On The Road to Houston: A small town with an abundance of charm - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

On The Road to Houston: A small town with an abundance of charm


You may think northern Minnesota is the ideal place for outdoor life, but the southeastern part of the state has its fair share of scenery.

The city of Houston, for example, sits in the Root River Valley with rolling bluffs in the distance, and offers plenty to do both inside and outside.

Houston is about one hour east of Rochester, however, the small town isn't as populous as the Med City.

Roughly 1,000 people call Houston home, and it's small town charm is unlimited.

KTTC's Shannon Rousseau went on the road to Houston to find the not-so hidden treasures of the southeastern town.

If you're looking for a bite to eat, Barista's Coffee House is one of a handful of places to go.

The chipped, blue paneled business sits on North Grant St, and if you're coming into town from the north, it's hard to miss.

Bells ring against the door when you first walk into the shop, which is even smaller than what it looks like from the outside.

Four tables with chairs welcome guests upon arrival on the left side. On the right side, two bookshelves hold trinkets like books, movies, and town-made goodies.

The menu is written in chalk on the wall behind the cashier with enough options to satisfy any customer.

Paninis, scones, breakfast items, and drinks that look and sound like they're straight out of Willy Wonka's factory are just a few of Barista's Coffee House selections.

"It's not just about the coffee. We have the atmosphere, food, smoothies, and we have music on the weekends," said Elizabeth June, the owner of Barista's Coffee House for the last nine years.

Rewind to nine years ago when she had only worked at the shop for a few months before deciding to buy it herself. "I knew it could be so much more."

Now in 2017, Barista's has become so much more. In fact, if you ask any local, they'll tell you Barista's is the town's hot spot.

"It's so busy that it gets to be a little crazy. I can't believe the people that gather here."

The coffee shop also houses some history behind its blue paneled exterior. It used to be a barbershop back in the late 1800s, but more than 100 years later you can still see where the three barber's chairs once stood. Pictures from the 1800s of what the shop used to look like hang on the walls above the tables. 

Barista's Coffee House is a must-see for history lovers.

After you've satisfied your hunger and thirst, it's time to head over to the International Owl Center on East Cedar St.

Houston's International Owl Center opened in 2015 and is the only owl education center in the United States.

If you're lucky, you might get to meet Alice, a 20-year-old great horned owl.

"Her bad [left] wing droops down, she's got some arthritis in her wing...she broke [it] when she was a baby and fell out of her nest," said Karla Bloem, executive director of the International Owl Center.

She said she didn't intend to start the center in Houston. 

"I was trying to figure out how to put tourism and environmental education together. I thought, 'let's do a hatch day party and we'll make it into an owl event.' The first year we had 300 people show up...within a few years we had people flying here from Alabama, New York, and California."

The center has programs everyday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m, with an added 3:30 p.m. program during the summer months.

You'll get to meet the owls and learn ways to help save them if you decide to attend.

Bloem mentioned that too many people use rodent poison instead of traps. "Sixty to eighty percent of wild owls have rodenticide in their body."

The programs also covers other things like taking down unused barbed wire, which is an important note because, according to Bloem, owls can get caught in it and usually end up dying.

But you'll also get to learn fun facts like the complexity of owl eyes. "[Alice's] eyeballs are literally as large as an adult human's eyes. Her brain is smaller than one eyeball." Meaning Alice's head is mostly eyeballs. 

"They're so huge they don't move in their sockets at all. They always look straight forward. That's why you see always see them looking straight ahead."

But if you aren't into indoor activities, you can always head outdoors.

A big event taking place the last full weekend in July is "Houston Hoedown."

Events will be happening all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (July 28 - July 30). 

It's dubbed "a top 10 Minnesota celebration." 

Houston is also a trailhead for the Root River State Trail.

If you start in Houston and ride it til the end you'll end up in Fountain, making it a 42 mile one-way trip. 

The trail runs through Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, and Rushford, and can be used for hiking, biking, in-line skating, and skiing. 

However, if you choose to ski you will need a ski pass. Otherwise, no other fees or permits are required to use the trail. 

You might also get to see wildlife like wild turkeys, deer, and hawks during your trek.

According to the Minnesota DNR's website, "Historical buildings and rural communities along the trail provide sites of interest as well as many services. Campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, museums, outfitters and unique stores can be found in many of the trail towns."

For more information about the small town of Houston, click here.

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