Cole Zrostlik, Librarian/Gallery Coordinator at the River Falls Public Library
@czrostlik on Instagram/Twitter
The St. Croix Valley is such a fun and funky place. People might think that, because it’s outside the Twin Cities metro, it’s not hip or relevant but they obviously haven’t spent time here.
My husband and I are both librarians and work a lot of weekends. We are terrible planners, so when we have free time together, we just want to get in the car and let the adventure take over.
If we want an easy walk in a natural setting, we’ll head for one of the Art Benches along the St. Croix. These benches are a great example of the plethora of public art in the Valley. I think they also show the willingness of local artists to collaborate with young people and a desire to pass on a love for art.
At the River Falls Public Library Gallery where I work, we showcase both amateur and professional artists. I think conversations inspired by art and experiencing art with other people are just as important as seeing works by artists with notable names.
I also love finding art outside of the usual places. Bars, restaurants and breweries in the Valley seem to have taken the idea of immersive art to the next level, collaborating with artists to transform their spaces into works of public art.
One of my favorite examples of this is at Oliphant Brewery in Somerset. The beer is top-notch and artist Taylor Berman’s wildly colorful murals dominate the walls inside and out. It would be impossible to think of this brewery as separate from the murals he created.
In the spirit of adventure and another satisfying brew, we’ll head to Roberts, taking the twisting back roads to Bobtown Brewhouse & Grill. There’s another Taylor Berman mural here, paying homage to the cornfields surrounding the bar – and the town.
It seems like, no matter the time of year, there’s an art or food festival going on. The Valley has a lot of churches, some of which put on traditional dinners serving things like lutefisk, booyah, and wild rice, and hosting craft and quilt sales. We’ll stop and check out these events because you never know what you might find – or who you might meet!
Come autumn, my art explorations take a bit more shape, when art fairs pop up all along the St. Croix River. The first Saturday in September, Art on the Kinni is held in River Falls. It’s in a beautiful setting, nestled on the banks of the Kinnickinnic River, with kids’ activities and live music, and everyone brings their dogs. It also kicks off a month of art fairs and festivals that you can find through a grassroots guide called Take Me to the River.
On cool autumn days, when you want to cup your hands around a warm spiced chai and chill out, I head to Chilkoot Cafe in Stillwater. With a good book to read and multiple trips to the bakery case, I can easily spend an entire afternoon relaxing here.
We like playing games to get through the winter. When we want a little friendly competition, we’ll head to the Vagabond Arcade in River Falls, because pinball! Also, because River Falls is filled with public art and even more murals.
By the time spring arrives, we’re ready to hit the Valley’s many downtowns for window shopping, bar crawling, and book browsing. I have to stop at Chapter2Books in Hudson, and the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater. Seeing bookstore aisles crowded with shoppers warms my librarian’s heart.
In many of the rivertowns, there are murals, sculptures, and works of art that pop up in the most unusual places, like the Choke Cherry Tree sculpture by Dale Lewis outside the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater.
Summertime is all about festivals and communities showing off what makes them special. For a funky take on the community dinner, Community Homestead in Osceola, hosts a Pig Roast and Folk Dance every August. Picture a pig roast in the country, with hayrides and live music with a caller. Then picture organic produce and an emphasis on community doing good together. It’s definitely not what people typically think of rural Wisconsin, but it’s a blast!
Another ridiculously fun thing to do in the summer is goat yoga at Have Ya Herd in Roberts. It’s exactly what it sounds like – doing yoga with goats.