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A honking good time in Rochester

Silver Lake Park. Photo courtesy Rochester CVB.

“People are always surprised by Rochester,” says Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester (Minn.) Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Many don’t know what to expect and, after they see all we have to offer, they leave singing our praises.”
Where the blufflands of the Mississippi River meet the plains of southeastern Minnesota lies Rochester, located in America’s Driftless Area where breathtaking scenery and wildlife flourish. From hunting and fishing to birding and outdoor recreation, Rochester offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Rochester is home to a mix of hunting and fishing options not found anywhere else in the country. The city’s large number of giant Canada geese—30,000 at their peak—are prime targets. This species, once thought to be extinct, now thrives in Rochester after being re-discovered here in 1961 as part of the Mayo family’s flock. A power plant keeps the lake unfrozen for geese to congregate year-round.
White-tailed deer, upland bird and wild turkey hunting opportunities are plentiful in the fall. And in the hot summer, Rochester is an angler’s paradise. Southeastern Minnesota’s streams are famous for their native brook and wild brown trout. Fly fishing is a favorite pastime of Minnesotans and the area guide services can help you get equipped, licensed and on the water in no time. In addition to trout, other fish such as walleye, northern pike, bass, perch and catfish can also be caught in the many area rivers, including the mighty Mississippi.
Rochester has some unique attractions for hunting and fishing enthusiasts. With museum-quality animal displays, huge aquariums and trophy animals, Cabela’s is a destination store just west of Rochester. The city’s Gander Mountain has a rare fly-fishing shop. Just south of Rochester, the Pope & Young Club/St. Charles Museum of Bowhunting features the most complete collection of  wooden bows and one of the largest collections of broadhead arrows ever amassed. Northeast of Rochester, the Arrowhead Bluffs Museum boasts a complete Winchester gun collection, American Indian artifacts and mounted wildlife.
Rochester’s Silver Lake Park is a prime location for watching geese, but the city also has a number of other bird-watching hotspots. Whitewater State Park’s steep limestone bluffs and ravine walls, groves of Eastern Red Cedar trees and winding gravel roads provide ample opportunities to find rare birds any time of year. To the west, millions of migrating songbirds, including warblers, vireos, thrushes and sparrows, use the Mississippi River as their migration route. Great blue herons nest in rookeries in the flooded timbered areas on the Mississippi and some areas contain more than 1,000 nests. American white pelicans feed in formation and soar over the area in the summer.
No one should miss the opportunity to see one of the nation’s premier gathering spots for bald eagles. The National Eagle Center, located just outside of Rochester in Wabasha, allows viewers to see countless wild eagles from observation decks as they feed over the Mississippi River and nest in the backwaters. Nearly 100 pairs nest along the river each year, and other lakes and area state parks welcome the majestic birds.
For those looking for other types of outdoor recreation, visitors will find 60 miles of trails connected to downtown Rochester with gorgeous skyline and nature views for hiking, running and walking. The Quarry Hill Nature Center is a great site for recreational fun with more than 100 mounted animals, a huge fish tank, and its own set of paved trails. Enjoy guided wild cave tours in the 13-mile Mystery Cave, the longest cave in Minnesota.
Dining, shopping and fun might also be in the cards for the Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conference in Rochester, but don’t forget to take in “nature’s entertainment” with the plentiful area fishing, bird watching and outdoor recreation options. ◊

–Courtesy Rochester CVB

Conference registration info: www.owaa.0rg/2010conference/register.

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