April showers bring May flowers, and by the end of this particularly rainy month, there will be plenty of beautiful wildflowers sprouting across the state.
But the best wildflowers tend to be off the beaten path, and hard to find without someone in-the-know.
That’s where Rob Bignell comes in.
A former newspaper editor and long-time backpacker, Bignell released “Minnesota’s Best Wildflower Hikes” this April, just in time for wildflower season. The state is home to more than 500 wildflower species, and the guidebook explores over 100 trails, located in every Minnesota county, and the counties of some bordering states.
Each trail is between a tenth of a mile and seven miles — most are only one to three miles long — and Bignell has hiked every one himself over the past decade, often with his son Kieran. Before publication, he revisited some to ensure they’re still accessible and maintained.
Though it depends on location, wildflower season typically runs from early May through October, popping up in southern Minnesota first and making their way north.
“Generally you’ll always find at least three to four kinds of flowers blooming through September. The rule of thumb is a week for every 100 miles — if you see some on the Iowa/Minnesota border, they’ll hit the Twin Cities about a week later,” Bignell said. “There’s always something to see.”
Bignell realized after the birth of his son in 2007 that he had to find new ways to stay outdoors that are a little shorter than weekend camping trips. So he got a special carrier and started day hiking with his toddler on his back — leading to his first of many books, “Hikes with Tykes.” “Minnesota’s Best Wildflower Hikes” is his 30th hiking guidebook and sixth about Minnesota.
As to what makes a guide-worthy trail? There are a few ways Bignell evaluated his choices: Distance, maintenance and “interesting things.”
All trails need to be walked within a day and each has to be maintained, so he’s not sending people out to tick-infested weeds. There has to be something special about each — in this case, flowers, but also unique formations, waterfalls or flora and fauna.
“There’s wildflowers on virtually every trail, but there has to be something unique about it. Some have hundreds of Virginia bluebells, dwarf trout lilies, which only grow in three counties in Minnesota, or popular flowers like the pink lady slipper,” he said.
Bignell hikes three to four trails each weekend, making notes of the things he sees: overlooks, waterfalls, groves of maple trees with autumn leaves and, of course, wildflowers. He’s driven 5,000-6,000 miles crisscrossing Minnesota over the last 10 years, and collected 60-70 travel brochures.
Because hiking with his son has been a goal since the beginning, many of the trails are very family friendly, he said, though it’s a good idea to plan some easy games or activities to keep them interested on the way.
Fans from across the Twin Cities metro stand shoulder to shoulder, swaying back and forth as a powerful voice echoes on stage inside Paisley Park.
A flamboyantly dressed purple figure, standing at 5-foot-3-inches, serenades the audience with “Purple Rain” as the line outside the studio grows long in the early morning hours of a crisp, fall, Midwest day.
On a summer afternoon, Prince Rogers Nelson takes a jaunt on his bicycle near his home in Chanhassen. Dressed in a purple sweatshirt and loose black pants, Prince soaks up the sunshine as his curly, black hair stands firm against the breeze. He is perhaps returning from a coffee run at the nearby Caribou, eating a milkshake at the local Perkins, or simply enjoying a summer day in his neighborhood.
While the world knew him as a rock star, Chanhassen knew Prince as a neighbor. When Prince Rogers Nelson died on April 21, 2016, the world lost a musical legend, but his local community lost so much more. Growing up in Minneapolis, Prince found a home in Minnesota throughout his life.
Many musicians of Prince’s status enjoy a life of stardom in the Los Angeles area. However, like many other things Prince did, he was not one to follow the crowd. Instead, he settled down in a place where he could live as close to a normal life as possible.
“I like Hollywood. I just like Minneapolis a little bit better,” Prince famously said.
Prince found a home in Chanhassen. Here he owned over 200 acres of land, including various sites where he once lived. He famously resided in a purple house on Lake Riley in the early 1980s, around the same time he released one of his greatest hits: “Purple Rain.”
Prince left his purple house in 1985 and purchased 188 acres of land on Galpin Boulevard, located on the other side of Chanhassen. Here he built a house, a gatehouse and also purchased two houses in the neighborhood across the street from his property to protect his privacy.
In 1987, Prince expanded his footprint in Chanhassen when he built a $10 million, 65,000-square-foot complex off Highway 5. Prince wanted a complex where he could live, record music, rehearse and perform all under one roof. This compound is famously known as Paisley Park, named after his popular 1985 release.
Prince had his fingerprints all over the city, and many residents have a story to share about him. It was known that he enjoyed bike rides around town, he shopped at Lunds & Byerlys, he watched movies at the cinema, and he drank coffee at Caribou. The relationship between Prince and his community worked out well because there was mutual respect.
Longtime Chanhassen resident and Mayor Elise Ryan said the citizens loved knowing that Prince was in the community, but they always respected his privacy.
“From a resident perspective, we feel pride because he is an international superstar,” Ryan said. “But also, from a resident perspective, he was just a very private person that liked to keep to himself.”
The legacy preservationist at Paisley Park, Mitch Maguire, said that he thinks Prince was able to develop a relationship with the people in Chanhassen. He described Prince as being one of the community members and an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. Maguire also acknowledged the privacy that Prince desired, and he said the residents in Chanhassen really gave that to him.
“Although Prince did live other places throughout his life, he always came back to Paisley, and this was certainly home base,” Maguire said. “I think [the community respecting his privacy] had a lot to do with it.”
Maguire went on to say that in return for the respect and privacy residents showed Prince, he would routinely invite the community into his home for last-minute concerts and parties after dark. Some of the events even ended in a pancake breakfast for the fans on their way out.
Chanhassen resident and Prince fan Lauri Wagaman sought out those opportunities to witness the musical genius in the flesh. In her first concert experience at Paisley Park, Wagaman and her son could not drag themselves out of the venue, despite her son’s recent ACL injury. The two were awestruck by what Prince was creating right in their own backyard.
Wagaman continued to follow Prince closely and eventually found herself at a semi-private, open rehearsal at Paisley Park with around 40 other fans in attendance. She said that Prince would hold these rehearsals to receive feedback from some of his fans. He was constantly working on his craft and loved inviting the community in to see their reactions to his performances and current work.
Prince was known for giving back to the community in more ways than just music. He had a foundation that donated money to the Chanhassen Elementary School and other organizations. Former Eden Prairie News editor Karla Wennerstrom said the world isn’t fully aware of how important Prince was to his community.
“I think people don’t realize how welcoming he was to the community and how much he did for the community,” Wennerstrom said.
The music teacher at Chanhassen Elementary School Katy Anderson said the donation from Prince’s foundation was used to give a much-needed update to the school’s technology and to purchase a brand-new electric keyboard to replace an out-of-tune, old piano.
Anderson said the gift has given the school a sense of connection to Prince that it has held onto over the years. The students have a real sense of pride knowing the keyboard came from Prince, and it has gotten kids more engaged and excited in the art of music.
“I think it added a sense of coolness to music class,” Anderson said. “Prince is cool, and we have something he gave us, so now music is cool!”
Another way Prince gave back to the community was simply through his presence.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is a well-known attraction of the city where individuals come to dine and enjoy a musical performance. Prince made a surprise appearance during a small concert, sneaking on stage and playing with that night’s performers.
Mayor Elise Ryan thinks that businesses really appreciated his humble nature because he supported them privately, so they knew it was genuine rather than a publicity stunt.
“People always appreciated when he would get involved, but he never made it public when he was doing these things,” Ryan said. “It was out of the good of his heart. He loved giving back but in his own way. He didn’t want the attention.”
The Chanhassen Cinema is another one of those locally owned businesses that appreciated Prince’s humble nature. Prince was known as a fairly regular moviegoer at the cinema. He would come to the movies with a small group of friends, his bandmates or even rent out multiple theaters and invite his fans over after a late-night rehearsal or event.
Former manager and supervisor at the Chanhassen Cinema Bethany Geske recalled what it was like working a night with Prince. He would typically come shortly after midnight wearing his typical unique outfits and sneak in the side alley door to keep his privacy. The managers would have his favorite peanut M&Ms and other snack options out, and then he would watch his movie of choice.
Geske said that it was important for her and the other managers to respect his privacy and let Prince be a normal guy for a while. Sometimes he would stop and talk to Geske about the movie he saw, and other days he would slip out without a word. Overall, the cinema accommodated his desires the best they could and gave him his personal space as he was a very kind customer in return.
“You want to respect his privacy and respect that he might just want to chill and not be Prince for a little bit,” Geske said.
The Chanhassen Cinema is home to the popular Prince mural painted by artist Graham Hoete, also known as Mr. G. The mural was painted shortly after Prince’s death to honor the late legend, and it takes up a large portion of one side of the theater. Former assistant manager at the cinema Taylor Boerboom Hubbard said the mural is a fun way of celebrating Prince, and the community really appreciates the work.
These local businesses miss their generous customer and community member, but the legacy preservationist Mitch Maguire said Prince’s energy lives on at Paisley Park. The creative complex has been turned into a museum so people can continue to celebrate the works of the musical artist. Maguire said that his energy lifts visitors and takes them on a little journey.
Museum collections lead at Paisley Park Makayla Elder said Prince wanted his space to be a museum someday, so he took the time to preserve his wardrobe and shoes. Elder and her colleagues are currently working on an exhibit that will feature 300 to 400 of Prince’s shoes, which is just a portion of his collection.
Paisley Park will open its doors for visitation on April 21, the fifth anniversary of the passing of Prince.
Prince’s former property along Galpin Boulevard is currently being redeveloped into 169 lots. Of the 191 acres, 100 acres will be preserved as parkland along Lake Ann and Lake Lucy.
Lennar marketing manager Krystle Nehls said via email that to honor Prince on his old land, the company has worked closely with his heirs as they planned the community. They have named the streets after Prince’s family and song titles. The development is called “The Park” after Paisley Park, and some residents have planted purple flowers around their houses.
Across from the housing development is Longacres neighborhood, which is home to 245 families. Many of these families who have lived in Longacres for an extended period of time remember when Prince used to live on his Galpin Boulevard property.
Prince even owned two houses in Longacres that overlooked his land. He allowed various friends and band members to reside in these homes over the years.
After living in California for three years and never seeing anyone famous, Brenda Darkow moved in just down the street from the houses Prince owned in Longacres. At the time, drummer in Prince’s New Power Generation band Kirk Johnson lived in one of the houses, and keyboardist Morris Hayes in the other.
Throughout Darkow’s time in Longacres, people cycled through the houses fairly regularly, but Darkow always found it important to treat them as neighbors.
“Everyone has the right to feel safe in their community and not feel inundated,” Darkow said. “Really the most important thing for us is that you’re a good neighbor, so we treated them like any other person.”
Darkow had one interaction with Prince on her street, and it was as simple as a neighborly, Midwest interaction. Prince was driving down the street one day when Darkow gave him a friendly wave just like she does to anyone else driving by. A purple hand waved back, and he shot her a warm, neighborly smile as he drove off.
“I think a lot of people that have lived here a long time have fun memories of Prince just being a person,” Darkow said.
Around the world, Prince was known as a rock star, but in Chanhassen, he was seen as a neighbor. Maguire said that Prince was a thread that held the artistic community together for so many years which is why people here felt his passing differently than others around the world. Knowing that he was in our backyard meant something to a lot of people.
While the surprise death of Prince has been devastating to the world and the Chanhassen community, Maguire thinks it also serves as a reminder to use our time to the fullest.
“Prince was fond of saying ‘You only need 20 minutes of good sleep and the rest is just a waste of time,’” Maguire said. “He took full advantage of his time here.”