NEW ULM - Ron Bolduan is a self-proclaimed River Rat. Most of his youth was spent on the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers and their tributaries exploring what the waters had to offer.
Now he wants to give back to the rivers that gave him so much pleasure over the years and educate others on how the rivers across Southern Minnesota serve as an important piece to our past, present and future.
"I had great river experiences as a child," Bolduan said. "I want children to get away from video games and other electronics for a while and just enjoy the river. I just want to generate interest in the river and the environment."
Visitors to the River Region History and Information Center look at the exhibts. (Photo by Ron Bolduan)
Bolduan gives programs to schools and local organizations on the river and how to protect it. He wanted a permanent home for his displays and artifacts, now he has one.
The Regional River History and Information Center is in the old Franklin School House on Front Street in Riverside Park, which overlooks part of the Minnesota River in New Ulm.
They share the building with the Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River or CCMR.
"I always thought it would be nice to have a place to keep my stuff instead of my garage," Bolduan said. "When [CCMR executive director Scott Sparlin] came up with this as a center for the CCMR and I talked to him about how it would be cool to make this a history center. I said, 'you know, I have a lot of stuff we could put in here.' I thought it would be tough to fill it but we are starting to run out of room. If we do run out of room, my stuff will just go on the back burner."
The rivers in Minnesota are an asset to the communities they run and Bolduan wants people to understand that.
"Our goal is to make people much more aware of the Minnesota River," he said. "Which is right in the heart of New Ulm and in the heart of Minnesota. We are River Rats. Scott [Sparlin] he is quite the advocate, he gets people aware and involved in cleanups. My goal is to make people appreciate it. Once they appreciate what they have, they are going to work hard to maintain it an preserve it."
The history center is Bolduan's pride and joy. It takes up one room of the building and is dedicated to artifacts that he has acquired in his travels in the river valley and some pieces that were donated to the center.
He always hated it when he was a young and people told him, 'you can look but don't touch.' He didn't want that to be the case with his displays.
"All of this is hands on," he said. "They are free to handle anything that is mine."
One of the most interesting aspects of the history center might be the display dedicated to the harvesting of clams.
"This used to be quite a business in the local area," Bolduan said. "They used to harvest them and send them to Muscatine, Iowa where they would punch out buttons. They did this until the late 1930s when plastics started to become the way they produced buttons."
He has several old clam shells, some examples of clam buttons and clam hooks to show how the harvesting took place.
He also has a clam bar that was donated to the museum by Don Steinbach [bottom photo].
The clam hooks attach to the bar and they used to drag the bar across the bottom of the river to catch the clams. He said the meat was used as well for fertilizer and for animal food but the main value was the shells.
He also has a display dedicated to beavers, with chunks of wood and parts of trees that beavers have chewed up. [See photo to the right].
"I always wanted a tree that was chewed by a beaver to show kids," Bolduan said. "But they go through a little tiny tree so easily. Most of the ones I find are three-feet wide and that is too large for me to carry around."
He has several bison bones, turtle shells, animal pelts and a large rock that was once used as an anchor on a steamboat.
There is a display dedicated to the river's history [photo at bottom right] and displays of fish in the the Minnesota River.
Bolduan also has what he calls a "Wall of Fame," which is a display of photos that show large fish people have caught over the years in the area rivers.
"They are photos that I have accumulated over the years," Bolduan said. "I would love people to contact me with more photos and other artifacts.
"We would love to display them here. We don't want to display the same thing month after month year after year. It's nice to have a little bit of variety."
One thing the history center is looking for is volunteers. Joyce Reese of the Minnesota Valley Action Council is the only person they have to run the building and she is there from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week. Currently there are no weekend hours but he hopes to have some in the future.
There will be an open house Saturday, Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
People are welcome to come and tour the facility as well as ask questions and find out more information about Bolduan and CCMR's programs.
The center will also be open during River Blast on Labor Day weekend.
On Friday, their hours are 2-8 p.m. and Saturday they will be open 12-7 p.m.
The 3M River Rats and the New Ulm Area Sports Fisherman will hold a river cleanup in Belle Plaine. For more information contact CCMR at 359-2346 or Tony Miller at 354-2457. There will also be information at the open house.
For more information and for anyone that wants to go and see the history center can make an appointment by calling Bolduan at 354-8367 or visit his Web site at www.experiencenature.com.