Trail Pairings: A Visit to Marshall, MN
Give me a bicycle with a greased chain, something to see, a good meal and a cold pint, and I’ll be there and I’ll like it. Down in southwestern Minnesota, where the views are unimpeded and grain elevators loom large on the horizon, the town of Marshall checks all of those boxes. When Jen and I found out the Made in Minnesota Craft Beer show was back on for 2022, we decided to go in for a closer look. While most of Minnesota was on the move north in search of trophy Walleye, we went the other way and found a great trail, delicious food and a huge selection of craft beers. We rolled into town and went straight to the Wooden Nickel Burgers and Brews in downtown Marshall. This was no accident.
In my pre-trip research, I found that they serve a bacon cheese burger there, that has two grilled cheese sandwiches for a bun and that was all I needed to know. Our friendly waitress chuckled when I told her I was concerned about being able to finish it. “Hon,” she said, “I have to-go-boxes, but that self-control thing is up to you.” Jen was equally excited about her Mac and Cheese burger. As the sun was going down, we sat on the patio of the Wooden Nickel and went over the plans for the next day: A ride on the Camden Regional Trail in the morning, the craft beer show at the Red Baron Arena in the afternoon and a visit to the Brau Brothers taproom in the evening. It was a full schedule and we tucked in early at the local AmericInn.
To start our trip on the 16-mile Camden Regional Trail, all we really had to do was roll out of the parking lot of the hotel (after I spent more time than I should have marveling at the pancake-dispensing machine in the breakfast room). We followed a marked bike route to the campus of Southwestern Minnesota State University, passed under Highway 23 in a tunnel and reached the official trail head after just over a mile. That took us longer than expected because a local mattress and lawn furniture store had a giant Adirondack chair on display outside and Jen just can’t pass up a good opportunity to sit in one of those for a photo.
At the official trail head, we re-set our odometers and began pedaling for real, destination Camden State Park. Like all trails, this one was built in pieces with the final connection into the state park in 2016. Our route was sort of a candy-cane shape, with the handle pointing to the right. The trail travels north, then west and finally south to the state park. Along the way it passes through many of the city’s parks with a healthy dose of self-service bike repair stations sprinkled in. Plenty of benches offered scenic places to rest. Within the city limits, the trail travels on a flood diversion embankment put in place to keep the Redwood River in check. Recent rain storms had the river roaring and foaming, but it stayed safely contained as we enjoyed a wonderful morning ride in the sun.
On the southern end of town, we left the embankment and dropped farther south, this time along Highway 23. When we reached the town of Lynd, our odometers showed just about 14 miles. The park was only another two miles away. Here, we began a steady climb past downtown Lynd and along a quiet backroad. Both Jen and I felt we shouldn’t have been struggling as much as we were, even with this being an early season ride. When we checked our tire pressure at a bike repair station near the park it became clear that we were squishing around on grossly underinflated tires. A few strokes of the pump fixed that and we both rolled a lot easier.
We made it back to Marshall in a tailwind-fueled, record-breaking whirlwind, and of course Jen had to beat my max speed of 26.3 by 0.2 miles an hour. This time we cut straight into downtown and stopped at Toni’s Depot to pick up lunch. If you want a hoagie, hero, sub, grinder, torpedo, blimpy or zep, they have it. And a picture on their Facebook page shows that their footlong is, indeed, 13 inches long. It’s a real, local sandwich shop. We took our loot to go and found a picnic table at Memorial Park.
This small park -just over 1.25 acres- sits almost directly in the middle of town and serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I’s bisected diagonally by the Redwood River with a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides. The center display of Memorial Park is a 10-foot iron beam from the rubble of the collapsed Twin Towers and the open space around it is paved with nearly 3,000 bricks each bearing a star for a life lost.
After lunch we biked through downtown with one last stop on our minds, the Walnut Grove Mercantile. This gourmet food and gift shop is known for its homemade fudge, honeys and barbecue sauces but there was a special delicacy we needed to try. What started out as his father Ray’s honey farm in the 1950s is now operated by Steve Klein as Walnut Grove Mercantile. Just like any old-timey store, Walnut Grove Mercantile has a front porch with benches and rails to hitch up your steed. Inside, we were greeted by Steve from behind the counter, who was wearing an apron like a proper shopkeeper. For Marshall’s 150-year anniversary, he said, he created a special flavor of fudge. The stuff we had come to taste beckoned from the glass case in all its Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake fudgy glory. Not only was it layers of chocolate fudge, caramel and vanilla graham cracker cheesecake, but it was also sprinkled with chocolate chips and drizzled with caramel. And with no pre-planning whatsoever, a box of this fudge fit just right in my bike bag-who knew?
Back at the hotel, we ditched our sweaty gear, took a shower and got ready for the Made in Minnesota Craft Beer Show. The Red Baron Arena is Marshall’s hockey rink, meeting facility and event center and made the perfect spot for the craft beer show. It was just over a mile away from the AmericInn and the bike was the right vehicle to get us there. For this trip, however, we chose a bike from the Marshall Bike Share Program, which is free to use. The bikes are available at the AmericInn, YMCA and The Bike Shop, where owner Chad Kulla maintains the small fleet of 21-speed Trek hybrids. All we had to do was sign out, get the key for the lock, and roll out the door.
When we got to the arena, the crowd was filtering in, the music was pumping and the smell of fresh pretzels was in the air. “We’re thrilled to host his show again,” Cassi Weiss, Director of the Marshall Convention and Visitors told me. After the inaugural 2019 event, things were put on hold, but the good turnout of this year’s show has her hoping to increase the number of exhibitors and visitors next year. With 25 breweries-and wineries-represented, we had our work cut out for us and we milled around the grounds for almost three hours, sampling what we could.
Southwest Minnesota Academic Society of Homebrewers (SMASH) has been around for about 15 years and was also represented at the show. Club president Zach Ankney said the group’s success wouldn’t be possible without the support of Brau Brothers Brewing whose owners let the group hold regular brew-ins there and supply ingredients and a meeting space.Member Paul Seifert was pouring samples of his Berliner Weisse at the SMASH booth. This popular sour beer is typically served in Germany with a side of either raspberry or woodruff syrup. This syrup can be hard to find here, so he grew his own woodruff and extracted its flavor into a simple syrup. This turned out to be one of our favorite beers of the day.
After the show we headed straight to Brau Brothers Brewing, who moved into the former Runnings Fleet Supply building in 2013. The first thing we noticed was the cherry-red, 1950s, beer-dispensing fire truck in the middle of the spacious taproom. I had learned its story at a previous visit. “The truck is a pumper ran by the Lucan Fire Department from 1956 to 2006 and it’s the inspiration for the name of our Light Beer”, Dustin Brau, owner of Brau Brothers Brewing Company, had told me. “The dome light is melted from heat, and the doors are misspelled, but the truck only has 3,900 miles on it and my grandpa, my dad and my brother and I have all fought fires on the Old 56.” Today it dispenses a mind-boggling 24 different varieties of beer. Jen and I grabbed a picnic table outside and enjoyed the last rays of the sun with a Moojoos milk stout and a Thresher Bohemian Pilsener. Dinner was a taco pizza with house-made malt dough and locally raised bison. It was a good finish to a very busy day and we were looking forward to another good night’s rest at the AmericInn.
Sunday’s schedule wasn’t quite so full. We hit a local breakfast hot spot, Mike’s Café. The sign above the dining room entrance said “Come on in, we’re awesome,” and that was not hyperbole. The breakfast sandwich, chicken fried steak and pancakes were delicious. Extra crispy hashbrowns? You bet. We definitely needed to work some of this off with a hike at Camden State Park.
It was supposed to be a ride on the mountain bike trails, but recent heavy rains had made the trails too wet to ride. The 3-mile Hiking Club Trail, aka the Dakota Valley Trail took us up the lively creek that feeds the sand-bottomed swimming pond in the valley. Trees hadn’t fully leafed out, yet, so the first wildflowers were blooming in the dappled sunlight. We also came across a garter snake taking in some sun on a rock. Once we reached the rim of the valley the scenery changed to rolling prairie hills. We followed the wide, mowed path for a while and stopped to listen to the birds in the woods.
Nature was waking up on this warm and sunny day in southwestern Minnesota and just like all the other creatures, we needed sunshine.The trail eventually dropped back down and we completed the loop at the swimming pond, where some brave kids were splashing in the water. A morel mushroom hunter showed us his first find of the day before there was no more putting it off. We had to leave this place, we had to leave Marshall and its trails and restaurants and make the trip back home. It won’t be our last visit.