Wisconsin’s Culture - Thrive!

Thrive! Center and Park

For me, finding the Thrive! Center and Park was a complete surprise, the result of driving around the village of Nelson in Buffalo County, and exploring. This was quite a worthwhile discovery!

While driving on Hwy 35 along the Great River Road into Nelson,  look for Cleveland Street turning off the highway toward the bluffs. Turn on it and climb up until it ends at the Thrive! Center and Park.

Once there, you’ll see a few dark brown buildings and a parking area.  This building is a restored 1885 farmhouse. 

I parked outside the buildings, got out, took a few steps out to look around, and wondered what this was all about. Shortly thereafter, a man came out, walked over to the car, and we chatted. He is shown here next to my car.


It turned out he was Gary “Chris”Christopherson. Chris, as he liked to be called, has had a distinguished career in human services with the US government, has authored several nonfiction books, and is a sculptor. Chris is the founder of Thrive! Furthermore, he donated 25 acres of a Mississippi River bluff top and bluff side to the Village of Nelson. It is now a Nelson Public Park open to all visitors.


Thrive! is an effort begun by Chris to help people enjoy a thriving and better future. You can visit with Chris at the Thrive!Center in Nelson and discuss his vision. Call him at 301-318-3760 or e-mail him at GChris@GChris.com . You can also visit hiS Thrive! Endeavor website. 


Chris is a fascinating man. He has produced over 200 abstract sculptures, copper and wood, of varied sizes. Some make sounds, and some move. Purchases from him are used for a scholarship fund.

This is one sculpture he had placed on a picnic table outside overlooking the valley below.

This photo shows the farmhouse, the old barn to the right, and a bee house to the left. Note the item in the middle. I’ll zoom in on it.

This is as fascinating as is Chris. He explained that he designed this to be a foolproof bird feeder; that is, no squirrel can climb up it and eat the bird feed!

This building is an old time 1880s bee house. Bees for the most part prefer to live in a communal environment in close proximity to one another. I have seen these structures referred to as “bee hotels.”

I have enhanced that photo to show you the slots built into the side of the bee house. The Modern Farmer website tells us the bees use these as “rooms.” It says, 


“Female bees will construct individual chambers throughout each hole with mud, chewed up plant material and other substances, depending on the species. A single egg is deposited in each chamber, along with a bit of pollen for the baby bees to eat after they hatch. Once a tube is filled, it will be sealed off at the opening to prevent moisture and predatory insects from entering.


“The hatched bees remain inside the sealed tubes through the winter, emerging as adults in spring when warm weather returns. After all the sealed openings have been broken by the exiting bees, bee experts recommend removing the old “rooms” and building a new set each year as a precaution against transmitting diseases from one generation to the next.”

I mentioned the barn. Here is a closer look. Totally neat! Look up at the bluff behind it. That is part of the Thrive! Park of Nelson. Chris has described the park this way:


“Thrive! Park is a great place to enjoy nature! Much of the park is covered by a diverse oak woodland which is home to many critters and spring wildflowers. With hiking trails already established, walking uphill is made easier. The upper side of the bluff is a

rare “goat prairie” that is being restored.’


The Bank of Alma has written a nice article about the park. I commend it to you.


This is a map of the park

And finally, this is a good place to park yourself after you’ve climbed up the trails. 

This bench, down by the buildings and parking lot, overlooks Nelson, the Mississippi river, and in the distance, the bluffs along the Minnesota side of the river. Next time, God willing, I will try to make the climb.