Kami Anderson, Teacher, Amateur Photographer
I’m fascinated by how communities and places evolve over time. In the Valley, there are historic buildings that have been beautifully maintained, disintegrating 1800’s homesteads nearly hidden by the woods, riverbanks eroded over millennia, and flourishing main streets with their small-town charm still intact.
As a photographer, there are special places that pull you back, time and again. I’m drawn to where the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers meet, in Prescott. It’s a beautiful confluence of water, history, and nature here.
I like to drive south, just out of Prescott’s downtown, to Freedom Park and the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center. From high on the bluffs, you can see what the area might have looked like pre-settlement, as well as train tracks and other signs of industry. It’s a really cool and challenging area to photograph. Be sure to go inside the Visitor Center to check out the free gallery. It often has photography that inspires my own work.
Another interesting gallery in Prescott is the Orange Dragon Art Gallery. They make amazing use of their tiny gallery spaces. But beware, looming over as you enter, there’s a dragon sculpture by Dale Lewis keeping watch from above the front door.
When I go to Hudson, I always make a point of stopping at the riverfront and the park across the street from The Phipps Center for the Arts. I like trying to capture the interplay of sunlight and shadows along the river path. Then I go inside. The Phipps’ galleries feel both timeless and modern. Seeing other people’s artwork challenges my own perceptions and refocuses my photographer’s eye. Make sure you go upstairs to see the second floor galleries and the amazing view from there.
There’s a local group of photography enthusiasts called the Western Wisconsin Photo Club. They’ve done a few projects with Belwin Conservancy in Afton, capturing photos of a herd of bison that live there in the summer. Some of those photos and others taken by WWPC members are on display at Belwin’s Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields in West Lakeland, during the warmer months. It’s a nice place to take a short prairie hike and see the photos, or walk to the labyrinth and clear my head.
We’re really lucky to have four distinct seasons in the Valley. It makes photography a fun, year-round challenge.
In the fall, when the hillside trees are bursting with color, we take friends from out of town to ride on The Stillwater Trolley. They’re short tours and are an easy way to introduce people to the city, its history and what makes it special. I often see something cool on the tour and go back to photograph it later when I have time.
After a day lugging my camera around, my favorite snack is a beer and some cheese curds. One of my favorite bars is Muddy Waters in Prescott. They have live music on the weekends, lots of local beers on tap, and they serve their curds with a crazy-good creamy garlic dip.
In the winter, if I’m looking to get some exercise and find some inspiration, I’ll head to Afton State Park. The snowshoe trail winds through the southern part of the park, through a remote section where there’s a lot of wildlife. It’s also quite hilly, so it’s a good workout!
After my hike, I warm up at Swirl Wine Bar in Afton. The wine selection is outstanding and, if I can’t decide between a Cab or a Zin, the servers are really helpful. I don’t need any help choosing dessert, though. The chocolate cake is a no-brainer!
When spring finally shows up, I’m ready to shed my coat and hit the streets with a few different camera lenses. There’s something really alluring about downtown Hastings. The old buildings in this river town have gorgeous ornamentation and have been really well cared for, especially City Hall.
The city also recently improved the Hastings Lock and Dam #2. It’s much safer to walk around here now, even in the springtime when the ice floes are cruising past.
In the summertime, I try and immerse myself in small town life by going to local parades, farmers’ markets and summer celebrations along the river.
Summer Tuesdays in Stillwater is a laid back, good time. My friends and I will pack a picnic and lawn chairs for an evening of food trucks, live music, and a movie. It all takes place right in Lowell Park, next to the St. Croix River, which gives the evening a kind of magical feeling.
Downtown Hudson is another fun place to walk and explore in the summer. Boaters moor up all along the riverwalk, and everyone is walking around with food in hand. There’s an ArtBench right along the river and a bandshell where the Minnesota Orchestra plays a special concert each summer.