31 July 2010

Island Park. Where friends meet, ay?

Last night when I was going to the dam site for some inspiration for yesterday's post, I noticed there were some campers in the little so-called campground next to the river.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty surprised to find anyone down there at all, so I found the nerve to make my way over to a couple sitting outside their camper that looked as though it had seem some miles and could tell some stories itself.  They were lounging in their outdoor reclining chairs, reading, and battling the mosquitoes like any campers in this area have to do.  While approaching their campsite, I asked them if I could trouble them with a few quick questions.  I guess I was hoping they had the treasure map to the pot of gold I've been waiting for since I started this crazy journey.  And by "pot of gold" I mean finding the one thing that will really put Windom on the map.  I was more curious to find out how exactly they found Windom.  I could tell they were a little hesitant, but then I explained what I was doing and I think they were quite intrigued.  But, I was more intrigued to find out how someone from Saskatchewan, Canada ends up camping next to the Des Moines River in Windom, Minnesota.  You bet, I said Saskatchewan.  I'm not going to lie, I had to look up how to spell Saskatchewan and hesitated to even write it in my post worried I would butcher the word.  But anyway, the lady had family here in Windom and this was the first time she had returned in 25 years.  I had asked her what she thought of Windom and what makes them, as a traveling couple, interested in stopping at numerous places. The first thing she mentioned was the courthouse.  She always remembered how neat the courthouse was and that our downtown was built around it.  Her husband said they stopped to get a 5 cent cup of "shit" coffee in Wall, South Dakota due to all the hype of the road sign advertisements for the less-than-impressive city with its even less-than-impressive 5 cent coffee. But he admits defeat to the genius of the advertisement for this one great cup of 5 cent coffee.  Then he asked me, "What is Windom's draw?  What do you have here that is so great?"  After a big sigh, I could name a dozen things Windom essentially has, but doesn't really use to its advantage.  "Well, your sitting next to one thing right now, the river." The lady asked what had happened to our river, and I told her the ugly truth--it was broken.  We were both a little disappointed in the answer.  Needless to say, they were rather disappointed by the campground despite the beauty around them.  They said they would rather pay a little more to get a little more. To turn the conversation into something more positive, I explained we have a ton of lakes surrounding us, land for small game hunting, snowmobile trails and also how I would like to see more walking trails circling our city.  He thought that would be a great idea.  I told them to visit the exhibit and gallery at the Historical Society and to walk the square downtown.  I gave them directions to Cottonwood Lake, a place she remembered very well, playing with her cousins there when she was young.  I told them we were home to the Toro Company and the gentlemen was surprised to hear the Toro Company's home was right here in our fair city.  "Do they give tours?" He asked.  "Toro is a very well known name and that is very interesting."  At this point, they had helped me discover Windom more in that short 15 minute conversation, then in a week of research and lifetime of, up until now, meaningless thoughts.  But the really hard question they asked me was "What is going to make me come back?"  A bigger sigh came from my gut.  "Well, that's another thing I'm trying to figure out." I genuinely thanked them for their time and cooperation and told her I hope she doesn't wait another 25 years to visit us here in this quaint little town.  I was pleased with the information and conversation they provided me with.

So when I got home from what was supposed to be a quick trip to the dam to find a little inspiration, another card had been dealt too soon in this crazy game of finding Windom, and I'm not quite sure how to play it.  Of course we can get people to come to Windom, through family and through highway 60, but what is going to make them stop for more than just a tank fill up, a snack and a quick stretch?  What is going to be our "5 cent cup of coffee"? Most importantly, what is going to make people come back?  After giving it much thought, I think this is where the pride of Windom plays a role.  We need to find this contagious pride in order to let our visitors experience a sense of family and community.  Let's give them the good 'ol small town feel we all love and appreciate so much in this fast paced world around us.  A place they want to come back to to simply take a deep breath and relax.  We need to give them a place to call home.  A home away from home.  We need to give them something as clever as a 5 cent cup of coffee.  We need to give them a place where friends meet.

Finding Windom.

Happy times,

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