Wright County

Monticello swans

wooden park sign with two swans, two cattails, and the words Swan Park

Swan Park is a small viewing area overlooking the Mississippi River in the middle of a neighborhood in Monticello. The water is relatively warm in this spot downstream from a nuclear power plant. We visited on Presidents Day, along with about two dozen other people, and we heard the sounds of the swans long before we saw them.

Trumpeter swans have made a terrific comeback in this area, thanks in part to the dedication of Sheila Lawrence. She was feeding ducks and geese in the mid-1980s when a few swans started showing up too, part of an effort by Hennepin County Parks (Three Rivers Park District) and the DNR to bring these native birds back from a Minnesota population of zero.

interpretive sign with Sheila Lawrence's story and a picture of her throwing corn to the swans

In an article for the Trumpeter Swan Society (PDF), she talked about seeing a tv report about a swan release: “I was amazed at such a sight and thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to work with those beautiful swans? You know the old saying, ‘Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.’ Little did I know then what fate had in store for me or just how much the Trumpeter Swans would change my life.” Now, about 2,000 swans reportedly visit Monticello every winter. Her husband has taken over feeding the swans since her death five years ago.

a man holding an orange bucket at the edge of the river, with dozens of swans watching him

A truck was there to refill the corn supply…

Munson Lake Nutrition truck and a man standing next to a large red bin

…which is carried down a pipe to the river’s edge.

thin pipe above a snow-covered lawn

There were some squabbles, but not as many as I thought we’d see for so many birds so close together.

31 swans, three of them flapping their wings, plus geese and mallards

Lots of wing-stretching.

closeup of one swan stretching in shallow water

Canada geese and mallards also take advantage of the free food.

a dozen mallards on the snowy shore, plus a mixture of geese and swans at the edge and in the water

I’ve always thought of Canada geese as really large birds – but compared to swans, they’re tiny.

wide photo of dozens of big white birds, plus many smaller darker birds

A pair of swans coming in for a landing:

two swans banking to the right a few feet above the river

straightening out and gliding a foot down

just touched the water and it looks like they're standing up

one swimming swan with a water trail behind it, and the other already lost in the crowd

We visited the park in the morning, on our way to Sauk Centre. At that point there were hundreds of each bird.

cloudy view downriver, with many birds

On the way back to the Cities, about four hours later, the sun had appeared but there were no more swans in the water, though some of the ducks were still around.

sunny view of the same spot, with ducks barely visible at the far right

We did spot several pairs and groups of swans flying in the area.

two swans flying against a pale blue sky

More information about Minnesota’s trumpeter swans

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Christmas decoration road trips

I love road trips in December because of the vintage Christmas decorations in small-town Minnesota. This year I took two trips just to see the lights – the first heading west along Highway 12 to Dassel, then north to 55 back to the Twin Cities (though it was too dark for pictures for the journey back), and the second south on 35 to Owatonna, back to Faribault, and then west to Waterville and New Prague. These were my favorites from the adventures (along with a couple extra photos from shorter trips).

My new favorite scene is in Montgomery, a city that celebrates its Czech heritage. These 3-D Christmas trees are paired with a blue banner that says “Peace” and “Joy” in both English and Czech.

tree decoration with a banner that says Pokoj Radost

The town also has two other styles:

garland and an antique streetlight, and a wreath with three red candles

Its neighbor, Lonsdale, has many design variations on the Season’s Greetings lights.

three drawings on white oval lights surrounded by garland

Antique street lights share a pole with the regular city spirit banners in Delano:

Share the Road with Bicycles banner next to a streetlight hanging from garland

Owatonna’s Central Park has trees in each corner, including a picturesque spot across from the historic National Farmers’ Bank:

tall tree with a gold tinsel star, in front of the historic bank, and a lightpole with garland and a wreath

Snowflakes in Northfield:

blue Welcome to Northfield banner next to a white snowflake

Simple wreaths in North St. Paul:

wreath on the left side of a lamppost with two lights

New Prague has candle wreaths like many other towns, and this jeweler added its own tree:

wreath on a utility pole next to Marquardt Jewelers sign with a tree made from green light strings

Grocery stores are painting their windows in New Prague…

painted words The Simple Joy of Food with painted cookies

…and Farmington:

painting of two elves and a skating snowman

Garland crossing the intersections in Cannon Falls:

four garland strands at the street corners, meeting at a wreath in the middle

Cannon Falls also has wreaths on its lampposts – an effect that is somewhat muppet-like when viewed up close:

two light bulbs with dead bugs that look like eyes above a large narrow wreath that looks like an open mouth

Snowflakes on lampposts that look like candles in Faribault:

white snowflake decoration on a light pole wrapped with red tinsel

This was the second time I drove through Morristown and Waterville, and I have a hard time keeping their names straight. I can remember the “Morris” and “Water” but never remember which is a town and which is a ville, so I usually end up saying Morrisville and Watertown. I reached these two just as the last light was fading, and the snowflakes were blinking on in Morristown:

lighted snowflake on a pole in front of a business with lighted decorations in the windows

Shooting stars in Waterville:

lighted star decorations on both sides of a quiet street

Skinny wire in Medford:

candle and Christmas tree

A variety in Rockford, including curly trees I haven’t seen anywhere else:

lighted set of bells, reindeer, and curly tree one one side of a busy street

Darwin had the most shapes of one style of decoration – in this case, white wire.

white wire shapes - snowman, angel, bells, candle, shooting star, horn, wreath

Waverly has two styles, the white-wire along Highway 12…

Welcome to Waverly banner with a dove, and a bell

…and “tinsel” style on Main Street.

colorful tinsel - candle, white snowflake with blue lights, a triangle-shaped tree, and a three-tiered tree

Montrose wins my Most Variety Award for 2015. Many different banners and tinsel shapes along Highway 12, snowflakes on the south side of County Road 12…

Peace banner, Season's Greetings oval, white wire snowflake, tinsel candles, candy cane, and tree

…and my second-favorite of the season, these ornate vintage street lights on the north side of County 12.

red streetlight circled twice by garland, more swirled above, Happy Holidays sign hanging on bottom

Other small-town Christmas trips

Categories: Dakota County, Goodhue County, Le Sueur County, Ramsey County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County, Wright County | Leave a comment

Lake Maria State Park

red oak leaves

The trees were in peak fall color when we visited.

Lake Maria (ma-RYE-ah) State Park is a short drive west of the Twin Cities, just outside Monticello.

Sign at the entrance to Lake Maria State Park

The sign at the entrance to the park.

Fall is a beautiful time to explore this park’s trails.

pond

One of the park’s many lakes.

It’s one of the last remaining parts of the Big Woods of Minnesota, and glaciers left many potholes, marshes, and lakes in this area.

Maria Lake

It may be Lake Maria State Park, but this is Maria Lake.

The park is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013.

Road sign: rare turtle crossing

The Blandings turtle, a threatened species, can be found in the park, but we did not see any.

The rare and threatened Blandings turtle lives in the park, as do hundreds of species of birds.

Interpretive sign describing the mosquito as 'vampire of the marsh'

Vampire of the marsh: This sign says that the mosquito plays a very important role in the wetland food chain, despite being a nuisance to mammals.

You’ll find lots of maples, oaks and basswood. Many trees have passed their peak color has passed for 2013, but the oaks are at peak now.

path through yellow trees

One of my favorite fall photos.

Lake Maria State Park

Visited: October 2, 2010

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