We arrived in Brainerd today. Not the Brainerd lakes area. The City of Brainerd, Minnesota.

Victoria ran the last miles into Lum Park at the south end of Rice Lake as disc golfers showered her with errant throws. Rice Lake is a place where the Mississippi rests before resuming its voyage to the Gulf. 

Don Gorham met us downtown at the music store, Bridge of Harmony – Brainerd. He gave us a quick tour of the place, enthusiastically greeting every patron as they arrived and departed. Lots of guitars here but also percussion, brass, sound equipment, rentals, lessons, vintage instruments and more. Three solid floors of music. He says they sell a lot of ukuleles.

Don comes from Brainerd, spent time in Minneapolis, and returned to the Jack Pine Savannah where the forest meets the prairie. Don is exploding with ideas and eager to transform his community but he understands the slow pace of change. He used to go to protests, now he goes to meetings.

He took us down to Rotary Park for on a walk along the river. The Mississippi is scenic and nearly untouched by development as it winds through this community. It’s also unnoticed and unused by the locals. Don is involved with the Brainerd Riverfront effort, working to create better river access and an enhanced trail system that connects to the regional trail network. Working to create a community that embraces this great natural asset.

Don says he’s practical and not idealistic but it’s apparent when you meet him that he’s forward-looking and optimistic. In Brainerd, he’s found a place where he can put his spiritual and creative energy toward civic improvement. He’s one of the first voices we’ve found that spoke almost exclusively of the present and future. He’s also waging a personal war against buckthorn, but that’s a story for another day . . .

Next we met Ashley Storm (and Buster) at the dog park. She’s managing a tanning salon while looking for work as a veterinary technician. Looking for work in large animal rescue, not small animal care (sorry, Buster).

She spoke of a desire during her high-school years to leave Brainerd for someplace new. Maybe someplace bigger or better. In the end she returned, drawn back by the closeness of her family and the opportunity to effect change in her hometown. 

She’s a younger member of the community and very enthused about what Brainerd can be. Through her civic involvement she hopes to create a city that embraces it’s natural assets and attracts a new generation of creative and active residents to build a vibrant community.

We stopped by the Roundhouse Brewery for a quick beer before heading out to Lum Park. Don Gorham and Merritt Bussiere were already set up and we settled in for some great music and great conversation. 

Sydney and Ellie from the Nature Conservancy stopped by and we learned about the good work they’re doing with the Our Mississippi Our Future initiative. 

Ashley Kaisershot joined us – she’s been a great partner here in Brainerd and we’re so thankful for everything she did to make this day successful. 

Another Brainerd Riverfront member, Erik Roberts, and his family joined us as well. His wife’s family is from Dubuque and he gave us some inside info on what to do when we’re in Guttenburg, Iowa. 

As we wrapped up the day, we watched the River Loons practicing out on Rice Lake (aka Mississippi River). My mind flashed to the past. Back to 1922 when Ralph Samuelson strapped on a pair of boards, hooked a clothesline to a boat and invented water skiing. This was just down the The Great River Road at Lake Pepin.

Then my mind flashed forward to the future. I saw a vibrant city – full of active people, connected to the water and connected to each other. Connected up-river and down-river. Connected to regional trails. Connected to their history but not defined by it. 

A city made possible by a group of young (and young at heart) citizens who imagined the future and worked hard to create it.

The City of Brainerd, Minnesota.