Interwoven with the bluff land and waters that course along southeast Minnesota’s Root River Trail are the foods, stories and songs that comprise the Driftless region’s unique and colorful cultural expression. In September, area communities are inviting hikers, bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to help celebrate a sense of place grounded in a heritage that spans continents.
The Taste of the Trail is a multi-day event set for September 9, 16, and 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Activities launched in 2011 with the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley trails, and they were such a success town representatives decided to turn them into an annual event.
“I think one of the core reasons that the Root River Trail towns started and got together is to help show people that we are a multi-day destination,” said Jen Hengel, chair of the Taste of the Trail planning committee. “There is so much to do in the whole trail system and all of our different towns. This is a really beautiful part of the state with the bluffs and valleys that people might not get to see in other spots.”
Saturday, Sept. 9: Lanesboro, Peterson, Whalan
Festivities kick off Sept. 9 in Lanesboro, Peterson, and Whalan.
Lanesboro visitors can shop downtown specials, enjoy local foods, visit the farmers market, and take in an art exhibit. There will also be silent movies in the park, a barn dance, and live theater.
Peterson events will include a zucchini decorating contest. Participants can bring their own, already-decorated zucchini or bring supplies to decorate one donated by Featherstone Farms. Prizes will be awarded at 3 p.m. Cat and the Fiddle will provide music.
Other highlights will include tastes of pies, including those at Burdey’s Café, and ice cream. Metz Hart-Land Creamery, Honey and Dairy will offer curds and more. The Peterson American Legion will provide beer samples and specials and free popcorn, and Friends of Peterson will sell brats and hot dogs. The Peterson State Fish Hatchery will offer demonstrations by the Department of Natural Resources. Attendees can also learn about the Bluebird Recovery Program and enjoy wagon rides with Percheron horses and a petting zoo.
Whalan will showcase the town’s Norwegian heritage with tastings of lefse and rommegrot and will also include pies by Aroma Pie Shoppe. Crepes will be made fresh, and Going Up will provide live music. Visitors can also stop in at the town’s museum and Ernie’s restored 1917 gas station.
“Our volunteers take great pride in the fact that we are frequently told that Whalan provides the best tasting on the trail,” said Wes Harding, Whalan’s representative to Root River Trail Towns. “The popularity of this event has provided an opportunity for our many volunteers to come together and showcase what a small town can accomplish.”
Saturday, Sept. 16: Fountain, Harmony, Preston
More rommegrot is slated for the next Saturday in Fountain — along with live music and fresh popcorn.
Harmony will offer food samplings from restaurants and the local grocery store and movie theater. Kingsley Mercantile will head up activities for kids, and Harmony Telephone Company will provide a free photo booth. Root River Jam Band will play from 11:30 to 2:30.
“Our event in Harmony has a laid back, party kind of feel, and both locals and visitors to our area seem to appreciate it,” said Becky Hoff, Director of the Harmony Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s always a fun day, and working with the other Trail Towns communities has made this event into much more than it would be if we were all planning something like this on our own. Taste of the Trail has turned into a real regional draw for the area.”
Preston highlights include music by Tom Schramm from 12:30 to 2:30, henna tattoos with Jagua Tattoo Art from 11:30 to 2, yard games for all ages, and caboose tours with the Preston Historical Society from 10 to 2. Preston Foods, Branding Iron Restaurant, B&B Bowl, Sweet Stop and Sandwich Shoppe, and other businesses will offer food samples. The National Trout Center will provide smoked trout, as well as fly tying and fishing tips. The Driftless Fly Fishing Company will give casting and fly fishing lessons, and Preston Floral will have fresh flowers available.
“The Taste of the Trail is a great event to connect all of our trail towns and showcase the tastes of each town,” said Gabby Kinneberg, Preston tourism director. “And it isn’t just food tastes. We love to give people a taste of the business, talent, food, and music that our communities offer. It’s a fun event, and we love that it grows each year!”
Saturday, September 23: Houston, Rushford, Rushford Village
Taste of the Trail 2017 will round out with events in Houston, Rushford, and Rushford Village.
This year’s event corresponds with Houston’s Root River Triathlon, which draws about 200 participants. Houston’s Taste of the Trail activities will also feature live music from The Bootleggers from 11 to 2. The Houston Public Library will host a StoryWalk. Pages from Nancy Carlson’s “Get Up and Go!” will be placed around Trailhead Park, and the librarian will lead children along the route, reading the story as they go.
Houston is also teaming up with Rushford and the Houston County Historical Society to offer a “historical bike ride” that will include historical photographs and stories that relay the history of the Root River corridor between Houston and Rushford. Signs will be placed along the Root River Bike Trail between Houston and Rushford.
And Houston businesses and groups—including Carlson Roasting Company, Cox True Value, the Houston Lions and Boy Scouts, JT’s Bar & Grill, Houston Hoedown, and the Root River Market—are slated to host booths and offer free food and drink samples and activities at the park.
“Each of our towns has a unique culture and heritage that we like to celebrate, and we do that through Taste of the Trail,” affirmed Taste of the Trail Chair Hengel.
By Elizabeth Lippman