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Biking (and theater!) in Southeast Minnesota

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March 26th, 2013
The Root River Trail in Minnesota
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People come to the quiet southeastern Minnesota village of Lanesboro for two reasons: to bicycle the splendid Root River Trail and its adjunct, the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail, or to go to the theater. Or to do both.

The most unlikely theater town of my experience, Lanesboro’s Commonweal Theater Company’s season begins in April with an Ibsen festival the weekend of April 12-14 and runs through December, its top-flight productions appearing in a $3.5 million theater.

Lanesboro, once well located on the railroad line and busy as an agricultural center, lost these reasons for being but invented others, turning its picturesque self into an inviting destination. Its 788 residents welcome visitors with capacious old homes turned bed and breakfast, antique shops, gift shops, a winery, Amish craft shops, a range of restaurants, and bicycle rentals. Shopping here is nothing like going to the mall, and it’s interesting to note that one of the bed and breakfasts is not in a Victorian house but in one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Lanesboro has surprises for its visitors.

Limestone bluffs and wildlife

The Root River Trail, 42 asphalt-paved miles mostly following the abandoned railroad bed, is only hilly when it leaves the rail line and is beautiful all the way. The Root River Valley, lined by cave-studded limestone bluffs, is inhabited by deer, wild turkeys, hawks, and other wildlife that give bicyclists and hikers a glimpse of themselves from time to time. The Harmony-Preston Trail, branching to the south, goes 18 miles to Harmony, founded by the Amish, with a spur to Preston mid-way down. These villages are attractive reminders of small-town life, once an American norm.

In Lanesboro, not all the locals are native. At Pedal Pushers Café, our waiter told us he came for a visit 23 years ago and never left. “I love it,” he says. “Like living in a Norman Rockwell painting—all the time!” He himself, with shaved head, black t-shirt, and black-rimmed glasses, in no way fits a Norman Rockwell painting, so perhaps it’s a case of opposites attract.

Stand Still Parade

Lanesboro is the rhubarb capital of Minnesota, a factoid you may not be aware of, and the only place I know where you can buy rhubarb wine. It’s pleasant, sweetish. Another area specialty takes place in Whalan, a few miles east of Lanesboro by bicycle trail. It’s the annual Stand Still Parade, scheduled this year for its 16th appearance, on May 18. For several hours the parade doesn’t move although the spectators do, enjoying food, music, games, and special parade exhibits. The town is so small, I was told, that there’s really nowhere for a parade to go.

I came to Lanesboro on a Road Scholar tour, combining biking and theater (three five-night tours scheduled for this year, starting June 2, September 15, and September 29), but it’s an area you can enjoy on your own provided you are prescient in making room arrangements during the May – October season.

For more information, visit lanesboro.com, roadscholar.org, and rootrivertrail.org.

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