Spring’s New Iron Ranger Library-Gatherings Come to a Close

Tomorrow we host the last of our Spring Library “New Iron Ranger Gatherings.” Over the last three months, Hello, Range! has been hosting monthly meet-ups at the Hibbing, Virginia and Hoyt Lakes Public Libraries. These gatherings were created to provide a friendly, easy-access place for new folks in the region to connect into community, because as one participant put it,

“Where do you meet people here if you don’t go to bars?”

This is the question! In our small, Iron Range towns, longtime residents have well established hobbies and networks. But if you are new here–really, if you are new to any small town–it can be hard to get to know people.

Each month our Spring “Gatherings” had a topic of focus. In April I gave a brief, high-level overview of regional history starting with the Ojibwe through the discovery of iron ore and influx of immigrants, ending in today’s development of recreation through mine-land reclamation and interim use.

In May we talked about gardening, and Jessalyn Sabin from the University of Minnesota Extension Office provided planting and gardening tips for our region. At Hibbing’s meet-up, Chamber President Shelly Hanson stepped in as moderator, and Mr. Ed’s Farm talked about their farm and the Hibbing Farmer’s Market. In Hoyt Lakes, the Hoyt Lakes Gardening Club attended and connected with existing and new potential volunteers.

In June we covered two topics: recreation and Juneteenth. In Hibbing, Iron Range Off-Road Cyclists, Kari Kilen of Redhead Red Feet (hiking), and Ann Bussey with Silver Sneakers joined in to connect folks with the silent sports and exercise offerings. In Virginia, Voices of Ethnic and Multicultural Awareness in NE MN (VEMA) talked with us about navigating the Iron Range as BIPOC folks and the Juneteenth celebration occurring the day following our meeting.

Tomorrow we are back in Hoyt Lakes and discussing recreation, this time minutes from Giant’s Ridge.

What stands out as I reflect on these sessions is the diversity in attendees. We have single people, married couples, young families, new retirees, LGBTQ, English as additional language speakers, and BIPOC people join us. People have moved to the Iron Range from all over the world for a variety of reasons (starting a new job, retiring to their second home, choosing a rural life and working remotely…), but all attend hoping to connect into community.

Interests vary, from long-distance trail-running to rucking, foraging to gardening, fishing, quilting, theater, and exercise classes… One thing I found personally delightful was bumping into some of my new Iron Rangers at the Victory 5K in Hibbing this past spring. It was a rainy day, yet these hardy folks braved the weather and joined in on three miles of wet, shoe-soaking community fun.

Consistently, the new residents who attend our Gatherings are actively learning about the area and working to meet their neighbors. Thanks to our local libraries and partners, Hello, Range! has been able offer a gathering place with light dinners to help create regular landing places across the region.

With the turn of weather into summer, we are taking our Gatherings on the road, selecting regional events at which to meet-up and try some of the offerings in the area. The Mesabi Iron Range offers a breadth of music, food, and recreation–and we want folks to experience this.

Most importantly, we want people to find a home here on the Iron Range. Hello, Range! is designed to help our communities, schools and businesses thriving by helping people flourish. As Paul Wellstone said,

when we all do better, we all do better.

Special thanks to our partners. We truly couldn’t have done this without them:









Building a Community of Neighbors

When my dog and I return from our daily walk, we scan the street for “the kids.” Six elementary-aged kids live across the street, and my sheep-a-doodle LOVES them. If they are out, I release Mabel from her leash and tell her to go see “the kids.” Off she bounds, bum wagging in utter joy at her friends being out on the street.

To me, this is one little example of what a neighbor is and it bring me joy: my dog knows these little people, and they know her. (In fact, sometimes my doorbell will ring and one of the girls will ask, “can Mabel play?” Mabel will then go out, and they will play fetch, chase and other shenanigans).

More importantly–neighbors help a person feel like they belong.

Earlier this month, my colleague and I attended Welcoming America’s Welcoming Interactive. Held in Dallas, Texas, over 800 people from across the nation convened to learn best practices, share their stories and connect with each other, all in the name of welcoming new people into their communities.

Hello, Range! officially joined forces with this organization when we were offered a place in the Rural Welcoming Initiative. The initiative was created because “Rural communities often have quite a bit to offer these newcomers: steady employment, a reasonable cost of living, social cohesion, and for many, the chance to live in a place that is similar in size to where they come from. While newcomers may initially be drawn to rural places out of economic necessity, they stay when these smaller and more rural places start to become home…”

It isn’t just the new folks that benefit. “Rural areas often thrive in return in part because their U.S.-born population is typically older, and newcomers often help revitalize and add vibrancy to rural communities.”

Working in both education and community development, a major concern voiced in our region is our aging, shrinking population. Carson Gorecki, DEED Regional Analyst for NE Minnesota shared that we had 3,400 job vacancies on average at any point in 2022 in NE Minnesota–and this number does not include Duluth’s job vacancies.

Hello, Range! is tasked with both attracting new folks to the region and helping everyone who is here STAY.

At the Welcoming Interactive, I attended the “Belonging Bootcamp.” Led by Lennon Flowers of The Dinner Party, we got a four-hour primer on how we create belonging. The session was divided into four parts: Understanding our stories of ‘self;’ adaptive leadership; understanding our stories of ‘us’, and diagnosing the problem: getting clear on our ‘why.’

What struck me as the group shared their stories was what made “community” for folks. These stories were not fancy. They were often tied to family and the most mundane of events: riding bikes with neighborhood kids; sharing goods from their gardens… What was key was the feeling of belonging–to someone, to some place.

This month we started our “New Iron Ranger Gatherings.” We meet at different libraries once a month to break bread and chat. I get to hear their stories. They get to hear mine. My hope is that through regular meeting, these attendees will start to feel a sense of connection. And with that, they will stay.

One of the perks of our region is that we have a lot of space: land, job vacancies, classroom seats… There is plenty of room for new folks. And there is plenty of room for us current residents. The Iron Range has a lot to offer. We are still a place where we know our neighbors, and they know our dogs. 🙂  I hope you will join me in celebrating our home and inviting folks to join.

Hello, Range!



Culture Shock “Therapy” at New Resident Gatherings

Starting in April, Hello, Range! will be hosting “New Iron Ranger Gatherings.” Held at the Hibbing, Virginia and Hoyt Lakes Public Libraries, the monthly meet-ups will feature a light dinner, conversation topic and hands-on activity. The purpose: to create a place for new residents to meet others, connect, and learn about their community and this region.

Moving to a new place is always challenging. The taken-for-granted ways in which we meet our needs are suddenly completely different. We have to find new grocery stores, a pet-groomer and running-shoe store (some of my personal priorities). We need to get a primary doctor and find a good school for our kids. The list is endless, and everything that was once routine is now a research project, with best guesses, some successes and some fails.

If we are moving between places that are vastly different (urban to rural, diverse to mono-cultural, international to the United States) there are even more complications: differences in language, culture, and norms can cause an emotional roller coaster–no matter how happy we are to have made the move!

People most commonly think of culture shock occurring when a person moves from one nation to another. But in actuality it occurs much more frequently. Cultural differences exist EVERYWHERE, and thus any move can trigger the sensations of culture shock.

Moving to the Iron Range is no different. As a rural region near the Canadian border, the Iron Range has unique cultural attributes, and every community within the ‘Range has additional traits that separate that community from the next.

Culture shock describes the feelings of “uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country or experiencing a new culture or surroundings.”  It occurs in four phases, and (good news!) it lessens over time:

  1. Honeymoon Stage. In this phase folks are thrilled to be in their new environment and see it as an adventure.
  2. Frustration Stage. As the excitement of the new place wears off, people become “increasingly irritated and disoriented.” In this stage misunderstanding others’ actions, conversations and ways of doing things is common–and irritation, frustration, boredom, and discomfort are the result.
  3. Adaptation Stage and this is when “people feel more at home in their new surroundings.”
  4. Acceptance or Recovery Stage.  is when “people are better able to experience and enjoy their new home… beliefs and attitudes toward their new surroundings improve, leading to increased self-confidence and a return of their sense of humor.”

As a long time equity and inclusion officer at our local college, I have connected with folks from across the country and world as they have landed in our city. I have held fiery coffee dates with folks “frustrated” and bored, and I have jumped from the dock into a fresh clean lake, post-sauna, with people happily “adapted” to Iron Range living.

Research shows there are best practices for dealing with Culture Shock. In their article, “Coping with Culture Shock,” the Canadian Government suggests tips for adjusting to new homes. A couple of these include:

  • Learn the rules of living in your host country (community). Try to understand how and why the local people act the way they do. Their behavior and customs, although they may be different from your own, are neither better nor worse than what you are used to.
  • Get involved in some aspect of the new culture. Whether you study art or music, or learn a new sport or martial art, being an interested student will make a world of difference.
  • Make friends and develop relationships. Getting to know local people will help you overcome cultural differences and understand the country. It will also show you how to be more sensitive to cultural norms and expectations.

The Hello, Range! New Iron Ranger Gatherings are a place to just this: learn about the community. Find connection points for involvement in their new culture. And develop relationships.

If you are new to the community, or you are courting the area, RSVP for these events. They are built for you.

We are glad you are on the Iron Range! We want to help you stay… and be happy!

Photo of leafless tree tops with sun beam

Sunny and Walking Easy

February 26 and at 5:00 PM it is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Nowhere in my memory have we had this kind of glorious day, and it is clear the community is DELIGHTED.

Driving the two mile stretch through town on my way home from work this afternoon, I saw dozens of kids riding their bikes, roller-blades, or mini John Deere tractors. Parents were collecting sticks. Retirees sat in lawn chairs basking in the sun and lack of snow. Reaching home, I dropped by bags in the back door, changed clothes and grabbed my right hand gal, Mabel (sheep-a-doodle). It was too good to miss.

I walk and run all over town with Mabel. One of my favorite parts of living in this region is our old-fashioned walk-ability. In most parts of town our blocks are encircled with sidewalks, and outside of a few adventurous tree-root-created “bike jumps” in some older areas, they are in pretty great shape. (Didn’t you love to try to catch air riding your bike off of those angled sidewalks as a kid?)

And folks are friendly. As I walked our neighborhood, four of my neighbor kids came running to greet my dog and describe their activities. Further down the way, I found a neighbor checking the maple syrup taps already installed (in February!  I am still amazed). A mail carrier asked if Mabel was friendly and with the affirmative went in for a pet.

Years back I had a stint working in Virginia, MN. I worked downtown on Chestnut street, and every lunch hour my co-worker and I would walk. I was stunned the first winter I lived there to find that the city snow-blowed all of the city center sidewalks allowing for great walking all winter long.

This is the kind of thing that is easy to take for granted. But as I travel, I purposefully note those aspects of my life I feel are more easy or accessible at home vs. away. For instance, this last Friday we had a work engagement in St. Paul for which I rented a lovely little AirBNB. The establishment was wonderful, but like many of the neighborhoods of that era, there were no sidewalks. Walking would have required being on the street the whole time, and there was a fair amount of traffic.

As mountain bike enthusiasts, last fall we made the trek to Bentonville, AR, “mountain bike capital of the world.” While Bentonville has built an amazing bike-centric community filled with cool attributes (like The Ledger, an office/coworking/event building around which an outside bike ramp encircles the entire structure, from bottom to top), it was not nearly as easy to traverse by foot as it is on the Iron Range. We were lodged downtown Bentonville, but walking to restaurants/shopping required traversing portions of streets, or marching single-file. And I thought–I like walking at home better!

The thing is, our region works at it. The city of Hibbing, for instance, is currently surveying folks about their experiences walking in Hibbing. The goal is to enhance the ability of people to walk safely all over the town by updating and creating pathways. And Chisholm is in master planning around Redhead to improve access to the mountain bike park from downtown.

It is fantastic to travel. But today I am grateful for a day filled with sunshine and a community where folks still say hello. I am glad that I can easily walk in my neighborhood because it is safe, and we have maintained sidewalks.

It truly is the small things that make life enjoyable.

Join us.



Photo of group walking on MLK Jr Day in Virginia

It’s Official! We have joined Welcoming America!

It’s official! Hello, Range has been accepted into the Welcoming America Rural Welcoming Initiative!

The Welcoming Network is a global network of local governments and nonprofits committed to making communities more welcoming. Led by the nonpartisan nonprofit organization, Welcoming America, Hello, Range! will have access to research, technical assistance, webinars, and collaborative programs with other Welcoming Network organizations.

Why does this matter?

Hello, Range! is committed to recruiting and retaining residents and workforce to the Iron Range. Population trends from the US Census show that we are losing population in our Range cities. But not all rural places are. Counties in the middle-west part of Minnesota GAINED population between 2010-2020. Why are people moving there?

It used to be that folks moved where the jobs were. While that is still true, that is no longer the only consideration for people moving into an area. And we need workforce! We have the jobs. Per Carson Gorecki of MN DEED, we had 4,300 job openings in 2022 in St. Louis County minus Duluth. This is a startling number of vacancies. We want to fill them–NEED to fill them–and in the process, bolster our communities, schools, and amenities.

Being welcoming and inclusive starts from the heart, truly wanting to invite folks into our world. But the best ways to do this on a regional level are not clear. How does the Range help folks find the housing, food, connections and culture that will help them transition into New Iron Rangers?

That is what we aim to find out.

Stay tuned for more on our journey. This week we have our first virtual meeting with our cohort. In August we travel to Dallas, Texas for a conference (funded through a grant).

The Iron Range has a history starting with Indigenous peoples, followed by immigrants. The Iron Range was built by these folks. Time and the economy has melded us into a unique, gritty culture… and they are showing us that, for the Range to succeed, we need folks to move to the Mesabi again.

I hope you will join us in our efforts to keep the Iron Range vibrant. Support Hello, Range! and the new folks who are calling our region home.





Honoring Dr. MLK

Today, on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, I attended a walk and rally in honor of Dr. King’s work. Organized by Minnesota North College-Mesabi Equity and Inclusion committee, folks from across the Iron Range braved the -35 degree wind chill to participate.

In addition to a commemorative mile walk on the Iron Trail Motors Convention Center (ITMCC) indoor track and a line up of local and state speakers, the event included face-painting, a bounce house and free popcorn.

Parents brought their children. Jen Gigliotti, a Chisholm parent and partner in 30 West Fitness and Recreation, said, “the kids were off for the holiday. So this morning we read books about Martin Luther King and then we came to this event!”

On the upper deck of the ITMCC rink (the course for the commemorative walk), birthday letters to Dr. King created by Mrs. Reid’s 2nd grad class at Parkview were posted on the walls.

A few examples (spelling as featured in the letter):

“Happy Birth-Day Dr King! I have a dream that you Dr King was still here. And that bullys werent a thing and we could stop and figer it out to stop them bullys. And help people in need.” signed, Chloe

“Dear Dr. King, I would change the world by being kind. Happy birthday,” wrote Mikai.

“Happy Birthday. I have a (b)ream that evrebudy is fare and cinde. and shareflu. and I don’t kare about peplle’s skin if it’s brown” –unsigned

“Happy Birthday. I have a dream that everone has a house and food and water and a nice life. When I knew that black and whites were not treted the same I was confused. have a nice life, Izayou

“I have a dream girls will be treated the same as everyone else. Happy Birthday Dr. King!” signed Amelia H

Lately I am in a lot of conversations around welcoming and inclusion on the Range. Employers, the college, and governmental entities express desire to help new Iron Rangers (or potential residents) feel welcome. As I looked around the room at today’s event, I thought–all these people bundled up and drove here to support this gathering.

Event keynote speaker Dr. Timothy Berry shared that the word “community” is made up of  “commune–” “to share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone),” and “unity–” “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” Today was one of those days where we saw Iron Range “community” in action.

Hello, Range!

Live from the Iron Range

This winter while creating a reel for Hello, Range!, I bumped into a song by violist Lindsey Stirling. Rated the “highest-ranked female” on Forbes 2015 YouTube Artist List, Stirling played in Hibbing in the mid-2000s during her rise to fame. Her live performance stuck with me. Stirling is classically trained, but she plays violin like a rock star. Her show at Minnesota North College–Hibbing was dynamic, and hearing her music again reminded me how much I love classical music.

This fall I had the opportunity to tour the new Rock Ridge school. Among a variety of jaw-dropping attributes (have you seen the theater?), one area in particular caught my eye: the Birnstihl-Peer Music Arts Wing.

With practice rooms for lessons and a humidity controlled closet, the Birnstihl-Peer wing looks like something from a music school. At its center chairs and tables allow for coursework and collaboration. Around the perimeter are the private areas for music making–including a recording studio. And the instruments! It made me want to be a student again creating music in concert with others.

I think we forget how powerful live music can be if we have not taken in a performance for awhile. With COVID, we all got in the habit of staying home. Recently I have been working to attend arts events available to me. Last summer our family attended a performance of La Boheme, presented by Northern Lights Music Festival, at the Mesabi East theater. The venue was sold-out, and the hall rung with the powerful sounds of professional performers bringing life the classic opera.

With the new snow and return of colder temperatures, I find myself checking out the list of events at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids and the upcoming performances of the Mesabi Symphony Orchestra. I love the escape into good performance, where time disappears and creativity awakens.

One of the perks of being located where we are is the easy access to Duluth’s arts’ offerings. But we also have our own amazing events, spaced nicely on the calendar and across the region. Our new page “Arts on the Range” was created to help broadcast these opportunities.

Music and art are integral to a rich life. Seeing the music wing at Rock Ridge and the Crescendo Youth Orchestra kids carrying their violins into the Lincoln elementary, I am happy our students get the opportunity to make music. Maybe they will become famous. But more importantly, they are getting to create and in the process experience the sound and energy of LIVE music.

Perhaps I’ll see you at the next concert. 🙂








Meme image and Lookout mountain photo

Living the (Inspirational) Meme

The view from my window this morning was crystalline, frosty and sparkling. Each tree branch is covered in frost, creating a magical, fairy-like appearance–a beautiful sight. As I sat down with my coffee to peruse my social, I bumped into the inspirational meme featured in the first-half of the image in this post. What struck me was the background photo: a pine forest, sunlight streaming through its branches. This, my friends, is what we on the Iron Range enjoy on the daily–if we so choose. (more…)

Kids at Hibbing Public Library Story Time

Library Magic

When I moved back to the Iron Range, I was a new mom. Having lived in St. Paul, I was accustomed to having a children’s museum, indoor parks, and the zoo. Suddenly I was back in a small town–and I was in a new role. Where would I find my “people?” Enter the Public Library and story-time. (more…)

WRC MTB Team 2023

Ride Together, Thrive Together

This morning an email in my inbox caught my attention: “Ride Together,Thrive Together,” read the subject line. The article shared the story of a mom who signed up as a volunteer mountain bike coach to support her sixth grade son. The article rang with familiarity as I thought about my team, West Range Composite, Rock Ridge, our neighboring team, and the Iron Range Offroad Cyclists gathering we happened upon at 30 West Bike Shop Saturday. (more…)

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