Plan of Action
Eau Claire develops a vision for the entire river corridor
1988. George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, Sonny Bono became a mayor, fires enveloped Yellowstone, George Michael topped the pop charts, and Eau Claire released its Waterways Plan. With that year in mind, you’ll believe us when we say it was a combination of necessity and public clamoring that inspired the city to update its Waterways Plan, which was approved on July 10 of this year.
Recent years have seen a rise in recreational use on the rivers (e.g. tubing, fishing, kayaking), the advent of Phoenix Park, and a social shift turing attention back to our waterways – not to mention a myriad of plans with suggestions of how to better use our rivers.
The ongoing downtown redesign ideas, drafted by Ayres Associates and their partners after input from many local organizations, include a river walk, pedestrian bridge, and plaza with water access. The Redevelopment Authority is acquiring land/properties/easements in accordance with the West Riverside District Plan to create a new Phoenix Park-like neighborhood with private development, housing, and park-like uses. The Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan specifically calls for waterfront trail extensions. And the Parks chapter of the Comprehensive Plan not surprisingly lists waterfront access and trail-lengthening as a main objective in the years to come.
“Eau Claire has 32 miles of waterfront,” it begins. “For quality of life, economic development, sustainable property values, and environmental protection, the community owes it to itself to line these water bodies with continuous public open space. … (Waterways) are integral components of the form and image of Eau Claire and help provide an abundance of open space and recreation within the city. In addition, the natural beauty of the community’s scenic vistas, hills, and valleys are in large part due to these waterways.”
All in all, these things served as the impetus for not only a restructuring of how we interact with our rivers downtown, but the entire river corridor in Eau Claire. And not only did this lead to a new Waterways Plan, but an ambitious riverwide vision. When we look back on this time 50 years from now, people will be blown away by how undeveloped the riverfronts look. Because if even a fraction of the plans dealing with the riverfront actually come to fruition, things will change dramatically.
The Waterways Plan involved representatives from the parks department, Parks & Waterways Commission, DNR, and UW-Eau Claire (to name a few) with the purpose of creating visualizations of guidelines for the future use of our waterways. Its guiding principles, according to the document, are to: honor the ecosystem and watershed, connect the city to the waterways, add to the parks and trails, add access to the water, leverage development, promote the “clear water” image, raise awareness/support, integrate public art, and build partnerships. Ideally, this will lead to engaging neighborhoods, improved quality of life, economic development, increased spending and tourism, updated trails for bikers and pedestrians, preserved natural areas, and enhanced historic areas.
“Everything got built with the back door to the river,” Parks, Rec, & Forestry Director Phil Fieber said. “For years, now, we’ve been trying to turn those buildings around and turn our attention back to the river. It’s a process that takes a while, but I think we’re finally doing it.”