Lyle Keller - Peterson, MN

Woodland in God’s Country

Living in Cedar Rapids at the time, Lyle and Judy Keller knew they wanted to eventually move back to southeastern Minnesota’s bluff country, an area that many call God’s Country. Lyle had grown up in Winona and Judy in northeast Iowa. In 1984 they discovered and purchased what Lyle calls “an abused farm” adjacent to the Root River near Peterson, Minnesota, which is about 30 miles southeast of Rochester and 15 miles from the Iowa border.

The 146 acre farm, which consisted of 20 acres of tillable ground, 25 acres of CRP and 101 acres of woodland that had never been logged, became a weekend retreat. Lyle immediately went to work managing and improving the land. In 1986 he obtained a Stewardship Plan that has been revised twice since. In 1987 the land was designated a Tree Farm.

Lyle did his first major tree planting in 1987. “I planted 1,000 white pine and 800 red pine but, thanks to the drought in 1989 and 90, this became my first crop failure. Today, only about two dozen of those trees have survived. Replanting this area is on my agenda, perhaps for this year.”

Lyle, a civil engineer, was employed by a road construction firm Cedar Rapids based. “During my early years in the road construction business, I traveled all over the country. But this company concentrated on eastern Iowa so, even if I had to be out on the job during the day, I could still make it home at night. It was a good job until the owner’s family members began to fill top positions in the company. Some of them made working life miserable so, in 1995, Judy and I decided to retire and move to our farm land.”

The home they built is located in a small meadow at the end of a one-thousand foot driveway that rises some 200 feet above the county road below. “Walking down to the mailbox and back up to the house is good exercise, especially in winter,” Lyle said. “For plowing, I have an ASV unit (like a Bobcat with rubber tracks). It does a great job except when the driveway is icy. On those occasions, I get the township to bring out a load of crushed limestone. They back up the driveway while slowly dumping the limestone.”

The first major logging was done in 1999. “The wooded acres here had never been logged,” Lyle said. “We took out 113,000 board-feet, 85% of which was red oak. Logging on hills as steep as mine was a challenge. The trees were taken down with chain saw and then pulled up the hill with a cable skidder.” Now, 10 years later, regeneration has been so complete one cannot see where the trees were removed.

The remaining mature trees include three 20-inch black walnuts. “One of those trees has two logs of veneer and one of lumber. I’ll have them harvested when they reach 24 inches. The income from those trees should be enough to pay one month’s rent for me at Sunnyside Manor,” Lyle said jokingly.

Lyle works continually to improve his woodland. In fact, he’s reduced his activities to an acronym as he talks about his TSI work – timber stand improvement.

Hunters also consider this area to be God’s Country with big whitetail bucks and plentiful turkeys. Lyle said, “We saw the first turkeys here in the mid-1980s. Now while driving, one has to watch as carefully for turkeys as for deer.”

Mini-Vacation Idea

Lanesboro is just 10 miles down the road from Lyle’s place outside Peterson. Here’s an idea for a summer or fall weekend getaway in God’s Country:

  • Make reservations at a B&B or boutique hotel through
  • Rent bicycles for a scenic trip done one of the paved trails that make the area famous.
  • Rent a Segway. With a 10-minute driving lesson, you’ll be ready to cruise another scenic trail trial.
  • Tour local Amish farms, either with a self-guided tour or in a group with a professional guide.
  • Finally, call Lyle Keller to make arrangements to stop by and talk woodlands. Reach him at 507-875-2215.