Carl’s Bakery in downtown Granite seems like the perfect setting for a quick cup of coffee and a doughnut so it didn’t surprise me when we recently got a message from Senator Tina Smith’s staff that they wanted to meet up there for a short chat. The senator had a meeting that morning a short walk away at the Yellow Medicine County Government Center, part of her swing through western Minnesota to gather info and concerns about issues that affect Greater Minnesota. The bakery in downtown Granite was well known so it seemed like a good place to meet.

She and her staff had met with Upper Sioux Community leaders the afternoon before and then stayed over at Prairie’s Edge. Sitting down for a cup of coffee with some bakery goodies was a good way to start the day and it gave us a chance to chat about local and area concerns as well as shine some light on what’s happening with our always fascinating Minnesota River valley area. But first, she had a chance to meet retiring, long-time bakery owner Tom Aus and also a few members of the Streblow family, the proud new owners of one of what is truly a local landmark.

Looking out the bakery windows over coffee and some treats, she quickly mentioned Granite’s gorgeous river-side setting and the beauty of the river valley. We chatted about potential tourism development and the challenge western Minnesota has with so much of the state being oriented toward going “up north” She agreed that our area provides a pleasant surprise while traveling west of the Twin Cities metro area and that we should continue working on developing tourism.

That led to a discussion about our local economy. Looking in all directions, farming is certainly very evident, but we also enjoy have a diverse economy with manufacturing of all types and human services as well, especially the ups and downs of providing health care in communities across rural Minnesota. Nearly all hospitals in our area are classified as Critical Access Hospitals and the federal funding for payments to them for services to our residents is falling short of what is needed. The same is true for Medicare reimbursements and insurance payments. She agreed that the important services that our small rural hospitals provide are critical to the health and well-being of our region’s relatively spread-out population.

We also talked about the important recovery services that Project Turnabout provides and how Turnabout has become one of area’s larger employers. There is a need for more support and more funding for treatment centers not only for the much-publicized opioid addiction crises but also for methamphetamine, which never seems to go away and the large and ever-present alcoholism that affects so many families. She is hoping to stop at Turnabout’s facility here on a future visit.

Health care stayed in our conversation as we walked to the YMC Government Center where the topic of the meeting was broadband infrastructure. While many of us are blessed with decent broadband services provided by a variety of companies, there is a need nearly everywhere in our region for faster and more robust delivery of internet services. Several businesses and organizations in the area were on hand to discuss their needs and share some ideas or how to deliver the services that would help make our area more competitive and a better place to live and do business.

It was a morning of brisk and lively conversation and, if time permitted, the list of topics could be almost endless, which shows how important it is to get, and stay, connected with our leaders representatives in Washington and St. Paul and to speak up for what we need here in Greater Minnesota.

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The river valley’s fall beauty was on full display the other day when we took an easy-going four-hour drive down the Minnesota River scenic byway on the north side of the river valley. Old friend Jerry Ostensoe mentioned taking the trip down the Sioux Trail and our Oregon friend (and Granite Falls native) Charley Thompson was up for the drive, so off we went.

We’ve driven that route from here to Morton to New Ulm many times and the scenic beauty, no matter the season, always amazes. Not surprisingly we made several stops along the way, including the Joseph R. Brown Memorial State Wayside, the 1868 Rudi log cabin, the Schwandt Memorial and other places. That made for a history-themed drive and, with no schedule to keep on a warm sunny day, we didn’t really care how far we traveled.

A bridge replacement project about halfway between the Delhi bridge and the bridge into North Redwood turned us back. We crossed the river beyond the Enestvedt seed farm and plied our way back on the twisting gravel road that skirts the old “Belview pits” quarry area. The rock outcroppings are spectacular in that area, highlighted by a large sheer granite ledge that, as boy scouts camping nearby, we named “old tomato face”. It’s just east of the nearby Swede’s Forest Scientific and Natural Area. It was a great way to spend a fall afternoon, driving with old friends, taking in some history and having lots of good laughs.

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With this week’s rain bumping up over an inch or more in some places we continue a remarkably wet year, delaying harvest once again and setting the stage for season-ending scramble to complete construction and road projects.

That rain brought a flood warning for upstream in Montevideo this week and begs the question: Has anyone ever heard of a flood occurring in late October? We don’t recall the river ever being this high this late in the season. Looking ahead to next spring, this fall’s high river water could become a cause of concern next spring. Let’s hope for a long stretch of dry weather in the coming days.