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Rural by choice, even in winter – Hepola returns to Otter Tail County for Season 2 of the hit documentaries – Perham Focus > Minnesota

PERHAM – Over a year ago, Cory Hepola, who grew up in Perham and lives in the Twin Cities, returned to Otter Tail County to film Rural by Choice, a hit internet docuseries that explores the reasons people choose to live in the Minnesota metropolitan area. He recently returned to write, host and produce season two alongside Erik Osberg with the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association and directors Micah and Jenna Kvidt of Kvidt Creative LLC. This season has a little twist, though: what about Minnesota’s notoriously harsh winters?

“One of the comments we got after the first season, since it’s set in summer and fall, it’s like, ‘We didn’t tell the whole story,’ and ‘What about winter?'” Hepola, known for his Time as a WCCO radio host and running for governor of Minnesota explained what will set Season 2 apart. “I think in Minnesota we don’t really want to talk about anything that might be uncomfortable.”

From the beginning, Hepola’s goal was to discuss these uncomfortable topics, such as the misunderstandings about country life. When Season 1 aired in Fall 2021 with these discussions, it met with interest and success. The episodes, which can be found on Otter Tail Lake Country Association’s Facebook, have averaged about 30,000 views each.

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Cory Hepola (left) takes a snowshoe hike in Otter Tail County with Betsy and Nick Roder of New York Mills.

Contributed / Cory Hepola

In Season 2 – which premieres Sunday, November 27 at 7:27 p.m. – Hepola continues to approach these issues through interviews and exploration throughout Otter Tail County. He has found that people in urban areas tend to believe that they will have to give up their dreams to live in the country or that winter will be several months of boredom.

“For many people who are not from here, winter is an obstacle,” explains Hepola. “They say, ‘I don’t understand. It’s been three months that you haven’t left your house.’ And what we want to do is just face that head on and say, ‘Actually, a lot of good and great things happen here in the winter. And actually, the winter is a win in Minnesota.'”

When Hepola was growing up in Otter Tail County, his parents had to drive all the way to the Twin Cities to take him to a museum. If the winter was bad and they couldn’t go far, that trip would be canceled. In 2022, however, this will no longer be the case. Hepola explores indoor fun for kids at the Otter Cove Children’s Museum in Otter Tail County’s Fergus Falls.

Otter Tail County residents don’t stay indoors all winter either, Hepola found. Winter brings its own fun outdoor pursuits: snowshoeing, winter cabins, and even ice fishing.

“I mean, you look at the commercial industry here in Minnesota, and the fishing is tremendous, right?” Said Hepola. “And it’s not just in summer or spring or fall.”

In season two, he meets up with Adan Abarca, a Pelican Rapids resident and ice fishing expert. Much like Hepola, he considered leaving Otter Tail County when he was growing up, but Abarca realized he had everything he needed in rural Minnesota.

“He also talks to family members from the South and says, ‘Have you ever spoken to anyone and told them that we drive these huge vehicles and we just park them on the ice?'” Hepola shared of his time ice fishing. “It blows them away. They can’t even handle the thought of driving a giant pickup truck and pulling an ice castle behind them on a lake.”

Cory Hepola (left) sits with Otter Cove Children’s Museum executive director Katie Ganoe as she shoots Rural by Choice.

Contributed / Cory Hepola

This is just a special slice of Otter Tail County, and Hepola spends the entire second season further exploring why people choose to live there and what makes it special. He reunites with an old classmate and surgeon from Perham, Dr. Brett Glawe, and converses with his sister, Chelsea Marthaler, a fourth grade teacher at Perham Primary School. He even spends an episode with Betsy Roder, executive director of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, and her family.

Through these interviews, he examines why people choose to return to the rural life in which they grew up. He discusses and shows how people don’t have to give up their dreams to live a rural life. Successful careers are available. Health care is available. Quality training is available. Hepola lets Otter Tail County residents show this through their own personal stories.

“[This show]isn’t just about me, this is about the people of Otter Tail County and I hope people feel that,” he said. “It has never happened before. Instead of a small 30 second tourism video, we explore and tell authentic true stories about our county and explore all these different ideas. But it’s also about staying curious and compassionate.”

While Hepola still lives in the Twin Cities, Otter Tail County will always have a special place in his life.

“Otter Tail County is my forever home,” he said. “My family is still there. We’re there a lot…I’m up to date on how the schools are doing. I cheer for the sports teams. It’s my home forever. Being able to depict and tell these stories has truly been a dream come true.”

Season 2 of Rural by Choice is brought to you by the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association and written and hosted by Cory Hepola. It was produced by Hepola and Erik Osberg and directed, filmed and edited by Micah and Jenna Kvidt of Kvidt Creative LLC. For more information about the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association, visit

Season 2 premieres Sunday, November 27 at 7:27 p.m. Rural by Choice episodes can be found on the Otter Tail Lakes Country Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“A huge thank you to Otter Tail County,” said Hepola. “I’m so grateful to them, and that goes for Erik Osberg – an incredible leader – and then for our team Micah and Jenna. What they do for it is a unique talent. There aren’t many people who could do it, they do it, and yet they do it.”