With an icicle hanging from its mouth, it seemed appropriate that Otto the Otter stood guard over the lake at Grotto Park. The world’s largest otter sculpture calls Fergus Falls home. While most may think that summer would be the best time of the year to visit Fergus Falls, most anyone who knows us understands a late-autumn cold front couldn’t keep us from venturing to Minnesota in order to see the world’s largest otter. We’re huge fans of the “world’s largest” attractions and will travel almost anywhere to see them.
Otto stands more than a dozen feet high and is about 40 feet long. The statue – built in 1972 – may be the best community mascot ever, as Fergus Falls is in Otter Tail County’s seat.
It also didn’t hurt that we wanted to see Mandy Harvey in concert at the city’s theater. The deaf singer lost her hearing at about age 18 and head to learn to sing again. Watching her in concert was personal for me, as I also have spent a chunk of my life with hearing issues. But, more on Mandy and the show later.
Our visit to Fergus Falls coincided with a storm front that dropped a few inches of snow in the area and kept temperatures in the upper teens during the weekend. But, if you live in the Midwest, you know that it’s part of the seasonal changes and life in the northern tier. So, we made do. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take walks along some of the nature trails in the area, but that’s a reason to come back in the spring.
Angel of Hope
While visiting Otto, we also visited the Angel of Hope memorial. Featuring an angel at its center, the memorial honors parents who have lost children. Angel of Hope parks are located around the country.
Once the site of a state mental hospital, people visit the grounds of the Fergus Falls State Hospital. Operating for more than 100 years, the mental asylum closed in 2005. With beautiful architecture, the former hospital is a photographer’s dream. The grounds provide spacious areas to walk and explore the property’s exterior. Interior tours are not offered.
Staying with the beauty of the area, the Kaddatz Gallery in downtown Fergus Falls provides a look at local artists. Featuring murals, portraits, landscapes and more, the non-profit art gallery showcases the work of local artists Scott Gundvaldson and Charles Beck. It also hosts special exhibits recognizing other artists.
A few miles outside town stands Phelps Mill, an old flour mill. Built in the late 1880s, the mill operated for about 50 years. Today, the park hosts a festival each July.
Following our outdoor activities, we sought a nice hot drink, so we visited Higher Grounds, a coffee house in a former church. It’s fitting, as the coffee house offers a spiritual atmosphere. During our visit, Lisa and I each enjoyed a vanilla latte as we split a peanut butter treat. The coffeehouse also sells locally-made products, including handbags and home décor.
Staying at the Country Inn and Suites at the conference center, we decided to grab lunch at Z103 Bar and Grill at the hotel. The restaurant, with a music-theme, is a good place to grab lunch or dinner and watch sporting events. They turned TVs to the Nebraska football game during our visit. I am a sucker for a good salad bar, and the Z103 had one. With a nice selection of lettuce and accent vegetables, I enjoyed my visit to the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Lisa ordered a turkey club sandwich with homemade chips. We were both happy with our selections.
Following lunch, we ventured back out to the city. The Otter Tail County history museum is closed weekends September-May. While it offers a look into local history, outside it has a few attractions available year-round. A large sculpture of a Canadian snow goose is located near the museum.
Mandy Harvey concert
Since we were catching the concert downtown, we figured a downtown restaurant would be the best choice. Man, did we pick the right one! Don Pablo’s offers authentic Mexican cuisine in an environment that celebrates Hispanic culture and traditions. With colorful walls and displays, the ambiance challenges the food for the best thing about visiting Don Pablo’s. The food is outstanding, from tasty salsa to complement its fresh nacho chips to delicious burritos and enchiladas.
Following dinner, we walked up the street to the Fergus Theatre – aka Center for the Arts – where we were joining about 400 others to watch the Mandy Harvey concert. Harvey, 30, has Ehlers-Danlo syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. She struggled with hearing throughout life, eventually going deaf at 18. Her dream of being a choir director was over. Her father, who travels with the band on its tours, challenged to find an outlet to help her with music. He eventually encouraged her to sing. Her singing eventually landed her a spot as a competitor on the NBC show “America’s Got Talent.” While she didn’t win (she finished fourth), her appearance helped other hearing-impaired people around the world.
Since she can’t hear music, she “feels” it. Using inflated balloons as an example, she asked people in the audience to hold balloons being tossed around the theater during songs, so we could feel the beat through the balloons. Since she lost her hearing as a young adult, Harvey is able to speak clearly with little issue. Signing as she talks, she teaches songs to her fans, including “Over the Rainbow.” It was impressive watching people do their best to keep up with her as she sang and signed the song.
As I said earlier, I’ve suffered hearing issues most of my life. As a young kid, growing up in Kennard, Nebraska, we played games such as rock fights. Most of our streets in the village of about 300 were gravel. Kids will be kids. Then, I got hit on the left side of my head, breaking my eardrum. I was nearly deaf in my left ear until I had a graft installed at the age of 15. My hearing went from about 50 percent to nearly 100 percent, allowing me to be able to serve in the Air Force following high school. But, as the years pass, my hearing in the left has become a little worse. Nothing like it was as a child, but still…So, I found Mandy Harvey to be uplifting and motivational.
Fergus Theatre’s schedule includes professi0nal shows, as well as local programs. Tributes bands for Chicago and Neil Diamond are scheduled to perform in 2019.
Since Lisa and I both worked for Radisson Hotels, we’re very familiar with the Country Inn and Suites brand. It’s always been one of our favorite hotel chains, because you know you can trust you’ll get a clean, comfortable room with decent breakfast options. Our trip to Fergus Falls included a suite, which had a small work room in addition to the bedroom and living room.
Fergus Falls offers a mix of history and culture with nature. While Mother Nature derailed our trail walking plans, she couldn’t stop us from enjoying the city’s other attractions. We plan a return visit in the Spring to take those walks. We enjoyed our visit to the western Minnesota city and recommend visiting.
For more information on Fergus Falls’ attractions, check out visitfergusfalls.com.