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A fine day at Ashley for the Arts (08/17/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

It was a beautiful Saturday for Ashley for the Arts, even though it did rain like crazy in spurts throughout the day. Any day is a beautiful day to drive to Arcadia, surely one of the most beautiful trips in the U.S., if not the world.

The trip begins in our Mississippi Valley, winds down Wisconsin’s Great River Road, Hwy 35, to Centerville (yes, there is an equally breathtaking trip from Fountain City on Hwy 95 to Arcadia), where you pick up Hwy 93 north to Arcadia.

The road winds through verdant farmland, gently rolling, and you pass Tamarack, where there is a little cafe amid all the farms. It seemed to us on this trip that many of the farm houses along the way looked well-cared for, and one or two may have been renovated. In any event, Wisconsin farms are neatly kept, and even their contour planting looks as though it was done by an artist. And of course the cows are healthy and robust and the corn is tall and well-tassled, with big, fat ears.

Then you begin the climb up the ridge that separates the world from Arcadia, sort of like the highlands in Brigadoon. At the top of the windy road (you should have driven it in the old days — it separated the men from the boys, I’ll tell you, especially after a raucous afternoon at Broiler/Dairy Days!), at the very top, is a turnoff to a lookout, which you should take, especially if it is your first time seeing it.

It seems you can see forever, and everything in forever is gorgeous. Tiny valleys wind like garter snakes, little farms are laid out like a patchwork quilt. Woods line creeks that wander like veins through the landscape, and woodlots punctuate the green fields. Rain clouds can be seen miles away in the distance, and even a foggy day is a thing of beauty. The spot could be a test for finding out if you are really an atheist. The view begs you to believe in an all-powerful and benevolent God.

After soaking in the view, you will remember that you were actually on a journey to Arcadia, and get back in the car. Arcadia lies at the bottom of the road.

The city of Arcadia has changed much over the years, with the growth of Ashley Furniture, and other local businesses, which help the city to thrive. Hwy. 93 into town is lined with neatly cared for local businesses, the Arcadia golf course was looking mighty fine that day, and the houses on the way up to Memorial Park indicate a prosperous citizenry.

Memorial Park is worth a visit any time. The brainchild of Ron Wanek, founder of Ashley, the park is a tribute to the armed services, and those who fought to preserve freedom in America from the Revolutionary War to the present day. There is what I call the “history walk,” which leads up the hill to the Millennium Amphitheater, where various music acts performed during the day. In the surrounding area was a fantastic art show, bigger than the previous year, where we wandered looking, finding our favorites, and planning purchases.

Next to the art and also at the top of the hill near the Amphitheater were food vendors, and in the Pavilion there was a Mexican band playing. I don’t know if it was the locale or if there is a musical relationship, but it sounded like a toe-tappin’ polka band singing in Spanish. The difference was that no one was dancing!

We saw Ron Wanek in person, riding in a golf cart, since he is recovering from a bicycling accident, and then at the top of the hill saw Ron Wanek in bronze (see photo left), a tribute to the man behind not only the furniture factory that has played such a big part in Arcadia’s prosperity, but also in beautiful Memorial Park.

We hitched a ride on one of the shuttles that took people all around the park to where the hot air balloons were preparing to launch, but the combination of an enormous thunder head in the distance and the time approaching for the memorial service for Henry Lacher back in Winona led us to our car and out of town again.

Next time you find yourself wanting to get away for a little while, go on over to Arcadia. You will be happy you did. 


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