Pepin Marina, photo by Rebecca Paquette

Pepin Marina, photo by Rebecca Paquette.

Local grandparents and great grandparents talked of meandering gravel roads and 30-mile trips that took all day.

They may have walked three miles to school, uphill both ways, and sledded bluffside roads in winter with no boots… Really?

The Wisconsin Legislature wanted to make sure you can travel there: in 1973 they created the Wisconsin Rustic Roads Program. One hundred twenty-three of the state’s most scenic, peaceful back roads, noted for their outstanding natural and cultural features, have been designated and preserved as Rustic Roads.

Rustic Road, photo by Cindy King

Rustic Road, photo by Cindy King

One of those roads, in Pierce County, takes you to the Big Woods experienced by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who grew up just a few miles away. As you meander this winding gravel road through dense woodland and over Pine Creek, you will hear the crunch of gravel beneath you and discover extraordinary woodland plants, wildflowers and grasses that nature never intended for use on golf courses or in suburban gardens. You will see and hear the trickle of clear meandering waters and understand why great grandpa reminisced with reverence.

Artist Tom Hansen, nature photographer, lives on that Pierce County road, Rustic Road #51. “My work brought me here, but this locale provides access to so many nature subjects that what started as photographing big game subjects has turned into photographing the many bird species in the valley as well as the natural flora," said Hansen.

Bald eagle photo by Cooper Hansen Nature Photography

Bald eagle photo by Cooper Hansen Nature Photography.

Travel on a Rustic Road is a slow meander, but that is exactly the purpose of Fresh Art Tour, a self-guided exploration of the area’s home art studios and galleries, a weekend of relaxation and discovery.

Fresh Art Tour also encompasses a portion of Wisconsin’s only National Scenic Byway. It is no surprise that the Wisconsin Great River Road is a national treasure. As part of our nation’s Great River Road which follows the entire length of the Mississippi River, Wisconsin’s Hwy 35 along Lake Pepin is a corridor with outstanding scenic and historical attributes. Her bluffs, carved to matching heights along Lake Pepin’s shores, create some of the most magical views in the country. Her history is the history of commerce in America. Her future is an ongoing story of preservation.

What: Spring Fresh Art Tour. Self-guided tour of artist studios and galleries along Lake Pep…

The artists of Lake Pepin and the back roads of Pierce, Pepin (where you will also find Rustic Road #122.) and Buffalo Counties welcome you. Take the slow route. Meet new friends, connect, and learn what inspires their art.

Oh by the way, Hansen of Cooper Hansen Photography reminds us, “Since Rustic Road #51 is gravel and you do drive through the creek at four crossings (did he really say "four"?), your car will get dirty, but spring and summer provide an abundance of native wildflowers. My road appeals to anyone who wants to feel a connection with the natural world.”

Now that sounds about perfect. It’s time for us all to re-connect. We’ll see you on the tour.

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