Mankato’s City Council has approved $2.5 million in upgrades to make the city’s downtown civic center, which has been plagued by humidity and moisture problems, more usable as a hockey arena.

The civic center was built in 1994 and the majority of the existing equipment is original. The primary user of the 6,000-seat arena is the Minnesota State University, Mankato hockey program, which uses it for more than seven months a year.

The council voted 6-1 last week to approve the upgrades, which will include new air-cooled chillers that promise to improve ice conditions, reduce damage from moisture and mildew, and increase energy efficiency.

The work is scheduled to begin in February and be completed in October.

Mark Brunswick

Willow River

White spruce cut down for state Christmas tree

A 30-foot-tall white spruce cut down Friday in General C.C. Andrews State Forest will be raised at the governor’s Summit Avenue residence in St. Paul on Monday, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The tree, to be lit Nov. 27, was chosen by foresters for its shape and location in a spot that made it easy to drop and load onto a trailer, the DNR said.

C.C. Andrews State Forest is about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities near Willow River. It’s named for Civil War veteran and diplomat Maj. Gen. Christopher Columbus Andrews, who was an early state forestry commissioner who advocated for responsible logging practices.

The state estimates that half a million Christmas trees are harvested each year from private tree farms in Minnesota. The market is worth an estimated $30 million. For each tree cut down, one to three new trees get planted, according to the DNR.

State forests also support the $23 million holiday wreath market, with small businesses this year expected to make an estimated 150,000 wreaths using balsam boughs harvested from state forest lands.

Matt McKinney

Winona

Calling all tourists: Visitor center adds winter hours

Winona has seen a surge in winter activities in recent years, including last season’s addition of a new ice climbing park along the Mississippi River bluffs.

With that and the city’s annual Winter Carnival and Frozen River Film Festival, the tourism-promoting Visit Winona is trying to be more accessible and helpful to people coming into town. The agency recently announced winter hours at its visitor center just off Hwy. 61.

“We thought now was the time,” said Visit Winona Partnership Director Kate Carlson. “As we promote Winona as a year-round travel destination, we want to make sure the support is there.”

The center’s new hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in November and December, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in January, February and March. The center’s regular schedule will resume in April.

The center is at 924 Huff St.

Pam Louwagie