News & Updates
Be a tourist in your own backyard!
See the ordinary in an extraordinary way!
Hello, fellow Roadies! Welcome back to another issue of the Dispatch. I’m Dan Schaefer. This week I’d like to talk about seeing ordinary things in an extraordinary way
I lived many years in Southern California. I’ve been to the beaches, the mountains, Disneyland and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’ve watched movies being filmed. The funny thing is that I rarely visited these places on my own. I usually waited for guests to arrive from out of town, and then I became a tourist with them. They thought I was lucky to live in such an extraordinary place, but I didn’t feel that way. Living in Southern California was ordinary to me. I never saw the extraordinary until I became a tourist.
Now that I’m living in Missouri, I’ve decided to become a permanent tourist. There’s so much to see, right here in my backyard! You can tour Elephant Rocks State Park, where giant egg-shaped rocks have stood like silent sentinels for a billion years. There’s the Apple Butter Festival every October in Kimmswick, where you can stir a giant pot of homemade applesauce and learn all about apples. You can take a ferry across the Mississippi River and visit Grafton Illinois, talk to the folks at Knotty by Nature and find out how they make beautiful unique furniture from giant slices of wood cut from tree trunks.
Consider being a tourist in your own backyard! There’s nothing ordinary about your life. You just need to look around with a fresh set of eyes, as if you’re visiting from far away. You might just agree that everything is extraordinary!
The Small Town Tourist Podcast
At Dirt Road Radio, we’re searching for the best stories the heartland has to offer. Because we focus on building community, we love content that reflects the values of openness, honesty, integrity and overall friendliness. These are the foundational values of living a rural life. And, as it turns out, we’re not alone in this pursuit.
A couple months ago, I came across a podcast called “The Small Town Tourist.” The name sounded intriguing. After all, small towns dot the landscape of rural America, and each town has its own unique story to be explored. So I was delighted to find someone with that same fascination and appreciation. Abbey Minke Graves started The Small Town Tourist podcast to “highlight the sense of community, the smiling faces, the safety, the pride in the town itself.”
She wants to experience everything that small towns can offer, including “meat raffles, historical homes, craft sales, sculptures made of scrap metal, specialty foods, summer festivals, hiking trails, swimming holes, parks, murals. Everything.”
This summer Abbey shines a light on various festivals in small towns across Minnesota, such as the Waite Park Family Fun Fest, the Sartell Summerfest and the Swanville Midsummer Carnival. She also dives into some interesting projects, like the restoration of Phelps Mill – a picturesque 19th century wheat mill powered by water from the Otter Tail River.
If you’re like me and are thrilled to learn about small towns, you’ll find The Small Town Tourist podcast well worth your time!
Finding Your Inner Tourist
There’s something special about every small town. You just need to keep an open mind and see the extraordinary within the ordinary. But don’t keep it to yourself! Lots of folks might be interested in the hidden gems in your neck of the woods.
Consider sending a hot tip to the folks at Roadside America. In their own words, Roadside America is a “caramel-coated-nutbag-full of odd and hilarious travel destinations.” They’ve been at it for over 25 years, and they’ve cataloged thousands of offbeat attractions and discoveries in book form and on their website. I love the trip planner on their website; you just move your mouse over a field of pushpins on a map, select the pushpins that interest you, and the website automatically helps you plan a trip to visit all the interesting places you selected!
If you’re thinking about setting up a tourist destination site of your own, the USDA publishes a document, “Promoting Tourism in Rural America,” that shows how to prepare your own tourist destination. The document has an extensive bibliography with many links that can help you promote rural tourism, agritourism, ecotourism, heritage and cultural tourism, etc. They even have an extensive reference discussing “Rails to Trails,” which can bring hiking and bicycle tourists into town.