You know, living here right next to the Mississippi River, it’s pretty easy to begin to take for granted just how freaking fantastic it is. I mean seriously, it’s the fourth longest river in the world, and a U.S. geologic survey says it is the main conduit of the chief drainage system in North America – which is a very unsexy way to say fabulous. France, Britain, and Spain all wanted it – fought over it even – and here in Winona, we can see why.
Just look at this:
Who wouldn’t want a little piece of that? Seriously, if Wisconsin wanted to take rights to the Mississippi away from Winona, we’d go to war too. OK listen, that’s just an illustration, because we don’t want to go to war with Wisconsin, and they couldn’t take our access away anyway, but you get what I’m saying. So don’t send me letters about why we’re threatening Wisconsin. I’m not. I love Wisconsin…but I digress.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the stretch of Mississippi River that passes Winona is the most beautiful, the most pristine, and the most useable of all its 2,348 miles. Yeah, I would say that, because, well, I’m writing a blog about how amazing Winona is. But seriously…
Consider this: The river here is wide enough to have a deep main channel for barges, but gentle enough to have miles of backwater slews where migratory birds and kayakers and such can find peaceful repose. Ever seen this?
Well we do. All the time. The reason, perhaps, is that our piece of river here is blissfully undeveloped. Save for a few boathouses and the small towns that dot the shores, the Mississippi River in Southern Minnesota is a wilderness of islands and backwaters that you could spend days, or even years, exploring. One guy in particular did just that, and he made sure that everyone else for generations to come could do the same thing.
Nice, huh? His name was John Latsch, and he was a grocer in Winona around the turn of the century. Known for his ever-present bow tie and his deep love for the Mississippi, Latsch acquired some 18,000 acres of river wilderness and donated it to governments in Minnesota and Wisconsin with the provision that it be open for public use. Forever.
This is what some of that land looks like:
The reason he did this is because Latsch loved to take a stack of newspapers and a jug of buttermilk in his tiny boat and find lonely spots along the river to stretch his legs and ponder the universe. One time, as the story goes, he pulled up on shore a few miles north of Winona as a storm set in, taking shelter under his canoe while he waited for it to pass. An angry farmer came along and told him he was trespassing, forcing him back onto the river for a soggy paddle home. So Latsch called a land broker and bought that farmer’s piece of the river. And then he bought more, and more, and more so that no one would ever be kicked off of private river land again.
It’s a cool story, and Winona owe’s a huge chunk of its Mississippi River greatness to John Latsch, so much so that we’ve dedicated a week to him. July 21-26 is John Lastch Week, and we are doing it up big with all manner of festivities surrounding the river. You can read all about it on the Winona County Historical Society’s website, but I want to tell you about something special, because we need your help.
On Saturday, July 26, at 1 p.m., Winona will try to set a world record for the number of people wearing bow ties in one place at one time. It’s a big number – at least 826 people if we are going to break the standing record. But we’ve got this, right? You can bring your own bow tie, or you can buy one from the Winona County History folks at Levee Park for a pittance of $5. But at 1 p.m., there needs to be 826 people there to put us in the history books. The folks at Visit Winona have been getting ready (and we wrangled Mayor Mark Peterson into our photo!):
We need you. Let’s do this. If you’ve ever appreciated this:
…then you probably owe it to John Latsch. Let’s whip out those bow ties and say thanks by putting Winona’s progenitor of public access in the history books – I mean a different history book than the one he wrote here with his incredible donation that gives every water lover a reason to love Winona.
Hope to see you Saturday, and until next time, see you on the river