In Lanesboro, a soggy, slow start to tourism season

Brad and Brenda Musel
Spring Valley residents Brad and Brenda Musel and their three kids visit Lanesboro on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. They're among the first people to tube down the river in the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Recent storms and heavy rainfall have delayed the summer tourism season in parts of southeastern Minnesota. Until this week, many outfitters in Lanesboro advised paddlers and rafters to stay off the Root River because the high water created unpredictable currents. Part of the state trail system is also closed for repair.

It's a big difference from last year when the exceptionally warm weather had visitors flocking to the region as early as March.

Brad Musel, his wife, Brenda, and three kids were among those recently among the first to set out for a day of tubing on the brisk water of the Root River.

"This is probably the coldest we've ever had it," the Spring Valley man said before the family set out.

The water's both cold, and high. Parts of southeastern Minnesota are still recovering from damage caused by recent torrential rain storms that plumped up rivers more than 8 feet in some areas.

Brenda Musel noticed the high water right away.

"I don't want you getting too far ahead. This water is really high," she told her children, paying careful attention to water rushing over a nearby fallen tree.

The Little River General Store
Late-June rain storms have delayed the summer tourism season in parts of southeastern Minnesota. At the Little River General Store on Tuesday, July 2, 2013, owner Gene Mensing, left, and employee Anne Tuff, right, say canoe, bike and tube rentals are down nearly 70 percent from this time last year. They hope the Fourth of July weekend give them the break they need to finally kick off this year's tourism season.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Houston and Fillmore counties in far southeastern Minnesota were among the hardest hit by late-June storms. Both counties declared a state of emergency and officials estimate flooding has caused millions of dollars in damage, not to mention delays for local businesses, like the Little River General Store in Lanesboro.

"We're hoping for insanity. We're really hoping that it picks up," said longtime store employee Anne Tuffs. The storm left the river muddy and filled with debris and Department of Natural Resources crews spent this past week clearing trees and branches, hoping to make the waterway safer and more attractive to visitors.

"People will tell you they're very experienced," on the river, she said. "But you get them there and they don't know the front from the back of the canoe and it's like, 'Oh, what did I do?' So, you just have to trust that they know what they're doing.'"

Tuffs said canoe, bike and tube rentals are down nearly 70 percent from this time last year. The business is operating with four employees a day, instead of seven, and they've cut employees' hours.

"We really need an extended year this year because you have, what, five, six months if you're lucky to make 12 months of income." She said.

Many other business owners around Lanesboro are hoping for an extended season this year, even those who say they are faring better, like Pam Watson, owner of Brewster's Red Hotel.

Kayakers on the South Branch of the Root River
A couple of kayakers navigate the fast-flowing water of the South Branch of the Root River on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Department of Natural Resources crews spent the week clearing trees and branches, hoping to make the waterway safer for paddlers and rafters.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

"Our business has been pretty much steady. People are coming in on the weekends. They are just having to alter their plans and instead of biking and enjoying the beautiful river, they're shopping, they're taking drives, they're going to the plays," she said.

The weather delayed a lot of Watson's chores, like gardening and housekeeping at the nine-bedroom bed and breakfast, "just opening up the rooms, air conditioners going in," she said. "One weekend we had just put the air conditioners in on Memorial weekend, and then next week we were dragging out heaters. So, it's been very back and forth."

But not everyone's lamenting that back-and-forth weather. A few miles outside of Lanesboro, Decorah resident Andy Eastwood pulled his kayak onto a rocky bank of the river. He's kayaked for years and says it's taking some skill to navigate this fast-flowing water.

"We haven't seen many folks on the river this season so far. I got out for the first time yesterday on a kayak and just did a short stretch and it was fine," he said. "Today, it's a little faster, a little more challenging."

Eastwood is staying at a nearby campground that flooded a couple weeks ago and remains partially empty. He hopes to paddle a bit more before crowds of people pile in this weekend.

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.