Norskedalen’s Midsummer Fest

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What do a farmstead arranged in a horseshoe shape, an open-face sandwich, rømmogrøt ice cream, and an official U.S. Strongman competition have in common?

They all have links to Norwegian culture, and they’re all part of the Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center’s 2024 Midsummer Fest, set for June 22 on the Norskedalen grounds in Coon Valley, on Vernon Electric Cooperative lines.

Norskedalen, which translates to Norwegian valley, is a 400-plus-acre site nestled deep within the state’s Coulee region, whose geographic resemblance to the steep hillsides and valleys of Norway enticed immigrants from that country to settle here in the mid-1800s. The center is multi-faceted, with the Bekkum Homestead and other features providing a full immersion into history, while the surrounding arboretum and hiking trails provide a full immersion into nature.

Norskedalen is open year-round for visitors to explore on their own or through a guided tour of the homestead buildings. There’s also a steady offering of school-age educational programs; nature activities such as bird walks and nature journaling; heritage classes where participants can learn old-world skills like embroidery and making lefse; and annual special events, including the popular Midsummer Fest, which promises to be better than ever this year.

“We’ve got a lot of fun things planned,” said Lori Dubczak, executive director of Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center. “We’ve got our very favorite traditions that we do every year, and this year we’ve got a couple of brand-new things that tie into the agriculture and Norwegian heritage of the area.”

Yearlong Fun at Norskedalen


Midsummer Fest is just one of many annual events held at Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center.

Music in the Valley
Midsummer Fest kicks off Norskedalen’s summer Music in the Valley season, a free outdoor concert series held on Wednesday evenings through mid-August. Guests are invited to bring blankets and lawn chairs to relax in as they enjoy an eclectic mix of music. Dinner is available for purchase in the Norskedalen shelter at each concert and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. However, guests are also welcome to carry in their own snacks and beverages.

Threshing Bee Dinner
Music in the Valley season ends with the annual Threshing Bee Dinner, generally held the second Wednesday of August. This event, featuring a farm-fresh dinner, pays homage to the old-time threshing bees, when neighbors came together to help each other with the harvest.

Twilight Tour
A more formal dinner is served in early September for the annual Twilight Tour, which features a three-course dinner catered by a local chef followed by a guided tour of the valley at twilight.

Civil War Experience
Reenactors bring the Civil War to life in October with an encampment on the Norskedalen grounds. The day typically features military drills and battle re-enactments, as well as demonstrations and music.

Ghoulees in the Coulees
One of the most popular events on Norskedalen’s calendar is Ghoulees in the Coulees, featuring haunted hikes and family-friendly trick-or-treating through the spookily decorated grounds. Visitors can help prepare for this event at the Pumpkin Carving weekend held a week before Halloween.

Old-Fashioned Christmas
Get ready for the holidays at Norskedalen’s Old-Fashioned Christmas, held the first Saturday in December. At this lively event visitors can partake in traditional Norwegian holiday customs, including a meatball dinner.

Candlelight Hike
Celebrate winter at Norskedalen’s annual Candlelight Hike, typically held in February or March, depending on weather conditions.

Plans for 2024 events are still in the works; check www.norskedalen.org or call 608-452-3424 as events get closer to learn more details. Please note that some events require advanced registration.

Tried-and-True Traditions

Among the favorite activities of Midsummer Fest—and any other visit to Norskedalen, for that matter—is a chance to wander through the Bekkum Homestead, a collection of historic buildings that were moved to the site in 1982 and arranged in a tun—a horseshoe-shaped pattern—that was typical of a turn-of-the-century Norwegian farm. The homestead includes a two-story farmhouse, summer kitchen, springhouse, corn crib, granary, outhouse, chicken coop, machine shed, stable, barn, and blacksmith’s shop. Each building is filled with historical artifacts donated by local families.

 

 

 

 

Each of the individual buildings that make up the Bekkum Homestead are authentic structures that were built and used by Norwegian immigrants in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“All of our historic buildings are authentic,” Dubczak pointed out. “They were actually built and lived in from the 1860s until probably the middle of the 1970s. They’re not replicas—they’re the real deal. And so we’ll have those open with docents for the day, and you can go learn about families that lived and worked there. You can see their tools, you can see their rolling pins, you can see their mixing bowls, you can see their cookstoves. The blacksmith will be there, so you can see the forge going and see just how important it was to have a blacksmith on your property.”

Visitors of all ages will have fun searching for the nisse hidden along the Troll Trail route.

Norskedalen’s historic buildings also include the Benrud Little White Chapel, formerly the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, built in 1886 and moved to the Norskedalen grounds in 2009. The chapel can be rented for weddings and other celebrations, but for Midsummer Fest plans are for the chapel to house a display of bunad, the traditional, elaborately embroidered Norwegian folk costume.

There will also be live music throughout the day and plenty of family-friendly nature activities such as Butterfly Bingo, a Pollinator Path for which children can collect pollinator tokens at each stop, and a scavenger hunt that takes families throughout the entire Norskedalen property.

And of course, there will be lots of Norwegian food.

“We’ll have fabulous homemade lefse, strawberry shortcake, and open-face sandwiches, which is a very traditional option in Norway,” Dubczak said. “We will also have rømmegrøt ice cream, which is a homemade ice cream based on the winter porridge that’s traditional in Norway.”

Norskedalen’s Midsummer Fest features activities that celebrate the area’s Norwegian heritage.

A Strong Addition

While guests are taking in the music, food, history, and nature of Norskedalen, they can marvel at the brute strength exhibited at the accompanying United States Strongman-sanctioned competition that will be a new feature of this year’s Midsummer Fest.

The historic Benrud Little White Chapel can be rented for weddings or other events.

“We’re partnering with U.S. Strongman because strongman competitions have Norwegian Viking roots,” Dubczak explained. “You see these strongmen tossing boulders and tree stumps and pulling cars, and all of those events originated with the Vikings because that’s what the Viking strongmen needed to do to clear their fields and all the other things they needed to do. So there’s a strong tie-in to that event.”

The competition will be held in an open field north of Norskedalen’s main shelter, where the food will be served and many of the day’s main events will be centered. A hiking trail that winds around a hillside above the field will allow for a prime, safe viewing spot for spectators.

Viking strength also plays into those trails via the Hiking Vikings, an element that was added to Norskedalen’s activities last summer and expanded upon for this year. To become a Hiking Viking, visitors hike Norskedalen’s miles of varied nature trails, collecting points for each trail. This year, the center is adding some weekend challenges, including one on Midsummer Fest weekend, for which the center identifies different spots along the trails for hikers to seek out, take a selfie, and then present their selfie for a gift.

“For the first challenge you accomplish you get a Norskedalen hat from the gift shop,” Dubczak said. “And then for every subsequent challenge we’ve got hat pins of varying shapes and sizes and colors, and you just fill up your hat with different hat pins. This is something your whole family can do.”

Yearlong Fun

Norskedalen has miles of trails for all skill levels.

Midsummer Fest is a fun-filled day, but there’s no need to wait for a special event to experience the natural and cultural features of Norskedalen. Guests can check in at the Thrune Visitors’ Center, which houses museum galleries and a gift shop, to pick up self-guided tour brochures to help guide them through the Bekkum Homestead. Cell phone tours are also available.

Volunteer docents are typically on hand in the Bekkum Homestead from noon to 3 p.m. daily to offer guided tours of the historic buildings; however, Dubczak recommends that visitors with set plans call ahead if they want a guided tour to ensure a docent will be available.

Guests can also pick up maps to guide them through the Helga Gundersen Arboretum, with its bubbling springs, ponds, waterfalls, and an accessible trail; as well as the various hiking trails that cross the property. There’s a trail to fit every age and skill level, including the popular Troll Trail, where the young and young-at-heart can have fun searching for the little Norwegian gnomes—known as nisse—that are hiding along the pathway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interpretive signs along the Pine Loop Trail help guests learn about what they’re walking
through. The Helga Gundersen Arboretum, with its bubbling streams and waterfalls, is a fun
place to explore.

Whether it’s history, heritage, or feats of strength, Norskedalen has it all, in the middle of summer or any other time of year.—Mary Erickson

Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center is located at N455 O. Ophus Rd., Coon Valley, WI 54623. It’s open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, visit www.norskedalen.org or call 608-452-3424.

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