Hidden Gems Worth Finding

By Erica Wacker

This summer, seek out Minnesota’s off-the-radar attractions

Judy Garland Museum

Judy Garland MuseumBest known for her role as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Judy Garland is not from Kansas but from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she was born by the name Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922. Her childhood home on the outskirts of town is open for tours, as is the attached Judy Garland Museum, which houses memorabilia from her life and career, including the carriage used in the film’s Emerald City scene.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the beloved movie, and the annual Judy Garland Festival (June 10-15) will pull out all the stops this year. Highlights include the unveiling of a new, 3,000-piece “Wizard of Oz” exhibit, a “Toto Too” dog talent contest, a red sneaker walk, and an update on the whereabouts of the ruby slippers, which were stolen from the museum in 2005.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

For anyone who remembers when the radio or a black-and-white TV was the height of home entertainment, the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park is a must see. The extensive collection of antique radios, televisions and broadcast equipment may even coax younger generations to look up from their handheld screens.

Some of the museum’s biggest highlights are interactive in nature. Visitors can try to play an RCA Theremin (the only instrument that’s played without the performer touching it), attempt to tune a 1920s radio, or play a record on a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox for a nickel.

The museum also hosts special events, has workshops for kids and adults, and inducts TV and radio legends into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. The 2013 inductees included Minnesota Twins announcer Dick Bremer, news anchor Mark Rosen and the late Eleanor Mondale Poling.

Jeffers Petroglyphs

More than 2,000 images of people, animals and tools carved into rock make up the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a spiritual and historic site about an hour west of Mankato near Comfrey. Some of the carvings date back 9,000 years while others are only a couple hundred years old, making Jeffers one of the oldest continuously used sacred sites in the world.

The journey begins at the visitor center, where hands-on exhibits and a multimedia presentation explain the history and significance of the surrounding site. Outside, a tour guide points out the American Indian carvings along the petroglyphs trail while discussing their possible meanings and the people who made them.

The site opens for the season Memorial Day weekend; a daily “Adventures in Nature” program teaches kids about American Indian games and tools as well as the ecosystem of the adjacent prairieland.

Nyberg Park

Vining Sculpture ParkHalf an hour east of Fergus Falls, the tiny town of Vining has become a tourist attraction thanks to the oversize sculptures all made by one man, local artist Ken Nyberg. Located next to a gas station, Nyberg Park is home to about 10 sculptures that include a pair of pliers squishing a bug, an elephant made entirely out of lawnmower blades, and a watermelon being cut with a knife – an homage to the town’s annual Watermelon Day (Aug. 16 this year).

Beyond the park, Nyberg’s work can be seen scattered throughout the region, including an otter in Ottertail, a stethoscope in Henning, and a Spartan on the M State campus in Fergus Falls.

Hjemkomst Center

The Scandinavian heritage and more recent history of Clay County come to life at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. One of the main attractions is the replica Viking ship, which a local resident constructed out of more than 100 oak trees. Although the builder died in 1980, family members kept his dream alive and successfully sailed the vessel from Duluth to Norway two years later.

Another impressive sight at the center is the replica Norwegian stave church, modeled after one that is still standing in Vik, Norway. The church was constructed on-site in the late ‘90s out of cedar, redwood and pine; it’s now a popular venue for wedding ceremonies and christenings.

New this year, “Doing Our Part: Clay County in WWII” tells the story of local residents who were affected by the war and how it changed their lives. The exhibit will be on display through 2015.