Minnesota’s Prairie Waters
By Tom Watson
Prairie Waters is a small, five-county area that you have to intentionally leave the interstates to experience. It’s a landscape that at first seems endlessly mundane but reveals itself as tree-lined rivers to canoe and kayak upon to rocky outcroppings to hike through or scramble over. Its waters offer walleye, crappies, northerns and catfish. Its prairies offer a summer-long assortment of wildflowers and birds.
The richness of Prairie Waters is revealed in its arts, its culture and its people – but you have to take the time to slip into the relaxed lane. Once you slow down you can let Prairie Waters bathe you in its simple, but ample array of laidback pleasures.
The upper Minnesota River valley is technically well within the prairie region of western Minnesota. You might not know it from the endless sea of corn or sugar beets that extends like a great ocean beyond the horizon. It’s only after you literally slow down and venture onto the local county roads less traveled that you begin to realize there is something more beneath this open sky, something hidden in plain sight. That something is why this region is known throughout southern Minnesota as “Prairie Waters”.
The Prairie Waters begin with the headwaters of the Minnesota River at Big Stone Lake, on the western border of Minnesota and South Dakota. Flowing east from Ortonville, the river winds through Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and then widens, first to form Marsh Lake and then again at Lac Qui Parle Lake on its journey across the entire southern section of Minnesota.
Geologically speaking, this region offers textbook vistas of recent ice age actions that sculpted this part of the state and effectively played a role in forming other regions as well. Lake Agassiz was a glacier lake so expansive that its shoreline stretched from across our present Midwest all the way into the upper reaches of Canada’s central provinces. As glacial ices melted, Lake Agassiz swelled until its banks literally burst sending forceful rivers of melt water scouring through the region. The Great River Warren formed a shallow, but wide mega valley through which the Minnesota and even the Mississippi flow today.
As the land recoiled from the massive weight of glaciers, numerous valleys were formed by runoff of more glacial melt. Those watersheds make up the major rivers of Prairie Waters: the Chippewa, Pomme de Terre, Lac Qui Parle, Yellow Medicine and the Minnesota itself. Coupled with myriad lakes of all sizes throughout the region, Prairie Waters attracts kayakers, canoers, anglers, hunters and birders from all across Minnesota.
But what is it about the area beyond its natural uniqueness that makes Prairie Waters so appealing? Despite the fact that the region’s marketing motto is “Life in the slow lane”, it would be shortsighted to mistake its outwardly obvious “laidback” nature as a sign of idleness. The people’s Norwegian heritage is proudly evident throughout the region in its art and its foods. Lutefisk suppers are common at churches in most communities. In fact, the city of Madison in the heart of Prairie Waters is the Lutefisk capitol of the U.S.A. The Milan Village Arts School regularly offers classes in rosemaling and other Scandinavian folk art forms. Visitors to Prairie Waters during the first weekend in October can check out the talents of over 40 local artists during the regional Meander Art Crawl.
The most relaxing way to enjoy the treasures of the Prairie Waters is to travel her back roads. Several scenic byways intersect through the region, from the Glacier Ridge trail in the northeast corner, to the Minnesota Valley National Scenic Byway that zigzags a course through that same valley, to a section of one of America’s oldest designated scenic drives, the King of Trails, US Highway 75. There at least one state park along each route. Travelers along the King of Trails, one of the oldest designated scenic routes in America features “Fall Market Day” along much of its Prairie Waters stretch each September. The Prairie Passages route showcases small segments of virgin prairie still remaining in the region – a mere 1% of the origin prairies that once covered this entire portion of Minnesota.
Within the past couple of years RV campsites have multiplied like rabbits throughout the region. The area’s only casino, Prairie’s Edge in Granite Falls built a 55-unit RV campground, Prairie View, adjacent to its casino. The recently completed upper campground at Lac Qui Parle State Park features spacious RV sites overlooking Lac Qui Parle Lake. All the state parks, as well as a few city parks, accommodate RV campers – some offering hook-ups, others just ample parking space. Other RV camping options include RV parks such as Stonehill Regional Park outside of Canby and Lake Shore RV Park right on the shores of Big Stone Lake in Ortonville.
Southern Minnesota is noted for its golf courses and Prairie Waters has its share, from small, cornfield-turned-fairways 9-hole courses in many of the smaller communities to the broad sky and sweeping, rolling fairways of the 18-hole courses in Ortonville and ontevideo.
Have peace of mind and fully enjoy the relaxing environment of Prairie Waters and other destinations knowing you have travel insurance protection. Good Sam makes it easy with the travel medical insurance included in your club membership.
It can be tempting to not get travel medical insurance, especially when beautiful rivers, lakes, and trails are on your mind. But medical emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime and the health care plans you have at home only go as far as the border.
When you go north, so does the cost of medical treatment. Whether you need stitches or surgery, emergency medical coverage helps you focus on your recovery, rather than how you’re going to pay for it.
Not all travel emergencies involve a visit to the doctor and non-medical benefits are also available. If your luggage is lost or stolen, TIC* can help you obtain emergency items to tide you over until your luggage is found or replaced. Trip cancellation and interruption coverage is also available should you need to return home early due to an unexpected emergency.
Whether your trip will be short and sweet, long and leisurely or you need extra peace of mind, Good Sam travel medical coverage is an easy, flexible way to stay protected. Before you hit the road, activate your coverage to ensure your bags are packed for just about any adventure.
Plan features and benefits:
- Coverage for emergency hospital and medical care on an unlimited number of 2-day trips a year.
- 24/7 multi-lingual emergency travel and medical assistance
- Transportation home for medical emergencies
- Emergency dental coverage
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*Your complimentary Good Sam travel medical insurance is administered by TIC Travel Insurance, a company that stands out with its 92 percent overall customer satisfaction ratings and expert, personalized customer service.
Travel Insurance is underwritten by Co-operators Life Insurance Company and administered by TIC Travel Insurance Coordinators Ltd. TIC Travel Insurance ® and its logo are registered trademarks of Co-operators Life Insurance Company and are used under license. Claims stories are for illustration purposes only. For complete terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions please see the policy booklet. Please read and understand your policy before you travel.