is unique. Instead of the only prize being for the biggest fish, and only going after one type of fish, anglers have multiple chances to claim bragging rights.

The contest allows anglers to go after five species that have to be at least a certain length: Bluegills (7 ½ inches or more), perch (9 ½ inches or more), crappie (10 inches or more), bass (17 inches or more), and northern (30 inches or more).

An angler can weigh in up to five of each species for a total of 25 for the tournament. Any fish weighed in that reaches the slot limit, is given an entry into the raffle for a chance to win $10,000 and series of other prizes, which included rod and reel combos, and cash prizes. Unfortunately for anglers in this years derby, no one took home the $10,000 grand prize.

Anglers from all across the area came out to test their luck. Ed Slimen of Taylor, Wisconsin, has fished in all six derbies that have been put on that have been put on by this group.

“If I didn’t have to work, I probably would fish all day long,” Slimen said about being on the ice.

Ed Slimen of Taylor, Wis. caught this 18-inch largemouth bass during the Atomic Ice Derby
Ed Slimen of Taylor, Wis. caught this 18-inch largemouth bass during the Atomic Ice Derby. (Photo by Kip Kovar)

Slimen found luck in six feet of water, landing a 18-inch largemouth bass on a tip up rigged with a shiner. Slimen was enjoying the time on the ice with his daughter who also partakes in the derby almost every year.

Jared Albitz of Onalaska is also a regular at the derby. Albitz found success in the northern category, catching a 37-inch northern shortly before the weigh in.

Jared Albitz of Onalaska caught this 37-inch northern in the Atomic Ice Derby. (Photo by Kip Kovar)
Jared Albitz of Onalaska caught this 37-inch northern in the Atomic Ice Derby. (Photo by Kip Kovar)

This event is a test for serious anglers trying to prove their skills, and for families with young kids. Beth Zimmerman of Onalaska brought her kids, Remi and Braeden, out to enjoy the beautiful day on the ice.

“The newness of it, for them, is great,” Zimmerman said. “It’s our first time with them out here.”

Braeden said he loved to be able to spend some time on the ice with family.

“You get to catch big fish,” Braeden said about his favorite about being on the ice.

At the end of the day, the Atomic Ice Derby is a great way for area anglers all to gather and enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. A portion of the proceeds made from the tournament is donated to the St. Jude’s Children Hospital.