Leaders worry Root River flood could dampen tourist industry

Sibley State Park
An electric pole stands surrounded by water in Sibley State Park. Flooding from the Root River has left portions of the park underwater, impacting tourism in the area.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

In early June the Root River bike trail is usually crowded with people, cars pack the Sylvan Park lot in Lanesboro. But today, the lot has just one car with two bikes on top. Julie and Mark Brenneman came up from Iowa for a two day bike ride. They're looking for the best route to avoid any flood damage.

"We called our bed and breakfast to see how it was up here. They seemed to think, they said, this park was flooded, but they didn't think the trails were flooded as far as they knew," Julie said.

Julie Brenneman
Julie Brenneman from Iowa did not let potential flood waters stop her vacation to the area. In spite of flood waters, she was still hoping to take her bike out on the Root River trail.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

The Minnesota DNR reports there are no washouts on the Root River trail around Lanesboro, but Sylvan Park is, for the moment, a lake dotted with electric poles and volleyball nets.

While the Root River has subsided in the Lanesboro area, it is still a foot above normal. In Houston the river is still flooding town.

And tourism in the region is already down. Mike Charlebois owns Root River Outfitters and Riverside Restaurant. His outfitter business rents bikes, canoes and kayaks. He says this is the slowest spring he has ever had. Business is down by approximately 35 percent.

"Right now is actually when the summer season starts, and it was such a weekend business up until that point, that we've had some much rain on the weekends that it's been tough, especially when our main attraction is outside seating," Charlebois said.

Mike Charlebois
Mike Charlebois, owner of Root River Outfitters and Riverside Restaurant, stands in front of the Outfitters' office. Charlebois has posted signs to tell visitors that his company is not taking excursions out due to the flooding.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Last August's floods also slowed down his business, even though Lanesboro wasn't flooded.

Not all of Lanesboro's businesses have experienced a weather-related rut. The Commonweal Theatre reports brisk ticket-sales.

But Charlebois says he's worried business will stay slumped. "The scary part is the additional rain coming this week," said Charlebois.

Minnesota Public Radio News' meteorologist Paul Huttner reports that heavy rain starting tonight is likely. The National Weather Service has issued more Flash flood watches for the region. By Friday, as much as five inches of rain could fall.

Root River Outfitters
A sign hangs on the door of the Root River Outfitters saying that they are not taking people out on the river. Flooding along the Root River is causing problems for the area's tourist industry.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Lanesboro City Administrator Bobbie Vickerman says she's still trying to get a handle on the extent of flood damage to the city thus far. But Vickerman says the town is still in good shape for tourists.

"The city is operating; the B&Bs are operating. The downtown businesses are operating, so I think a person could still come and enjoy themselves, it's just that the recreational parts of the town as far as the parks and campgrounds are closed. Hopefully we can get that going as soon as possible so we can make that come back alive, too," Vickerman said.

This weekend's annual Art in Park has been relocated to downtown Lanesboro. Vickerman says she hopes that will actually bring more business to the local shops.

That is, unless rain cancels the event. Filmore County Coordinator Karen Brown says Rushford, Preston and Lanesboro have repeatedly suffered flooding in recent years. She says she worries it's no longer a fluke of nature, but rather the rule.

Karen Brown
Karen Brown, Filmore County Coordinator, has been coordinating flood relief efforts in the area.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

"It is concerning, because it's probably in the last few years, we've had a flood in 2002, a flood in 2000, and then 2007, 2008, the board is looking at ways of prohibiting building in the flood plain, but again a lot of our cities are along the river," Brown said.

For now the sun is out in Lanesboro, and in what is a welcome sign for local businesses, the tourists are still wandering out of the ice cream shops.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.