Monday, Mar. 21st, 2016

Local Cheesemaker Wins World Championship (in Cheese)

Wisconsin’s most prestigious Gouda cheesemaker is back at it again, this time winning awards on a global level. Western Wisconsin’s Marieke Gouda went to the World Champion Cheese Contest in Madison and dominated the Flavored Gouda Class, taking home first-, second-, and third-place awards for its Caraway, Truffle, and Burning Melange varieties, respectively. And the March 7-9 competition truly was a worldwide one: Nearly 3,000 cheese, butter, and yogurt entries came from 23 countries and 31 states, plus Puerto Rico. Marieke Gouda also took second-place in the Smoked Gouda Class and third place in the Mild Gouda Class. This isn’t a first for the cheese business from little Thorp. Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman and her family, the masterminds behind Marieke Gouda, have collected more than 115 awards for their cheese at both national and international competitions. They won four awards at the American Cheese Society Conference last summer in Rhode Island and were even named the overall winner at the U.S. Cheese Championship in 2013. Their award-winning Gouda can be purchased at their store and online at for all those who are looking to sink their teeth into the curdled manifestation of Wisconsin pride.

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Graffiti Bandit Arrested

Looks like the mysterious graffiti artist who stuck giant wheatpaste stickers all over town a few weeks back has been arrested. From the Eau Claire Police Department's press release (3-21-16)...

Members of the Eau Claire Police Department have been actively investigating several incidents of large scale graffiti throughout our community. The graffiti was intentionally placed at prominent locations in Eau Claire and resulted in considerable expense to the property owner.

On February 20, 2016 an Eau Claire Police Officer discovered graffiti spray painted on the front side of 2424 East Clairemont Avenue (previously K-Mart). The graffiti is described as large droopy eyes with a partial face. Within the next couple of days, similar graffiti was located at 4606 Golf Road (Macy's), 4200 Fairfax Street (Fairfax Park) and 8700 Highway 53. The graffiti was rather large in nature and easily visible by the public.

On March 9, 2016 the Eau Claire Police Department began investigating several stickers being placed throughout the community that resembled "Buckwheat" from the Little Rascals. Cases of the sticker have been reported at 131 South Barstow Street (US Bank), 1 West Grand Avenue (bike trail bridge) and 600 Graham Avenue. The Eau Claire Police Department is working with other city staff members and property owners to identify all the locations this graffiti occurred and making clean-up arrangements.

Members of the Eau Claire Police Department began investigating the case and reviewing video footage. A partial plate of the suspect vehicle was obtained at one of the locations. Further investigation revealed Gabriel M. Fischer (DOB 02/19/1995) is the registered owner of the suspect vehicle. Eau Claire Police Officers interviewed

Fischer and he confessed to the "Buckwheat" stickers and spray paint graffiti at these locations. Fischer has been arrested with one count Disorderly Conduct (WI State Statute 947.01) and one count Criminal Damage to Property (WI State Statute 943.01) on each of the locations that he vandalized.

The investigation is ongoing and additional charges of Disorderly Conduct and Criminal Damage to Property are possible.

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Friday, Mar. 18th, 2016

Eaux Claires Festival Seeking 2016 Art Submissions

Crafted by creative director Michael Brown, 2015's Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival set out to be a unique experience for fest goes. It mixed a diverse lineup of music with ambitious art installations, striking stages, and a beautiful natural setting next to the Chippewa River. Above: An art performance in one of the fest's three geodesic domes.
Crafted by creative director Michael Brown, 2015's Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival set out to be a unique experience for fest goes. It mixed a diverse lineup of music with ambitious art installations, striking stages, and a beautiful natural setting next to the Chippewa River. Above: An art performance in one of the fest's three geodesic domes.

Last week, the ever-popular Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival put out the call for art submissions for the 2016 fest. Visual, installation, and performing arts are a huge, huge part of the festival, and artists who submit have a chance to get their work seen by 20,000 or so fans taking in all the sights and sounds of Eaux Claires. The fest has yet to fully announce their slate of visual artists and the various installations scattering the grounds, but with this call of submissions, the fest is opening up the game to more than just carefully curated artists and projects. “If you are a group of fabricators, dancers, actors, architects, designers, artists, students, or all of the above and more, this is your opportunity,” said Michael Brown, the creative director of the festival, in a blog post, adding “Wield your expressive voice wisely.” All proposals have to be submitted to by May 6 to be in consideration.

For full details on how to submit, head over to

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Thursday, Mar. 17th, 2016

5 Disastrous Disasters from Chippewa Valley History

Wayne Thibado captured this photo of the windstorm (#3) that devastated Eau Claire as it approached Downsville on July 15, 1980. Image: Spearhead Echo: The Storm of 1980 by Luc Anthony
Wayne Thibado captured this photo of the windstorm that devastated Eau Claire (#3 below) as it approached Downsville on July 15, 1980. Image from Spearhead Echo: The Storm of 1980 by Luc Anthony.

Feeling down? Well it could be worse. At least we're not leaving through one of these historical local disasters. 

1. February 1869: Fire

In February of 1869, a fire destroyed almost all the buildings in the Chippewa Falls commercial district.

2. September 1884: Flood

In September of 1884, the Chippewa River flooded, destroying hundreds of homes in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. Cascading logs, trees, and debris took out 19 of the 20 bridges crossing the Chippewa River. The flood caused $68 million in damages in today’s dollars. It would have been much worse, except a log jam at Dells Pond didn’t break. Learn more in this video

Floods + Logs = A Killer Combo
Floods + Logs = A Killer Combo

3. July 1980: Wind

On July 15 of 1980, a straight-line wind (see photo at top) destroyed 156 structures in and around Eau Claire, damaging 700 others, and leaving 85,000 people without power. The gusts cause $300 million in damages in today’s dollars. Locals still consider it “the big storm.” Learn more.

4. June 1958: Tornadoes

In June of 1958, a snarl of four tornadoes stretching from St. Croix County to Clark County killed 28, injured 350, destroyed 430 homes and farm buildings, and damaged 1,000 others. The twisters caused $73 million in damages in today’s dollars.

5. 1885–1890: Industrial Collapse

Within a span of five years (1885–1890), the area's storied lumber industry collapsed. The tri-county area lost perhaps one quarter of its population, and the loss changed the Chippewa Valley’s sense of itself forever. Two specific examples: Eau Claire lost one-fifth of its population over the five-year period; and Porter’s Mills, a village of 1,200 in 1890, disappears entirely by 1900.

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Tuesday, Mar. 15th, 2016

Country JAM, Eaux Claires, and Blue Ox Almost Shut Down by Town of Union

Country JAM, Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, and the Blue Ox Music Festival – all of which take place in the Town of Union.
Country JAM, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, and the Blue Ox Music Festival – all of which take place in the Town of Union.

Last summer, two new major music festivals were added to the Chippewa Valley’s cultural landscape – the Blue Ox Music Festival and the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. The new festivals, plus perennial mainstay Country JAM, all take place on the hilly, grassy festival grounds in the town of Union, just a couple miles Southwest of Eau Claire. 

But after seeing three festivals (and the hordes of music fans they bring) come through the area last summer, some residents of the Town of Union have filed a number of different complaints with the town board – a five-member board made up chairperson Fred Belay, and supervisors Gloria Bloom, Jeff Bechard, Jeff Whyte, and Deb Smith. So in January of this year, the town board adopted an ordinance that would put some limitations on the three festivals like adding fencing, reducing decibel levels, restricting alcohol sales, and more.

“We have an increasing number of homes in the area in the town of Union. Our population is increasing. At the same time, we have three festivals where we used to have one,” chairperson Fred Belay said to start the meeting. “At some point, this becomes incompatible.”

The board called a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the finer points of the ordinance with some representatives of Eaux Claires, Blue Ox, and Country Jam present. It should be noted that the ordinance is a near mirror image of an ordinance on the county level, though it was said in the meeting that Eau Claire County rarely enforces it very strictly.

“We have an increasing number of homes in the area in the town of Union. Our population is increasing. At the same time, we have three festivals where we used to have one,” Belay said to start the meeting. “At some point, this becomes incompatible.”

At the meeting, the board ultimately decided to defer the enforcement of the ordinance until October of this year – after all three festivals take place this summer – in a 3-2 vote. In the meantime, the festivals are already taking steps to accommodate the concerns by agreeing to beef up fencing around the grounds (to keep festivalgoers – and garbage – in).

The ordinance, as it stood before deferment, would’ve basically made it so the festivals couldn’t happen in any capacity without breaking it. The town board decided Tuesday to form a group made up of board members, Union residents, festival representatives, and others to tackle negotiating the finer points of the ordinance by October.

“This is tremendously complicated. Our hope is that you would agree to put the substantive provisions of the ordinance on hold,” said attorney Richard White, who is representing Eaux Claires, about the ordinance. "We need to do this and do it right.”

For now, while the ordinance is debated and modified, the festivals will proceed as normal while doing their best to make their own internal adjustments so the festivals can be a cool thing for not only the people that attend them, but the surrounding community as well.

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Monday, Mar. 14th, 2016

"I Tried the New Leinenkugel's Restaurant in Kansas City"

To get this out of the way upfront, the Kansas City Leinenkugel’s is not a full blown taste of home. But it's also definitely not a failure. I moved down to Missouri a couple years ago and was beyond excited for the announcement that the Pride of Chippewa Falls was opening its first ever restaurant just a few blocks from my house.

Some background: Last fall, Leinenkugel's announced it would open its first establishment in Kansas City's Power & Light District, an area downtown mostly renowned for drunken DJ nights and US National Team soccer games. It was surprising, but Leinenkugel's is incredibly popular 500 miles south of its origin.

Walking in, it's definitely the swankiest place in which I've ever drank a Leinie's.* The white brick and clean wood is stark and minimalist – a nod to the cabin with a modern twist. The giant, red Leinenkugels sign sits above the 15 mixed company taps, but that's about the only way the space reflects its name. I was surprised by the lack of kitsch pieces from the Leinie Lodge, which would have gone a long way to warm up the space.

But back to the important stuff: Those tap lines brought a little disappointment. There was no Original (though we were assured it was on its way), and no Red or Honey Weiss (which didn't seem likely anytime soon). The sweeter collection was the centerpiece, with the Summer Shandy, Grapefruit Shandy, Berryweiss, and Sunset Wheat. I drowned my sorrows in a Creamy Dark (as delicious as I remembered) and the other Wisconsinites with me went with the Big Eddy, which was a nice, local touch.

The menu also had a handful of the now-classic beer mixers, such as Black Bear (Creamy Dark and Berry Weiss) and Sunset Red (Sunset Wheat and, unfortunately, Killian's Red). It was rounded out with a handful of (mostly) Leinenkugel's based beer cocktails. I went with the Lumberjack, a sweeter take on a horsefeather with Woodford Reserve, ginger beer, maple syrup and Coor's Banquet. Yeah, Coor's. No, I wasn't happy about that. But the drink was well made and the beer actually brought a really nice mellow flavor to the usually sharp cocktail.

By the time the food came I was feeling pretty disappointed in the Wisconsin-ness of the Kansas City Leinenkugel's, but then I tasted the curds and the beer cheese dip. If nothing else, the sampler platter brought me right back home. The cheese curds were salty and light and the beer cheese dip (served with pretzels) was thick and flavorful and straight from a Wisconsin family's traditions. For an entree I decided to go for the street tacos. Yes, one of the biggest things the Chippewa Falls-based locale pushes is street tacos. The Boo-Yah Chicken tacos were fine, but lacked the flavor of the classic dish.

All in all the Kansas City Leinenkugel's is a bit Leinie's Light (which was another missing selection). But venturing in with a handful of Missouri locals and Wisconsin ex-pats we had a pretty great time introducing the Wisconsin culture, which is exactly what this place seems built for

And if people really love it, they'll just need to come up to Chippewa Falls for the real experience.

*Fun fact: None of the Missourians we went with had any idea what 'Leinie's' was and referred to it only in the more formal, 'Leinenkugel's,' despite being very familiar with the brand.

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Tuesday, Mar. 8th, 2016

5 Numbers Detailing Downtown Development in Eau Claire

Let's take a dive into the important figures to be found in Downtown Eau Claire Inc.’s recently released 2015 annual report ...

1. $250 Million

The total assessed value of property in downtown Eau Claire, including Water Street, in 2015.

2. 24.3%

The increase in downtown property values between 2010 and 2015.

3. 3,375

The estimated number of downtown residents, a figure that’s projected to grow to 3,545 by 2019.

4. 683

The total number of businesses in downtown Eau Claire, including Banbury Place.

5. 10,090

The total number of employees in downtown Eau Claire, representing 19 percent of the city’s entire workforce.

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Monday, Mar. 7th, 2016

March 17-19: Eau Claire's Birthday Sale Weekend at The Local Store

➜ 15% OFF all 'Eau Claire' apparel, art, things, books, etc. • Thu Mar. 17, Fri Mar. 18, Sat Mar. 19 

All weekend, March 17–19, receive 15% OFF ALL "Eau Claire" apparel, art, things, and books at The Local Store! Eau Claire's Official Birthday is March 19 and we're turning 144! Join us at The Local Store and Volume One Gallery for a weekend of sales and events celebrating our great city.

Other events! Besides live music from Eduardo Rafael on Friday night (Mar. 18, 7pm), we'll also feature an Eau Claire History Reading & Discussion on Thursday evening (Mar. 17, 7pm), and a screen of the retro-tastic 1950s film Our Town Eau Claire on Saturday afternoon (Mar. 19. 3pm).

PLUS: We're showcasing and offering a vintage Eau Claire board game featuring beloved landmarks and local businesses. ONLY TEN COPIES EXIST!  $35, first come, first serve, limit one per customer.

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5 Local Things Turning 100 Years Old This Year

Rainbow Arch Bridge, a downtown Chippewa Falls
The "Rainbow Arch Bridge" in downtown Chippewa Falls. Image: Creative Commons

The following local things and institutions came into being 100 years ago this year ... 

1. UW-Eau Claire

Considering that UWEC named its newest building Centennial Hall, you may have guessed the campus had a big birthday coming up. Indeed, UWEC turns 100 this year. What is now a university with more than 10,000 students opened in the fall of 1916 as the Eau Claire State Normal School with a class of just 159 young people who hoped to become elementary and secondary school teachers.

2. Gillette Safety Tire Co.

The name of this company and its founder may not ring many bells today, but you’re certainly familiar with their legacy. Raymond B. Gillette created his eponymous firm in 1916, and the next year it produced its first anti-blowout rubber tire. Tires soon became huge business in Eau Claire, and the company was bought out in 1940 by the U.S. Rubber Co., later known as Uniroyal. In short, no Gillette, no Banbury Place.

3. Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church’s roots date back to 1858, making it one of Eau Claire’s oldest religious institutions. The original church was built in 1874 and was replaced in 1916 by the current cathedral, which stands at the corner of Farwell and Lake streets. The neo-Gothic stone church, known for its stained-glass windows, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Rainbow Arch Bridge

The Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge, a downtown Chippewa Falls landmark, carries Spring Street over Duncan Creek. The 93-foot, single-span reinforced concrete arch bridge is such a landmark that it is depicted on various city signs and logos. A long-awaited renovation of the bridge is slated for this year.

5. Harvey Hall

Menomonie’s UW-Stout may be a quarter-century older than its cousin, UW-Eau Claire, but one of its most prominent buildings, Harvey Hall, is the same age as UWEC. Originally the household arts building, Harvey Hall now houses the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Closed since 2014 for extensive renovations, the hall will celebrate a grand re-opening this fall.

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Thursday, Mar. 3rd, 2016

Looking at Nature in a Brand New Way


Over the course of more than three decades, the Discovery Room at Beaver Creek Reserve’s Wise Nature Center has welcomed more than 1 million visitors, a large share of them students on field trips getting valuable, hands-on experiences with nature. “Every 6- to 10-year-old who walks into that room for the first time is awestruck,” explains Erik Keisler, Beaver Creek’s executive director. And what kid wouldn’t be awestruck in a room filled with live snakes, mounted lynx and deer, piles of pelts, animal skulls, and much more?

But the Discovery Room has become a victim of the passage of time and its own popularity. All that hands-on attention from little hands has taken its toll on the exhibits.

A few years ago a survey found that the Nature Center was Beaver Creek’s biggest draw, a realization that led to a fundraising campaign to completely remodel the Discovery Room to better meet the needs of 21st century visitors. That doesn’t mean a lot of fancy technology, Keisler explains. In fact, the room will remain relatively low-tech and hands-on. However, it will serve less as a stand-alone attraction and more as an introduction to the natural adventures that can be experienced by visitors just outside on Beaver Creek’s 400 acres. “This is a starting point to get people connected with nature,” Keisler says of the Discovery Room. “This is not an end destination.”

Beaver Creek has raised $425,000 for the remodeling, $200,000 of it coming in December from a Scheels of Eau Claire matching grant. The project has several elements. First, what is now a library will be converted into an early childhood area. “We definitely want to invite a younger audience to fall in love with nature earlier, because they will carry that relationship all through their lives,” Keisler says. The Discovery Room will be broken into habitat areas, featuring Wisconsin flora and fauna in prairie savannah, deep woods, and stream environments. A display featuring beavers will be replaced by a model of a beaver den in the bank of a stream, which will be large enough for children to crawl inside. There will be three giant trees in the room full of taxidermy specimens, as well as areas to learn about animal tracks, fur, and scat; tanks featuring live turtles, snakes, and fish; and an area devoted to birding, a popular Beaver Creek activity.

As well as remodeling the Discovery Room, the fundraising will also pay for new outdoor equipment that visitors can use at Beaver Creek, including cross-country skis, GPS devices, kayaks, and archery equipment.

The Discovery Room will be open until about March 5; after that, exhibits will be removed and remodeling will start. The project is expected to be done by late May or early June, with a ribbon cutting tentatively planned for June 29. In the meantime, live animals that were part of the Discovery Room will be housed in the Savannah Room on the Nature Center’s lower level. Visitors who come to Beaver Creek for the annual French Toast Breakfast on Sunday, March 19, will be able to see displays of what the Discovery Room will look like in a few short months. In addition to the Discovery Room revamp, Beaver Creek has recently upgraded its trail system – complete with new bridges, signs, and maps – as well as created three outdoor “nature nooks” aimed at the youngest visitors.

“I think people will be surprised to come back out to the Reserve who haven’t been here in even maybe a year to see how much will be different by June 29,” Keisler said.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit

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