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Keepin' it local: Bay City

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BAY CITY - "Over the river and through the wood to grandmother's house we go" starts the holiday croon - and, on this sublime day, the beginning of an afternoon trip.

With Barn Bluff reflecting in my rear view mirror and eastbound eyes on the road, I traveled, and as poet Lydia Maria Child put it best, over the river and through the woods.

Although grandmother's house was not my intended destination, the loved lyric sums up the simple cruise.

The river town lies on Lake Pepin's curves. Sliced by the Great River Road and the bustling Burlington Northern Railroad tracks, Bay City is a highly traveled gateway to the bluff-lined river communities in both states.

Welcomed with a blend of tempting stops, I spied the familiar single stretch of town. Bay City offers java at Coffee by the Bay, lunch at Mike's Bay Town Bar and Grill, delectable sweets from Flat Pennies Ice Cream and also to an oddly famed, incredibly popular and perfectly named antique shop, Old Stuff. The façade of the community charms open-minded passersby.

Almost hypnotized by trains chugging by, I snapped to my senses and stopped for a cool treat at Flat Pennies Ice Cream. Decked in choo-choo garb on its logged walls, the inviting interior entices not only children but the train workers themselves.

"The trains will stop right in front of us," said Lorna Ross, co-owner of Flat Pennies Ice Cream. Crews hop out and across the street. "They just love the ice cream."

Tucked between the boutiques of the main drag and the calm water of the lake sits Bay City Hardware and Marine. You can find it by taking the sole right-turn over the tracks onto Wabash Street.

The hardware store has survived through the village's history and remains one of the only two original operations in the community.

"A lot has changed here, but the store has remained," said local resident and Bay City Hardware and Marine worker Judy Albarado.

Albarado's grandfather worked as a fisherman on the lake and established his family's roots in the area. Filled with stories of the past and a memory that mapped out the once boomed Main Street, Albarado offers a rare glimpse of the village and opened my eyes to a new level of appreciation for the community.

"It's small, but there still is a heartbeat," said Missi Blue, co-owner of Bay City Hardware said.

Blue recently added kayak rental to the store's inventory.

"No one sells or rents kayaks on Lake Pepin," Blue said. "We thought this would be a great opportunity for us and for people to get out and enjoy the water."

Upon further exploration, the luminous waters of the lake led to the family-friendly Hortenbach and Saratoga parks and a beach front camping.

Small town or not, there is no question Bay City offers magnetizing charm with exclusive organic beauty.

Feeling the heartbeat, from either the village's soul or just the train tracks, my trip over the river and through the woods left me as gratified as a trip to grandma's house.

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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