Tuesday, Aug. 9th, 2016

GO NUTS: Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll 2016!

Our big, giant, massive Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll is now up and firing on all cylinders. It covers everything from local restaurants to local media to news issues to arts-n-entertainment and everything in between including fried chicken. And on top of all that, this is our 10th annual Reader Poll!

Again this year! This year's poll is available to you via our handy mobile site. Just load'er up on your smartypants digital devices and get clickin'.

And please, oh please remember!

You get to add your own responses that can, in turn, be voted on by everyone else. Also, just like years gone by, you don't need to complete the poll start to finish – you can just skip around, voting all willy-nilly in whatever order you want over the next few weeks. Voting ends in two weeks on Wednesday, August 24.

Now! Go vote Now!

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Up Against Tuition Freeze, UW System Seeks More From State

“I didn’t come to Eau Claire to preside over a downward spiral to mediocrity.” – Chancellor James Schmidt, UW-Eau Claire

A quarter of a billion dollar cut to the UW System in the last two-year state budget caused a ripple of reactions across university campuses and the state itself. At UW-Eau Claire alone, the cut came to $7.7 million, which led to the loss of 179 full-time equivalent jobs, nearly 200 fewer course sections, and a 14 percent increase in class sizes.

“Frankly, it’s happened across the country, but it’s worse here,” explained UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt of the decline in state support for higher education in Wisconsin.

“I didn’t come to Eau Claire to preside over a downward spiral to mediocrity,” the chancellor, who just began his fourth year at UWEC, said in a recent interview with Volume One. While UWEC still offers a quality education, Schmidt said, “the direction is wrong.”

In recent years, the university budget has been squeezed from both ends: Not only has state funding declined, but Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature have frozen tuition, preventing state universities from backfilling their budgets with dollars from students. While this may have kept some students from being priced out of higher education, it comes at a cost, Schmidt believes: “One of my mentors said access without quality is no bargain,” he said.

However, the 2017-19 state budget offers an opportunity to reverse this trend, and Schmidt and other UW System leaders have proposed what they call a modest, strategic budget increase: The UW System’s just-released budget proposal for 2017-19 includes a request for an extra $42.5 million from the state. The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the budget request on Aug. 18. The document will then go to the state Department of Administration, which will help Gov. Scott Walker shape the two-year state budget, which in turn will be sent to the state Legislature early next year.

Freeze Questioned

It the tuition freeze makes it into the 2017-19 state budget, as Gov. Scott Walker has indicated it will, it will mean UW System tuition will have been frozen for six straight years.

Schmidt says he understands why the freeze is popular. However, he argues it has serious drawbacks. Considering the university’s budget pinch has led to a decrease in the number of courses offered, Schmidt questioned the “savings” the tuition freeze has provided to students. “If that means they can’t get the courses they need, and they end up staying a fifth year, it is the epitome of penny wise, pound foolish,” he said.

And this has a ripple effect on the economy, Schmidt argued: Students take longer to get their degrees, and thus longer to enter the workforce, which means less income tax revenue for the state and less economic growth by employers. Schmidt says he has encouraged business leaders from the region to speak out about the impact a strong UW System has on their bottom lines.

“We’re everybody’s fourth priority,” Schmidt said of how the UW System ranks in the eyes of both Republican and Democratic politicians. Someone has to make it a No. 1 priority, and that could be the business community, Schmidt said.

While an extended tuition freeze seems inevitable, Schmidt notes that a 3 percent increase in tuition would cost a student about $1,000 over four years. He contends this is a good deal for students if they are able to graduate in four years instead of five or more.

Schmidt pointed that tuition and other sources of revenue account for 80 percent of UWEC’s budget, while only 20 percent of the budget comes directly from the state. By contrast, in the 1970s, only 41 percent of UWEC’s budget came from tuition and other sources and 59 percent was from the state. Because of this shift, the cut in state funding for UWEC made in the 2015-17 state budget was particularly significant: The $7.7 million reduction amounted to 26 percent of the state funding that UWEC has the ability to allocate. (While other funds, such as those for building projects, also come from the state, those simply pass through UWEC’s budget and can’t be shifted to other priorities.)

Seeking Reinvestment

A reading of the budgetary tea leaves suggests UW System leaders might have better luck advocating for a small boost in state funding. “Walker is still considering more money for (the) UW if system schools meet performance benchmarks,” The Associated Press reported Aug. 2, “but he hasn’t said what the schools would have to accomplish to win that money or how much funding would be available.”

Schmidt notes that UWEC is making progress toward meeting numerous benchmarks, such as increasing student retention (83 percent of first-year students come back) and four-year graduation rates (currently 34 percent, with a goal of 50 percent).

UW System President Ray Cross said system officials have created a new “strategic framework,” which includes goals such as getting more Wisconsinites through the “educational pipeline,” reducing the time it takes to get a degree, “strengthening research and creativity,” and giving each student experience with a Wisconsin business. The framework will be the basis for the system’s 2017-19 state budget request, Cross said in an Aug. 2 column.

“Our request will be modest, but continued budget cuts and frozen tuition cannot be sustained,” he said. “When adjusted for inflation, the revenue coming to the UW System today from the State of Wisconsin is the lowest in the System’s history. Neighboring states, by contrast, are investing in their public university systems.”

Other university leaders expressed similar sentiments. “It definitely means we do more with less,” UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer told the Leader-Telegram recently. “We have stretched beyond the breaking point. We really have some recruitment challenges. We’re really being handcuffed.”

Lawmakers’ opinions about the likelihood of a continued tuition and budget freeze were divided along party lines. State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, noted in a press release that, because of inflation, freezing tuition and leaving the budget unchanged would essentially mean a cut to the UW System.

“It’s inconceivable that Gov. Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature inherited one of the best university systems in the world and have done nothing but attack it,” said Wachs, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. According to Wachs, “Only eight states invest less in their higher education system than Wisconsin.” While he acknowledged that tuition freezes help students in the short-term, Wachs said that the lack of added state support in the long term created an “unsustainable higher education system.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, lauded the freeze’s extension. “The Republican tuition freeze has actually delivered significant savings for students and families,” he said. “It has meant a lower debt-load for both students and parents. The freeze must be extended to protect students and families from a spike in tuition at the hands of UW System officials who continually fail to deliver promised reforms and savings.”

UW System: A Shrinking Budget

$250 million
cut to UW System in the 2015-17 state budget

$7.7 million
cut to UW-Eau Claire in the 2015-17 state budget

faculty and staff full-time equivalent positions cut at UWEC

14 percent
increase in UWEC class sizes between spring 2015 and 2016

Source: UW-Eau Claire

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Monday, Aug. 8th, 2016

Return to the River: Justin Vernon Talks Eaux Claires

Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's closing set at Eau Claires 2015. Photo: Lee Butterworth
Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's closing set at Eaux Claires 2015. Photo: Lee Butterworth

Since he debuted the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival last summer, Justin Vernon has kept busy.

He’s helped shape the vision for a new hotel in Eau Claire called The Oxbow, collaborated on new tracks with big name musician pals like James Blake and Kanye West, and played four unforgettable nights at the Sydney Opera House with Bon Iver – all while planning and keeping the gears turning on Eaux Claires year two.

"We want other artists to see this festival as an opportunity to do something big. Not big, necessarily, but just special. We want to view it as a platform to think outside the box a little bit.” – Justin Vernon

The Sydney shows were especially magical – a collection of tunes with longtime friends and close collaborators going for big sounds, lighting up an ornately designed show, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe it felt like those four shows in that historic place were punctuating everything Bon Iver has become in the last decade, or maybe it was just a moment. For Vernon, it seems like moments like that are happening more and more all around him – moments where people are all in one place. Together. Taking it all in.

“The ripples from those shows won’t be leaving us any time soon,” Vernon said.

It’s easy to see that Vernon and his team of curators want to bring that vibe to their homegrown festival: Bring everyone together for an enormous shared experience surrounded by art, music, and community, and you just might procure something quite meaningful.

And now, on the brink of year two for Eaux Claires, the stage is set for some truly one-of-a-kind performances to resonate in our little Valley.

Photo: Lee Butterworth
Photo: Lee Butterworth

“We realized we created a really huge wave with year one – and I think we’re still on the way up on this trajectory,” Vernon said. “We filled (this year’s lineup) to the brim. It’s gonna be a really explosive year.”

When we finally caught up with Vernon to chat about this year’s festival, all his other responsibilities were behind him, and he was pretty much solely focused on rehearsing for the Bon Iver set on Friday night, where he said the band is playing a set of entirely new music. It’s a cool opportunity to debut these songs in his hometown among family, neighbors, and friends, instead of a crowd of strangers or faceless screen-names on the Internet.

“I know the music will do a good job, but I have no idea what it’s going to feel like,” he said. “But that’s what we want to do here. We want other artists to see this festival as an opportunity to do something big. Not big, necessarily, but just special. We want to view it as a platform to think outside the box a little bit.”

Photo: Luong Huynh
Photo: Luong Huynh

And that’s exactly what’s happening this year. It can’t possibly get any bigger than Day Of The Dead, where some of indie rock’s most elite players come together for a truly epic Grateful Dead tribute set. Phil Cook has big things planned for his Southland Revue, a celebration of the American songbook and its traditional roots with a star-studded lineup of guests and friends joining him. Artists from all over this Earth are taking to the Eaux Claires stages to debut new stuff, experiment, collaborate, play around, and try bigger things. That’s a pretty rare thing.

“We’re at a point of change. We’re changing chemically as a city right now; there’s no doubt about it. We’re gathering momentum, and where that momentum needs to be pointed is an increase in the amount of people allowed to make art in this city and platforms for those things to happen.”

“Every year is gonna be different,” Vernon said. “It’s not interesting if you just stay the same. It’s all about supplying artists with platforms to do amazing stuff.”

With an impressive and massive slate of visual and performance arts to match the vast rundown of groundbreaking musical performances, the experience of being there on the grounds, soaking it all in, is bigger than any one performance alone.

And it’s all happening here, right here. Right in our backyard. Right along our river. And the festival has already resonated in major ways. Eau Claire is a much different place than it was a year ago, and it’ll be a much different place next year, blossoming exponentially year after year.

Photo: Luong Huynh
Photo: Luong Huynh

“We’re at a point of change. We’re changing chemically as a city right now; there’s no doubt about it,” Vernon said. “We’re gathering momentum, and where that momentum needs to be pointed is an increase in the amount of people allowed to make art in this city and platforms for those things to happen.”

Vernon said it takes a little inspiration, a lot of friends, and a sharp willingness to think outside the box to make something like Eaux Claires possible. In the last ten years, he’s done and seen a lot on this crazy musical adventure of his. He’s had opportunities and experiences that a lot of locals could only dream of, and he said if he can bring even a slice of those experiences back to his beloved city through this festival, that could be a significant step in evolving the vibrant culture in Eau Claire into something beautiful, healthy, and one-of-a-kind.

“It’s like taking a little bit of what I’ve seen around the world that I didn’t get to see growing up here, and bringing it here, bringing that into what we have here, our culture,” Vernon said. “Culturally, this is a wonderful place to grow up, but there’s no way we can’t make it better. Art and music are really powerful ways to do that kind of stuff.”

The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival runs August 12 and 13 at the festival grounds southwest of Eau Claire. For more information and last minute tickets, go to www.eauxclaires.com

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5 Wisconsinites Who Won Gold at the Summer Olympics

Alvin "The Father of Modern Hurdling" Kraenzlein
Alvin "The Father of Modern Hurdling" Kraenzlein

1. Alvin Kraenzlein

Kraenzlein, who grew up in Milwaukee and competed for UW-Madison, cleared some high hurdles – literally – on his way to four gold medals at the 1900 Games in Paris. He remains the only track-and-field athlete to have won four titles at one games (60-meter dash, 110-meter high hurdles, 200-meter low hurdles, long jump). He’s called “the father of the modern hurdling technique” because he stuck his leading leg straight out to clear hurdles, rather than slowing down and doing a two-legged hop.

2. Archie Hahn

Four years after Kraenzlein’s impressive medal haul, Dodgeville native Archie Hahn almost repeated the feat at the Games in St. Louis: Dubbed “the Milwaukee meteor” (he competed with the Milwaukee Athletic Club), Hahn won gold in the 60-, 100-, and 200-meter dashes. He later wrote a book titled simply How to Sprint

Metcalfe (center) with Jesse Owens and Frank Wykoff on the deck of the S. S. Manhattan as the team sailed for Germany in 1936. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Metcalfe (center) with Jesse Owens and Frank Wykoff on the deck of the S. S. Manhattan as the team sailed for Germany in 1936. Image: Wikimedia Commons

3. Ralph Metcalfe

Jesse Owens wasn’t the only African-American athlete at the 1936 Games in Berlin to disprove host Adolf Hitler’s racist theories. Metcalfe, a Marquette University alum, was a member of Owen’s gold medal-winning 4x100 meter relay team. Metcalfe also won both the 100- and 200-meter NCAA championships three years in a row, was ranked as the “world’s fastest human” in 1934 and ’35, and broke or matched world records at least a dozen times in his career. Oh, and he served four terms in Congress.

4. Ben and John Peterson

These brothers are natives of the Barron County community of Comstock and were top freestyle wrestlers in the 1970s. Younger brother Ben (a two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State) won a gold in Munich in 1972 and a silver in 1976 in Montreal, while John won a silver in ’72 and a gold in ’76. They are now both enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

5. Paul and Morgan Hamm

This pair of brothers – born in Washburn and raised in Waukesha – also made Wisconsin proud. The twin gymnasts competed at the 2004 Athens Games, where Paul won the all-around gold (becoming the first American to do so in a century). Both earned silver medals as part of the U.S. team, while Paul nabbed another silver for his performance on the high bar.

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Tuesday, Aug. 2nd, 2016

New Downtown Parking Ramp Opens Early

The new North Barstow Street parking ramp in Eau Claire: It's gettin' there.
The new North Barstow Street parking ramp in Eau Claire.

Just in time to serve this summer's Farmers Market shoppers and attendees of the Sounds like Summer Concert Series in Phoenix Park, Eau Claire's new downtown parking ramp on North Barstow Street opened Thursday, August 4 at 11am.

The city says parking in the 769-spot ramp will be free until September 1. Users will then be charged 50 cents an hour with a maximum 24-hour fee of $8. These fees will be collected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (In other words, there’s no off-hour free parking to be had.)

An official ribbon cutting ceremony is set for  Thursday, August 11.

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Friday, Jul. 29th, 2016

Star Tribune Travel Section Profiles Eau Claire

Unsurprisingly, Phoenix Park is touted as one of Eau Claire's must-see attributes.  
Unsurprisingly, Phoenix Park is touted as one of Eau Claire's must-see attributes.

The Star Tribune’s travel section on Sunday (July 31) featured a front page spread on one of the Midwest’s day trip hotspots: Eau Claire. ‘Tis true. Hot on the heels of the city’s profile in Time Magazine, it’s pretty great to get this much attention from major news outlets – first an iconic national magazine, and now the biggest newspaper in the Twin Cities.

The piece, written by former Eau Clairian Bill Hammond, touches briefly on numerous things out-of-towners may want to check out, while also focusing on downtown’s history and recent revitalizations. So it mentions the Confluence Arts Center project, Phoenix Park, and the Downtown Eau Claire Farmers Market, but also covers classic local stops like The Joynt (NO LIGHT BEER) and Ray’s Place (hot beef!). 

In addition to listing a number of favorite restaurants on Water Street and downtown, it also details the city’s newest hotel renovations – The Lismore and the soon-to-open Oxbow Hotel & Lakely restaurant project.

Hammond plugs both Lazy Monk Brewing and the Brewing Projekt. Carson park gets some nice play, as well as the Eau Claire Express and our 30 miles of bike trails.

Check out the piece online: Midwest Traveler: Exploring the revived Eau Claire, Wis.

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Thursday, Jul. 28th, 2016

UPDATED (8/3): Tubing Prohibited in Eau Claire Until Water Testing Complete

Eau Claire River
Eau Claire River

UPDATE: On August 3, the City of Eau Claire posted this message to its Facebook page: "The tubing launch at Phoenix Park in back in business! The tests from the Health Department are within the normal range."


On Thursday at a special press conference in Phoenix Park, city officials addressed a sewage leak in the Eau Claire River, near the confluence. On Wednesday the leak had prompted the city to prohibit tubing and other water recreation on much of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers within the city limits.

Eau Claire’s Utilities Administrator Jeff Pippenger said the leak was detected on Tuesday during routine system checks. By 7am on Wednesday, a bypass was in place, stopping any discharge.

Testing of sand samples by the Eau Claire City-County Health Department on Wednesday – at the Phoenix Park tube launch, beneath the East Grand Avenue footbridge, and at the landing behind Hobbs Ice Center – showed no signs of harmful bacteria levels or contaminates. Samples at those locations were taken again on Thursday afternoon, with results to be released on Friday. More testing will follow.

The leak is from a cast iron pipe installed in 1939. The system uses two pipes beneath the river, so one can be shut off for repairs such as this. Pippenger said before repairs can be made, a contractor must be selected and plans must be designed.

Officials aren’t sure when they’ll declare the river open again, but if the Health Department’s testing goes well, it shouldn’t be long. Basically – no tubing until further notice.

Shane Sanderson, Director of Environmental Health & Laboratory, said the tube launch in Phoenix Park is considered a beach, so the water is checked for bacteria and contaminates at least once a month. Routine tests at the landing on Monday of this week showed no danger.

Sanderson said the primary risk when a body of water has toxic bacteria levels is  ingestion of the contaminated water.

City officials will hold another press conference on Friday, July 29 (noon) at the trailhead in Phoenix Park to offer updates.

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Tuesday, Jul. 26th, 2016

Carson Park Plans Big Country Concert to Raise Funds for Stadium Facelift

The “Carson Goes Country” concert will feature David Nail and Joe Diffie, and local band Big Back Yard.
The “Carson Goes Country” concert will feature David Nail and Joe Diffie, with local band Big Back Yard.

On September 10, the Carson Park lights will shine again – not for baseball, but for a large-scale country concert – the first of its kind. Carson Goes Country will be headlined by nationally known recording artists David Nail and Joe Diffie, and local band Big Back Yard. The event is co-hosted by Express Baseball and Wagner’s Lanes/The Complexx, and will be held right in the baseball stadium where the Express games are held, with seating and standing in the bleachers and on the field. The concert is for a good cause too – part of the proceeds will be used to help pay for upgrades to the stadium.

“Carson Park is such a great venue and we feel there’s a great value in giving the community more reasons to come out and enjoy it.” – Andy Neborak, CFO and part-owner of the Eau Claire Express

Andy Neborak, CFO and part-owner of the Eau Claire Express is very excited about the debut of Carson Goes Country, and the opportunity to bring this kind of music event (and perhaps some new fans) to historic Carson Park.

“We previously hosted a beer and BBQ festival called Hogs and Hops at the ballpark. While that event wasn’t the right fit, we have wanted to find a non-baseball event or two to bring to the stadium outside of our season,” Neborak said. “Carson Park is such a great venue and we feel there’s a great value in giving the community more reasons to come out and enjoy it.”

Neborak recognizes that the Chippewa Valley is home to several music festivals, but feels this event – with its location, timing, and lower admission cost – is unique, and will hopefully draw in country music fans from throughout the area, even those who may attend other events as well.

“Music is extremely popular in the Chippewa Valley, obviously. Summer is filled with various music events and opportunities and this will extend the ‘season,’ if you will, for residents of the Chippewa Valley.”

Neborak said he hopes Carson Goes Country will draw 3,000-plus attendees this year, and if successful, it could become an annual event.

Part of the proceeds made from Carson Goes Country are being used to fund improvements to the baseball stadium, which directly benefits the many groups that use the stadium and people who attend events there. “The upgrades that the City Council just approved include replacement of the metal bleachers on the 1st and 3rd base side of the stadium, along with addition of concession stands, permanent restrooms, additional storage and perhaps most importantly, improved handicap accessibility,” Neborak said.

In addition, the City is looking to replace the playing surface with artificial turf that will allow for more and different kinds of events at the stadium.

Tickets cost between $18 and $37 and can be purchased at the Eau Claire Express office (102 E. Grand Ave., Eau Claire) or by phone at (715) 839-7788 during normal business hours (weekdays from 9am to 5pm) or at Carson Park during any Express home game. Tickets are on sale now online at www.northwoodsleague.com/eau-claire-express/tickets/carson-goes-country, as well at Wagner’s Lanes/The Complexx, Stout Ale House, and Thirsty Badger.

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Friday, Jul. 22nd, 2016

Video: Bon Iver Teases ... Something in Mysterious

The fervor started with a simple tweet from the Bon Iver Twitter account that read: "22 July 10.22 am Eau Claire."

Then at exactly 10:22am this morning, a live video surfaced on the band's Facebook page – well, it's more a video of a video playing on a laptop. In it, abstract illustrations buzz by and you can hear a lofty voice singing softly in the background over sparse organ-like notes. Accompanying the video was the hashtag #22days, and it was later uploaded to YouTube.

Shortly after, the band updated their social profile pictures with this image.

So let's look at the numbers. Today is July 22. The video posted at 10:22am. The hashtag is #22days. In exactly 22 days, it'll be the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival here in town, where Vernon said Bon Iver's entire set will be new songs.

Those are the facts; now feel free to speculate wildly. Seems like the stars – and the twos – are aligning for something quite special, wouldn't you say?

The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is on August 12 and 13 at the festival grounds just southwest of Eau Claire. Tickets are on sale now at www.eauxclaires.com.

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