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Curt Johnson: 'Songs of Tall Grass' in Fergus

Prior to radio and television, CDs and DVDs, early settlers on the plains of Minnesota had to rely on their ingenuity and creativeness for entertainment.

Prior to radio and television, CDs and DVDs, early settlers on the plains of Minnesota had to rely on their ingenuity and creativeness for entertainment.

This could be as simple as sitting amongst the prairie flowers and listening to the wind sing through the tall native grasses. Granted, it wasn't a Billy Joel concert, but it was soothing and gave pioneers a break from their sunrise to sunset regimen of tilling the soil and tending herds to provide a daily existence.

These contemplative sessions also spurred countless songs and poems describing life on the prairie and the inspiration to labor another day to make a better life tomorrow.

Now, much of that ancestral music is being brought back to the plains of Western Minnesota in a classic musical that tends to send people from the theater humming the songs they just heard.

"Songs from the Tall Grass" is a musical that brings back the forgotten voices of America's homesteaders. "Songs from the Tall Grass" is an exquisitely crafted collection of songs, letters, journals and stories that dramatizes the lives of men, women and children who homesteaded the vast, wild, tall grass prairie -- known today as America's heartland.


"Songs from the Tall Grass" was originally and exclusively performed at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. since its conception two years ago.

This will be the only opportunity to view this spectacular production outside of Ford's Theatre. The historic Fergus Theatre in Fergus Falls will be home to this production Aug. 14-31 for 15 performances. The historic Fergus Theater has been completely renovated and provides theatergoers with a warm 'escape' atmosphere in which to immerse oneself into the music and time of a bygone day.

"Songs of the Tall Grass" was written by Michael Ross, Phoef Sutton, Emily Corey and Randy Hale. Playwright Randy Hale will personally narrate each performance at the Fergus Theater. Janet Preus will direct "Songs from the Tall Grass."

The community of Fergus Falls is also tying many other community events to this three-week long series of performances.

The American Indian Dancers will be held at the Otter Tail Co Historical Museum Aug. 15. The "Return to the Prairie Days: celebration will take place at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center Aug. 23.

Lake Christina funding

The Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) has approved a funding request that clears another hurdle for the reclamation of Lake Christina in west-central Minnesota.

The LCMR approved a grant of $550,000 to Ducks Unlimited (DU) to improve wildlife habitat on shallow lakes, including $450,000 for reclamation work on Lake Christina. Part of the reclamation plan includes eliminating undesirable fish in the lake -- an expensive proposition that will cost in excess of $600,000.


The famed canvasback lake, which straddles Douglas and Otter Tail counties near Ashby, once served as a stopover area for up to 20 percent of the entire continent's canvasbacks.

The 4,000-acre shallow lake was rich in duck foods -- especially sago pondweed, wild celery and chara. Infestations of exotic fish species, like carp and other fish that can impair water quality, had greatly diminished the lake for wildlife by the 1950s. Two attempts since then to improve the lake have had good results, but within the last 15 years, problems have again arisen.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, with assistance from DU and many other partners, is implementing the plan to again improve the lake.

Included in that plan is the construction of fish barriers on inlets to the lake. There is currently an electric fish barrier at the outlet of Lake Christina, but fish can still re-enter via the as-yet-open inlets.

Tim Bremicker, who is the DNR's Wildlife Division director, noted that Lake Christina is one of the top 10 Minnesota lakes in terms of its significance to waterfowl, and reiterated its continental importance.

More than 45,000 acres of habitat have been conserved since the Habitat Corridors Partnership was formed in 2001.

Johnson, who works with the Minnesota Office of Tourism in St. Paul, can be reached at (651) 297-3488 or via e-mail at curt.johnson@state.mn.us

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