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Forestville, Minnesota

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

I had never been in a place called Forestville before. And I have been wandering the back roads of our country for 20 years. I would think it common name. One time in California, I remember passing a Forestville. It’s near the Giant Redwoods, north of San Francisco.

Then again, to be named Forestville, the place has to be in a forest, wouldn’t you think? And since much of the United States is desert, prairie or mountains, the odds are against that name being a common one. That explains – at least to my satisfaction – why I had never been in a “Forestville.

Explanations are so simple on the road, especially when my only arguments are with my dog, Rusty.

It was on a Sunday last summer that I was in southeastern Minnesota traveling on a county road south of Wykoff, when I found myself in a heavily wooded state park. I crossed over the South Branch of the Root River on an iron bridge that was built in 1899.

I was instantly on historic ground – the remains of a village called Forestville. Founded in 1853, it was a trading center, typical of hundreds that emerged around here at that time. It prospered for 15 years until the first area railroad bypassed it. Its residents then slowly drifted, I suppose, toward the towns that the railroad didn’t bypass. By 1890, the son of one of the town’s founders owned by default what was left. He was an Irishman named Thomas Meighen.

Meighen kept the school going, as well as the post office, the grocery store and the saw mill, for those who stayed in Forestville, many of whom worked on his farm. The town eventually died. What is left – the Meighen home, store
and farm buildings – is the centerpiece of the Forestville State Park. Today, costumed guides portraying residents of that era give visitors a look into the lives of those Irish and Norwegian immigrants.

Three of Minnesota’s top trout streams converge within the park. That alone brings in the campers, many from Rochester, 40 miles northwest of here. But the most obvious campers are the RVers who come with horses. This park has the highest horseback use of any in the state. It has a huge, improved area for the equestrian crowd. Where the rest of us camp and hook up, they call the “people park.”

I learned all this from some folks who were resting their horses in front of the Meighen barn. They said that they
had just come off a two-hour ride on trails named Sugar Camp Hollow, River Bottoms, Sandbank and Oak Ridge.

Later at the horse camp, while she tied up her horse, Vickie Hill was telling why she and her husband, Dave, come here every chance they get. “Even though the mosquito may be the Minnesota state bird, we don’t have any around here … makes it great for camping. We only go inside if it rains.

“The park has miles of wooded trails for riding and some grassy areas where the ‘cowboys’ can cut loose.

“Even as a kid, Dave was a horse person,” Vickie told me. Following their third ride together, soon after they met, Dave asked her to marry him. She said she would, if he would buy her a horse. Dave agreed, and they were married, but not right away – she was in the fifth grade then and Dave was in the sixth. That was 43 years ago.

Welcome to America’s Outback.

Bill’s e-mail address: [email protected]

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