Small towns in rural Minnesota are hurting and thriving. What makes the difference? (More)

Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

Driving from Minneapolis St. Paul up to Ely in the Iron Range, many signs for small or medium size towns advertise with reasons to stop and visit them and take a small detour from the freeway.

Hinkley, MN has a casino, Tobie’s restaurant famous for its carmel rolls, the Hinkley fire museum (on the link it says the fire of 1894 but on the freeway signs it says 1917 or 1918. Hinkley’s population was 1,800 in the 2010 census. Tobie’s food is definitely worth stopping for.

The Moose Lake fire of 1918 also has freeway attraction markers and a museum.

Unless you are a history buff with a keen interst in fires of the early 20th century, why ever would you pull over and stop to tour these museums?

I stopped at Moose Lake to tour their museum. I asked, politely if they hadn’t had any events since the 1918s that would want to make people stop and visit them. They mentioned a couple of movies where Moose Lake was mentioned but otherwise a big shrug.

Compare that to Ely, formerly dominated by iron ore mining. They play off their proximity to the BWCA and offer hiking, canoeing, birding, dog sledding, and tons of outdoor experiences either individually or through outfitters. They have festivals for blueberries and harvest moon and winter snow sculptures.

Somehow, I have to think that outdoor adventures will attract more people than a sign on the freeway celebrating a fire a hundred years ago. I don’t think that nostalgia includes old fires, no matter how devastating they were at the time.

Small towns that want to survive and thrive would look to what attracts people now as opposed to the most horrifying event in their past. That’s just my 2 cents worth. Your mileage may differ.

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