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Back Roads: A campground building also is a history lesson

The office of the Maple Springs Campground is the old White Gates Cafe that was in Preston for a few decades before being moved to the campground next to Forestville State Park.

FORESTVILLE — Cindy and Paul Hamlin and Jeff Skifter came for the coffee, Jennifer Skifter came for an orange Tootsie pop and others came into the old white building to register their car so they could fish Forestville Creek or for a bag of ice, fishing lures or camping food.

Whether they were aware of it or not, all also got a dose of history.

The 70-year-old building is the office of Maple Springs Campground and Country Store on Fillmore County Road 118 just outside Forestville State Park. It once was the White Gate Cafe in Preston. It was moved to the campground about 20 years ago after it was scheduled to be torn down to make room for a medical clinic, said Doris Palmer, who owns it with her husband, John Palmer.

The original lunch counter is still in use and the place where the Hamlins and Skifter sat Saturday to drink coffee and catch up with local doings. Two of the original stools, the kind you could sit on and spin, are still there.

It's so good that the Preservation Association of Minnesota last year named it No. 1 in its list of "Top Ten Cabins, Campgrounds and Motels" across the state.


Doris Palmer said they didn't have to do anything or fill out forms. The alliance just called and said, "Congratulations, you're a winner." She just accepted it graciously.

But then, that's the way it is in the campground — low key.

Parents will call and ask about game rooms or other modern things for kids such as a go-kart track or bouncy castle, she said.

"No, I say, we have a dirt pile," Palmer said.

"Click," the line goes dead. Maple Spring is not for everyone. "But some people want their kids to know about nature," she said. They can roam around, play in the creek, fish, play in the dirt pile, come to the store for candy or ice cream or just dream.

That's OK with Paul Hamlin who farms north of Le Roy. The family is only 21 miles away, it's a nearby getaway. "To me, it's more homey," he said. "It adds to the camaraderie." Modern games or amenities "wouldn't fit in," he said.

"It looks like it's always been here," said Lois Vander Plas, sister to Doris Palmer and wife to Arv Vander Plas, who had the idea of moving the cafe to the campground.

Jeff Skifter said, "I like the peace and quiet; kids can run free." Better yet, there's no cellphone reception, though Palmer said that's not totally true. Some people have been able to get reception if they stood atop their campers or if they find the right spot. It's also possible a tower will be built in the area, she said.


While it would bring more of the modern world, it would be good because some campers are patients at Mayo Clinic and need to be in touch. If there's an emergency, people call the campground and they find the camper, she said.

Their parents, Don and Zolamae Prohaska bought the land along Forestville Creek in the 1960s to farm it, and the family later turned it into the campground.

Skifter said his daughter maybe doesn't know about all the history and doesn't realize how good it is to know about old things and history. Still, "it's going to grow on her," he said.

Doris Palmer, an owner of Maple Springs Campground, chats with campers Candy and Paul Hamlin, Jeff Skifter and his daughter, Jennifer Skifter, 11, in the campground's office that once was a restaurant in Preston.

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