SiloArt rounding corner 8

Artist Guido van Helten works on the Riverfront Drive side of the Ardent Mills silos.

 The bison roaming at Minneopa State Park seem to be the only ones easily isolated from the coronavirus.

But they’re seeing a lot more visitors driving through the Minneopa preserve as people look to escape the isolation.

Imagine the bison backtalk. “What’s up with all the traffic this year? Gurummp! If those humans would just stick to their own species and business, we wouldn’t have all these zoonotic viruses. They wouldn’t be out here gawking at us.”

What we do. Who we talk to. Where we go. All governed by the virus of 2020. Depressing.

But have no fear, the Mankato area Optimist Club is still meeting. And if they can still meet, journalists can find a silver lining under the cover of COVID-19. The Optimist Club of Minnesota Valley as recently as Aug. 10 invited people to their Zoom meeting.

And the club links to a story from Alive.com that poses the question on its Facebook page. Can optimism be learned? (Hint: Definitely).

An essay sent to me by Darwin Anthony, of Trimont, got me thinking of all the cool, intriguing and historically significant places that dot the blue highways of the Mankato area map.

Anthony wrote about his 141-day COVID confinement on the farm in Trimont when he and his wife yearned to get out on the open road that took them to Mankato, where Darwin graduated from Minnesota State University in 1957.

The couple toured Minneopa, saw the bison, heard and felt the roar of the falls and thought about early settlers on a tour of Seppman Mill.

But there’s more than history. There are bike trails, lakes, rivers, ballfields, playgrounds and yes, amber waves of grain. There are places to walk, ride, sit and stare, and feel the wind and rain.

October’s climate and weather are the perfect backdrop for getting out from under COVID cover. Autumn colors, cool nights and the sun’s angle illuminates the soybeans turning gold and the corn blowing crispy yellow against a slate blue sky.

Average Mankato temperatures in October range from lows of 46 to highs of 66 in the early part of the month and 34 to 51 degrees in the later part of the month. The chance of rain decreases in October from an average of 23 percent to 13 percent, according to weatherspark.com. And there are few mosquitoes.

In the spirit of the Optimist Club, I’ll direct and hopefully inspire you to do fun things and go fun places during this time of COVID, even as The Associated Press reports more people are depressed. Many of these places you may know well, but don’t miss the chance if you’ve never gone. And if you have gone, go again. It will make you feel better.

Places to go:

Minneopa State Park is recommended not only by readers but by many who go there. The waterfalls, the bison herd, the shady campground offer a week or weekend of respite.

A camper cabin with a screen porch looks cozy on the edge of the campground, where you can be lulled to sleep by the clickety-clack of the Union Pacific trains passing at the bottom of the bluff.

If you’ve got an extra couple of hours, it’s worth doing a round of golf at the Minneopa Golf Course, founded in 1929. The par 33, nine-hole course near the state park isn’t the easiest course you’ll play, as native rock croppings have been left in the fairways where your ball will sometimes benefit, sometimes not.

The course has some of the oldest and most majestic white oak trees in Mankato as well. There’s plenty of shade on the tee boxes and elsewhere.

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A close-up look at the new Silo mural on the Ardent Mills flour mill is also worth your time. Australian artist Guido van Stelten used a type of paint that will only fade over time but not flake off of the giant painting near the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The mural has not been named, but “Unity” might be a good fit as it depicts children of all races being led in a Native American dance. It was taken from photos of Mankato’s annual powwow.

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For several years, Mankato has hosted the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour. Another local gem. A couple of dozen sculptures line an easy-to-walk tour through Mankato and North Mankato.

Many of the sculptures this year are by local artists.

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If you haven’t been to Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, do it before the snow flies to enjoy an impressive outdoor setting.

Listed as the best winery in Minnesota by the Star Tribune, the winery recently remodeled and expanded its main building footprint to include a spirits room, and its outdoor patio is immense.

An equally impressive new event center hosts Wine Circle gatherings and bigger events and can hold up to 350 people. You can get into the Wine Circle by agreeing to buy two bottles of wine a month (not difficult for me!) and the Wine Circle offers free tastings anytime you’re there.

The grounds of the winery are just as impressive with picnic tables and lawn furniture scattered near the trail down to the rushing creek. Great for photos with people you know and love.

There’s an impressive 4-foot-wide fire pit made of Kasota stone and the winery offers s’mores in the evening around the fire.

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And if none of this works to cure you of the COVID blues, join the Optimist Club where they vowed in a recent Facebook post to “continue to imagine and strive to spread optimism in our region.”

Joe Spear is editor of Mankato Magazine. Contact him at jspear@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6382. Follow on Twitter @jfspear.

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