Bell County 4-H explores Minnesota, Wisconsin

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Special to The Belton Journal

Have you ever thought about joining Bell County 4-H Exchange? If so, now is the time to join!

Not sure what 4-H Teen Exchange is? The 4-H Exchange Programs provide an opportunity for teens to visit various regions of the United States. While on an exchange, teens experience various cultures, participate in educational activities, share in leadership opportunities, develop initiative and independence, and gain a deeper insight into one’s own values. It is a great opportunity to experience life in another part of the nation. Fundraising and planning create many opportunities for teens to sharpen their leadership, communications, and organizational skills. Exchanges provide fun and effective tools for developing strong life skills such as problem solving and teamwork.

Bell County 4-H Exchange just completed an exchange with Houston County, Minn. We stayed with them for a week this summer, learning all about Minnesota’s history, culture, sightseeing, and developing some great friendships.

Day 1 — Destination: Dallas and Houston County, Minnesota

The group of four boys, two girls, and chaperones left Bell County at noon and went to The Magic Time Machine in Dallas for an early dinner.  They arrived safely at the Dallas/Ft Worth International Airport at 4 p.m. to catch a 6 p.m. flight. With no delays or cancellations, we landed safely to St. Paul/Minneapolis International Airport around 8:30 p.m. The group was welcomed by two large homemade welcome signs and greeted by several 4-H members and adult chaperones.  Houston County 4-H Exchange members gave each Bell County 4-H Exchange members and chaperones nice 4-H gift bags. The adult chaperones, who transported them for the 3 hour drive, gave us a brief synopsis of the area and took them for a late night snack at McDonald’s before they met up at the Kwik Trip convenience store, which was a meeting location for the other 4-H Exchange members. Since it was so late in the evening, the youth and chaperones went to their host homes for a good night’s rest.

Day 2 — Destination: Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells is a two hour drive from Houston County, Minnesota. The Dells has been a great vacation destination for 150 years with tons of fun family attractions that bring over three million to the Dells each year. The Dells is home to hundreds of waterslides, exciting attractions, and themed lodging many featuring huge indoor water parks, many popular restaurants, and tons of shopping.

Exchange was scheduled to enjoy the day at Noah’s Ark Waterpark but the morning started off rainy so, they cancelled the water park activity and the youth enjoyed the afternoon at Knuckleheads for indoor entertainment activities and pizza for lunch.

Then they traveled back to Houston County for a wonderful evening at the Olson’s home with games, swimming, and dinner.  Bell County 4-H Exchange members gave each hostess a Thank You gift bag filled with Big Red, Bell County 4-H t-shirts, 4-H water bottle, Texas magnets, and Texas Flag koozies. They also gave each host family a Thank You gift too.

Day 3 — Destination: Iowa and Wisconsin

WW Homestead Dairy Farm is owned and operated by four individuals with a strong history in the dairy farming industry. Tom Walleser, is a 3rd generation dairy farmer with over 32 years of experience. Tom, along with his family, owns and operates his dairy farm located 3 miles outside of Lansing, Iowa. Tom has a little over 100 head of dairy cattle and is very conscientious of dairy practices. Tom’s days are spent managing his farm and promoting products. Dairy’s second partner is Tom Weighner. Tom is an experienced dairy farmer with over 30 years of successful farm management. He splits his time between farm manager and day-to-day operations at Homestead Dairy. Tom’s wife, Angela, works full time at the creamery and is in charge of creating the newest ice cream flavors. Two of Tom’s daughters are also following in his footsteps; Stephanie is a successful Herd Manager at Weighner Brothers farms and Liz recently graduated from Iowa State University as a veterinarian. Paul Weighner is the President of Impro Products, which is a privately held company that has been operating for over 50 years. He has been managing Impro for the last 20 years and his expertise lies with business transactions, accounting, and day-to-day business operations.  Paul helps with marketing and promotion of WW Homestead Dairy.

WW Homestead Dairy is nestled in the town of Waukon, Iowa. The dairy’s Head of Operation is Bruce Snitker. Bruce has 30 plus years in dairy processing and cheese management. He holds coveted licenses from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture as well as American Cheese Grading. Bruce is in charge of milk processing and cheese production.  This community is rich in history and surrounded by fertile farm land. Not only does the creamery offer its customers the freshest products with extraordinary flavors but, tours are available and the public is encouraged to watch how products are produced. A hallway with large viewing windows allows customers to see the hard work, effort, and quality that goes into making their cream-line milk, ice cream, cheese curds, block cheese, and butter.

Villa Louis is the Dousman Mansion located on the St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Hercules Louis Dousman acquired a large fortune through various enterprises. In the 1840’s he began developing an estate on the banks of the Mississippi River that would evolve into Villa Louis. Its vibrant hues and rich textures reflected the family’s rise to wealth and leisure living. He built fur trade building 1850’s on his land and traded fur, blankets, beads and etc.  Upon Dousman’s death the estate was passed to his son H. Louis Dousman and his widow Madam Jane Dousman. They contracted a Milwaukee architect to build a new residence in the fashionable Italian Villa style. The old house came down and recycled into the building. The elder Mrs. Dousman lived there while son Louis was beginning his family, business, and social life in St. Louis. When Madam Jane died, Louis made the decision to move back and start a new business with stock farm for Standard Bred trotting horses. The expansion and remodeling was barely completed when Louis passed away at 37 years old. At the time of death, his children and widow sold and a new and lasting name had settled on the estate –Villa Louis- in tribute to the family.

Fort Mulligan’s Grill is located close to Villa Louis. The Famechon Building was built in 1855. The building was built out of limestone and recycled material from Fort Crawford. The walls are 23 inches thick and window with steel shutters. The flooring was recycled from an old school gym floor. In 2000, the building became Fort Mulligan’s Grill and Pub as a casual restaurant. The 4-H Exchange members and chaperones enjoyed a wonderful lunch at this historic building.

Pikes Peak State Park is located in McGregor, Iowa. From the top of the 500-foot bluff (1,130 foot elevation), the confluence of the Wisconsin River and the Mississippi may be seen to the south. To the north, the view of the bridges connecting Iowa and Wisconsin is breathtaking. Pikes Peak State Park is the “Paleozoic Plateau” that was missed by the glaciers that flattened and molded so much of Iowa. This area, often called the “Driftless” region, is noted for its natural beauty. Its hills and valleys offer great vistas, large timbered tracts, spring-fed streams and a natural beauty unique to northeast Iowa.

Spook Cave is located in McGregor, Iowa. The slow processes of nature have been developing the cave for centuries. The early settlers often referred to the strange noises coming from the hold at the base of the hill along Bloody Run Creek, but it took Gerald Mielke to make the discovery of nature’s handiwork. It has a guided underground boat tour that tells about the discovery and development of the cave.

Day 4 — Destination: La Crosse, Wisconsin

Brennan Marine Inc. is an inland port management company that provides high-quality switching, fleeting, project barge transportation, and vessel repair services. Located in several ports between St. Genevieve, MO, (UMR 138) and La Crosse, WI, (UMR 697) Brennan Marine can respond to several geographical locations along the inland waterways. Brennan Marine has implemented the same commitment to safety, quality, and the environment as their sister company, J.F. Brennan Company. J.F. Brennan is a marine construction and environmental remediation company that provides high-quality services to engineering, utility, railroad, paper mill, government, municipality, and harbor entities located throughout the inland waterways of the United States. Our services include dredging, diving, dam repairs, pile driving, railroad bridge repairs, in-situ capping, and more. We employ some of the nation’s most talented marine professionals, and we pride ourselves on our commitment to safety, quality, and the environment. Founded on the principles of hard work and innovation, Brennan has provided nearly 100 years of construction excellence.

F.J. Robers Co handles marine cargo. They are located next to Brennan Marien. The trucks drop off distiller grain to transport into the barges. They have three silos, one is used for grain, and the other two are used for other materials.

Riverside Park is located along the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The park has been open since 1911, originally called Levee Park. The park is well known for hosting the River Fest. In addition, the park offers trails, open spaces, and plenty of area to sit and enjoy the river.

Riverside International Friendship Gardens are located on a 1.2 acre site just east of the La Crosse Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at Riverside Park. The City of La Crosse has provided land and additional resources and expertise to ensure the ongoing success of the gardens. The Bluff Country Master Gardeners have provided expertise in design and horticulture, as well as leadership in planting and maintaining the gardens.

La Crosse Queen Cruises is located in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The La Crosse Queen is a modern-day replica of the Grand River boats that plied the Mississippi River in the late 19th Century. Cruising out of La Crosse, she is one of the few authentic Mississippi River paddlewheel river boats still in operation in the United States today. In keeping with early traditions, she was built with sternwheels that are her only means of propulsion. The La Crosse Queen has a split sternwheel and each is run by a twin diesel engine that powers hydraulic motors which turn the paddles. This is in contrast to most Mississippi River paddle wheelers in operation today that have a “freewheeling” paddlewheel at the stern of the boat for visual effect, but have traditional screw-type engines hidden for their real means of propulsion. The 1 ½ hour scenic cruise on the upper Mississippi River while the guide explained the facts and trivia of the historical and present day river. The cruise passed steep bluffs, eagles, and lock and Dam #7 in Dresbach, Minnesota adjacent to the Great River Road.

Grandad Park was started with the purchase of the land from the state by Judge George Gale in July 1851. Between 1851-1912, there were 83 property transfers. The last owner was Ellis Usher, who had built the road to the top of Grandad. Mrs. Usher transferred the deed to Joseph Hixon in 1909 until it could be transferred to the city. The purpose of Grandad Bluff was for park and with clause providing a site for a water reservoir. Bluff Park opened in 1912. Grandad Bluff is the largest bluff in the La Crosse area and is well-known for its scenic overlook of La Crosse.

Day 5 — Destination: Family Day

Family Day is designed to experience the Minnesotan culture with the host families. Four groups ventured in different directions and had four separate and unique experiences.

Adult chaperones, Kathy and Josie were guest of Tyribakken’s family. First we toured Windy Pines Greenhouse in Dorchester, Iowa. We learned how simple it was to take care of Succulent plants and Josie purchased some to bring back to Texas.

Second we met up for lunch with the Olson’s family who were hosting Victoria, Lindsey, and Denise. The Olson’s took them on a morning tour of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa which Victoria will be attending this fall.

After lunch both groups went to Winneshiek Farmers Market and enjoyed tasting homemade Amish rhubarb jam, breads, and fudge while the host family was purchasing breads, muffins, cookies, and vegetables for their homes.

Next they toured Seed Savers Exchange which is non-profit supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of their garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations.

Then, they toured Fish Hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. This hatchery was full of Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout.  While touring the hatchery we noticed a bald eagle was in a large tree on the property.

Lastly, they spent the evening with the Waldenberger family. They gave us a tour of their town in Spring Grove, MN. The town’s legend is Jesse James stolen items from this barn and hid in cave which is located outside town along Minnesota-Iowa boarder before he robbed bank in Northfield, MN. We also toured the Swiss Valley Dairy Farm. The owners of this farm are close friends of Waldenberger family and they allow Kendra to keep her show cows in their barns.

Wesley and Cortney were guests of two brothers Brandon (AKA Bobby) and Daren. They decided to sleep in after a week of long nights. When they woke up, they fished on the Mississippi River and Wesley was the only one that caught a fish.  Later they went to Shenanigans Entertainment Center for a few hours. Lastly enjoyed a movie at the local cinema.
Alex, Patrick, and Alyson were guests of two brothers, Austin and Josh. First they started off the day at Riverside Amusements in La Crosse and enjoyed playing mini golf, driving go karts, and hitting baseballs at the batting cages.

Then they had a delightful lunch at Rudy’s Drive-In which is a 50’s themed restaurant. Lastly, they spent the evening at Austin and Josh’s baseball games.

Day 6 — Destination: Wabasha and Kellogg, Minnesota

The National Eagle Center is a world-class interpretive center located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, MN. They are home to five rescued eagles, four bald eagles and one golden eagle. During the visit you can experience these magnificent creatures up close. The Upper Mississippi River Valley is home to hundreds of bald eagles. Many choose to build their nests in the tall trees along the river valley. Hundreds more bald eagles arrive here in the winter months, as the Mississippi River remains open around Wabasha year round. In 1989, they began as Eagle Watch, Inc. (still the corporate legal name) as a group of volunteers sharing with visitors to Wabasha views of wintering bald eagles from an outdoor observation deck along the river. In 2000, they opened year-round in a small storefront downtown and welcomed its first two Eagle Ambassadors, Harriet and Angel. In 2007, in a partnership with the City of Wabasha, they opened a 15,000 square foot interpretive center right on the banks of the Mississippi River. From this facility you can enjoy magnificent views of wild eagles and meet their resident Eagle Ambassadors. This unique area is home to both North American eagle species, the bald eagle and the golden eagle. Golden eagles can be seen here in winter months, though rarely close to the river.

Lark Toys located in Kellogg, MN was founded in 1983. They crafted wooden toys for their sons and began to sell them at art fairs. People liked their toys so much that they began to manufacture them in earnest. Eventually they sold to 2,500 stores nationwide. A small retail store was opened in the factory.  Families, tour and school groups discovered this interesting destination. High quality toys and gifts were added, along with great children’s books and tin toys. A toy museum was begun with the owners’ favorites and toys donated and purchased. In 1988 they began to design a carousel. Over a period of nine years, Tim Monson (LARK’s head toymaker) blocked-up the wood; carved the animals; and LARK artist hand-stained them. Finally, in 1997, it was ready to begin delighting riders from around the world. The scenic 18-hole miniature golf course was added and outdoor recreational fun.

Day 7 — Destination: Saint Paul and Bloomington

The James J. Hill House is located in Saint Paul, MN. The house was built by railroad magnate James J. Hill. The house, completed in 1891, is near the eastern end of Summit Avenue near the Cathedral of Saint Paul. The house, for its time, was very large and was the “showcase of St. Paul” until James J. Hill’s death in 1916. It is listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. It is also a contributing property to the Historic Hill District. The home has 36,000 square feet (3,344 square meters) of living area.

Mall of America is located in Bloomington, MN. Mall of America has over 520 stores, Nickelodeon Universe, Lego, Barbie Dreamhouse, House of Comedy, American Girl, and so much more.  They employ close to 12,000 people and have over 40 million visitors each year.

Sea Life Aquarium is located in the Mall of America. Sea Life has thousands of sea creatures, including sharks, sea turtles, rays, jellyfish, seahorses, 1.2 million-gallon aquarium and more! Plus, fun interactive activities throughout the aquarium including touch pools, stamp stations with dive books.

Day 8 — Destination: Bell County, Texas

After a wonderful week in Minnesota it was time to say Good Bye. The members and chaperones left the hotel and took the shuttle to Minneapolis/St. Paul  International Airport at 5:00 a.m to catch a flight on Sun Country Airlines back to Dallas/Ft Worth International Airport. The flight was full and had some turbulence. They made a pit stop on the way home in West to get a snack and they arrived back in Bell County at noon. Bell County 4-Hers were a little sleepy after this amazing week in Houston County, Minnesota.

If you wish to participate in the Bell County 4-H Exchange Program please plan to attend our next meeting at the Rogers High School (Carol A. Bonds Building) on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 1:30 or contact Kathy Ide Please check out our Bell County 4-H Exchange Facebook or Bell County 4-H Website.