Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walking in Alexandria

Last Sunday morning, September 22, was bright and sunny. I looked at Weather Channel on my phone -- 49 degrees (9 C). Brrr-- quite a change from 3 weeks ago when I had to walk at 6 AM to avoid excessive heat.

I had a quick breakfast at the hotel -- not impressed -- the worst breakfast of my travels during the past six months. It didn't help either that a woman at the next table was going on and on about Obamacare -- and how "we are going to have to pay for it." I so wanted  to tell her that she is already paying for it -- with enhanced private insurance premiums so that uncompensated care can be paid for -- with high emergency room payments so that uncompensated care is paid for -- and that we are using our emergency rooms in the United States for primary care --the most expensive way one can possible deliver primary care--but with her size 42 behind in her jeans, I was sure she didn't care for facts -- such as the fact that McDonald's is now posting calories for all its food choices is also part of health care reform.  Was glad to escape out of there!

Now to the walk. Alexandria is the county seat of Douglas County. It was established in 1862, and is named after the Illinois Senator, Stephen Douglas. Most of us, if we know the name at all remember the Douglas-Lincoln debates over the issue of slavery. Douglas County has this name, however, because Douglas was the Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Territories and advocated strongly for Minnesota to become a state.

Alexandria is named after Alexander Kinkaid. He and his brother,William, were among the first settlers of Alexandria, coming to Minnesota from Maryland. Alexandria has a population of around 11,000. The Minnesota Geographic Names text notes that Alexandria has "a multitude of lakes, unsurpassed in beauty and diversity." The area map that I picked up at the hotel shows, within an area bounded by I-94 on the south and the northern Alexandria city limits, fourteen lakes!

I found my way up Broadway and left my car in a parking lot for the Central Trail. This trail is for walking and biking made from a former railroad track area. It extends for many miles across this part of Minnesota.

By the parking lot is Big Ole, the largest Viking in the land.

 To understand how big is this statue note that behind Big Ole are trees, not bushes. Big Ole accompanied the Kensington Runestone to the World's Fair held in New York City in 1965. (Kensington Runestone will be featured in another blog post for it is a whole story in itself.)

The walk route went east along the shore of Lake Agnes. This lake, according the Geographic Names book, is named for "the lady love of William Kinkaid."  This walk was joyful on a bright, sunny morning. The trail is wonderful with many places to stop and rest or enjoy the view.

I walked my way around the east side of the lake and as the route map promised up into a parking lot. I walked along the back side of several buildings and then picked up a bike trail that went further along the east side of the lake and then turned left to wind along the north side of the lake. This part of the walk went along the back yards of homes, many with beautiful flowers.

Ahead I could see the fishing pier on Lake Agnes.

Across the lake I could see a set of white buildings and I knew I had to be there before the walk ended.

The walk led to City Park.

The route map said to walk through the park and continue left as "far as  you feel comfortable." I found that brought me to the convergence of Lake Agnes and Lake Henry.

Lake Agnes is on the left in the photo above and Lake Henry begins on the right side. Lake Henry is named for one of the children of Charles Cook, an early merchant in Alexandria.

The walk now backtracked itself to the Big Ole statue. When I got back to the area of the shops, I walked along the front to learn what they were and, of course, stopped at Caribou Coffee for a bit. I had that in mind when I found the less than wonderful breakfast at the hotel. I stayed quite awhile there, mostly because the book I was reading on my Kindle was so good.

When I returned to the Big Ole area I continued west walking with Lake Agnes on the right side and now Lake Winona on the left side.

 I disturbed some ducks having Sunday brunch.

Then it was backtracking again to Big Ole. I decided to stop at the Depot Express for some lunch.

I mentioned above that the Central Trail is made from an abandoned railroad line. Well, the Depot is just that. I noticed there is a history of the building on the menu and asked the waitress if I could keep the menu a few minutes to take some notes. She said, "I can do better that. I'll bring you an old one."

The menu story tells us the depot opened in 1907. One unique feature is that the foundation was laid by putting  200 pilings 35 feet deep into the soil, preventing the building then from being subject to vibration as trains rolled by. In addition, the construction of the building made it fireproof.

In 1957 the Burlington Northern Railroad renovated the building, putting in new windows and changing the ticket windows from being in exterior windows facing the track to being totally inside the building. But in 1967 all passenger service stopped and freight service, too, stopped in 1976.

The building was shut until 1984 when private buyers bought it from the railroad and renovated into a restaurant. The building is now listed on the Historic Register.

I had good intentions of doing another 5 K through the business and residential areas of Alexandria. However, when I left the restaurant after lunch the wind was blowing so hard that it was difficult to walk. Also I knew I had already done the best 5K and readers of this blog know that in the past couple of weeks I have seen many business districts and residential areas of small Minnesota towns. Instead I went to the Runestone Museum, but that is another story appearing later. 

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