Monday, May. 4th, 2015

Tourists Make Cash Registers Ring Louder in Eau Claire

Country JAM
Country JAM

Tourism is an increasingly big business in the Chippewa Valley. How big? Well, according to figures just released by the state Department of Tourism, visitors pumped $215 million directly into the Eau Claire County economy last year. That’s a whole lot of motel reservations, campsite stays, restaurant meals, and water park passes. It’s also a nearly 10 percent increase over what tourists spent in the county in 2013. (By contrast, statewide tourist spending grew about 5 percent last year.)

And the $215 million figure doesn’t tell the whole story: In 2014, tourists generated total business sales of $346 million in Eau Claire County and accounted for an estimated 4,055 jobs, according to figures compiled for the Tourism Department by research firm Tourism Economics. That makes Eau Claire the 13th biggest tourism county in the state – and we don’t even have a giant fiberglass fish, a house on a rock, or a Tommy Bartlett extravaganza.

In the Chippewa Valley as a whole, tourist spending generated more than $137 million in wages and salaries and the equivalent of over 6,200 jobs, said Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism-promotion agency.

Overall, Wisconsin’s tourism economy grew to $18.5 billion last year, a 25 percent increase in just four years. Tourists also generated $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue, or the equivalent of $620 per Wisconsin household. (Think about that figure the next time you’re tempted to curse an Illinois driver speeding northward on the Interstate.)

“We are pleased to report that the overall strength and growth of tourism in Wisconsin continues to have positive impact on the economy,” Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett said in a press release. “What’s more is research shows that tourism advertising goes beyond just promoting vacations, it also boosts the state’s overall image. Our marketing campaigns and the vacations that result influence how people think about Wisconsin as a great place to live, find a job, open a business, buy a home, or go to college.” Having a Kentucky-beating college basketball team doesn’t hurt, either.

Tourism also had a notable economic impact in other counties in the region: Direct visitor spending was $77.6 million last year in Chippewa County (basically flat from the prior year), while it grew 9 percent to $46.4 million in Dunn County. These numbers all demonstrate that – to revive an old tourism slogan – plenty of people are still escaping to Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, Apr. 28th, 2015

Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival offers free two-day pass to fest volunteers

This summer’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is now accepting applications for volunteers – during and book-ending the two-day fest – from Tuesday July 14 through Sunday July 19 at the Country Jam grounds just southwest of Eau Claire.

Volunteers will have to work two shifts of six hours in the six-day span (and yeah, you gotta be available during the actual festival), but the major reward is free two-day passes to enjoy the sights and sounds of Eaux Claires free of charge when you’re not working. Lodging is not provided.

Eaux Claires 
Music & Arts Festival
Volunteer Requirements

• You must be 18 years or older to apply.
• You must be available to work July 17 through 19, 2015.
• You must pay the $10, non-refundable application fee to be considered.
• If selected, you will have to put down a deposit for a 2 day festival pass ($135) via PayPal, after you have completed your two six-hour shifts, we will refund the deposit within 7 days of the festival’s end.
• You must be willing to work in the designated department you are assigned to.

One cool thing is that if you’re selected, you can try to wiggle your six-hour shifts around so you don’t miss Melt-Banana! Or any of your favorite acts, for that matter! (But you should seriously be careful not to miss Melt-Banana.)

Have the $10 application fee in hand, fill out the questionnaire at, and you could very well be on your way to enjoying – and contributing to – Eaux Claires.

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TV: Wisconsin Discovers Eau Claire

Last weekend (April 25), Discover Wisconsin – a statewide tourism TV show – ran its episode on Eau Claire (which you may have heard about here). You can watch the episode (which they've broken into four parts), check out some photos, and quite possible learn a few things you didn't know before – on Discover Wisconsin's website.

You'll (of course) notice tons of local stuff like tubing on the Chippewa River, kubb, local concerts, and area attractions. See if you can spot your friends and relatives. Heck, even a little Decadent Cabaret got in there. Check it out! 

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Monday, Apr. 27th, 2015

100 Things to Do in Eau Claire This Summer

It won’t be long before summer is upon us in Wisconsin. I’ve been busy making itineraries and drawing up road trip maps to fill the three months with as much of Eau Claire character. Fortunately, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire published a fantastic list of 100 things to do in Eau Claire this summer. I’ve added close to 20 more things to do just since reading the list. Five of my favorite activities from last summer even made it to the list: UWEC's summer cinema series (above), Chalkfest, the Eau Claire Farmer’s Market, the Artist’s Market, and various local wine tastings. If you’re looking for a great place to start looking for ideas of what to do this summer, then head on over to the list and check it out for yourself.

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Friday, Apr. 24th, 2015

WATCH: Irie Sol does F. Scott Fitzgerald

Irie Sol's next album is about Bernice, the eponymous character from Eau Claire found in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs Her Hair." So to write the album they steeped themselves in Fitzgerald and 1920s jazz and history of St. Paul and Eau Claire, drawing on a Volume One feature article by Andy Hanson and Caleb Gerdes.

The "Gatsby and the Jazz Age" lecture/performance shown here happened on April 7 (2015) – presented by UW-Eau Claire's Joel Pace and Irie Sol, it was hosted by Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books, The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, and Fitzgerald in St. Paul. The video is by Patrick Pelham, who was with the band while recording their new album at April Base studios.

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Thursday, Apr. 23rd, 2015

So proud! UW students make world's largest Rice Krispie treat

Project Freshman 15,000 started out with one clear mission: to make the world’s largest rice krispie treat. Their goal was for the enormous edible to weigh in at 15,000 pounds; a clever reference to the notorious “Freshman 15.” Led by sophomore Joe Tarnowski, students melted butter and marshmallow over boiling water in six groups and then baked blocks of rice krispies in five baking teams. The massive treat didn’t quite meet the goal but it did weigh in at 11,327 lb. which handily beats the previous Guinness World Record holder by a tasty 1,013 pounds.

Someone get me a machete, a poncho, and a glass of milk. I'm going in. Image: WSJ
Someone get me a machete, a poncho, and a glass of milk. I'm going in. Image: WSJ

All of this deliciousness wasn’t done purely for an undergraduate sugar rush. Blocks of the treat were sold to support the United Way of Dane County and Camp Kasem, a foundation that supports children with parents diagnosed with cancer. 

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Wednesday, Apr. 22nd, 2015

Wisconsin's favorite word to use when dating online

In a recent effort to better understand what makes us tick when we’re online, Mashable and teamed up to create the map below, showing what words people from each state use most in their online dating profiles. The map looks for high frequency words in each state that are also relatively infrequent in other states.

Wisconsin and Minnesota share “cabin” as our most frequently used word. Because what's more attractive than a trip up to the ol' cabin? Wisconsin should double date with Michigan so we can add a bonfire to the romantical magic.

I’m curious as to how Mississippians are “lookin,” exactly; what happens on a “porch” in Tennessee; and just what Texas’s “oil” has to do with dating. Also, what's up with Missouri's lovers loving the zoo? 

Grab a closer look at Mashable

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Tuesday, Apr. 21st, 2015

True Facts: Wisconsin was a giant tectonic radio antenna for the U.S. Navy

One of the stations built in the upper Midwest for the Navy's Project ELF – downsized version of an insanely larger project the Navy considered in 1968.
One of the stations built in the upper Midwest (Clam Lake, Wisconsin) for the Navy's Project ELF –
a downsized version of an insanely larger project the Navy considered in 1968.

In the 1960s, America’s Dairyland almost became one big, giant antenna for talking to the Navy's nuclear submarines. It was called Project Sanguine, and while the scientific reasoning was sound, it was just a wee bit impractical.

See, as the Cold War was heating up, the US Navy was looking for better ways communicate with deep sea nuclear and spy submarines. Aa you can probably guess,  the radio waves that were used for communication at the time do not travel effectively through water. But in 1958, physicist Nicholas Christofilos came up with a solution. One antenna station, built from a network of 6,000 miles of cable, could generate low-frequency ELF waves to communicate with submarines anywhere on the planet. These cables would need to be buried six feet into solid bedrock to produce the signal, and after much consideration, Wisconsin was selected as the best candidate for the super-ultra-mega antenna. It would have covered 41% of the state.

In 1973, the Secretary of the Navy scrapped the project because it was just too extremely expensive. President Reagan would resurrect the project – dubbed Project ELF – in 1989 and antenna stations were built in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula to attempt a smaller scale version of the idea. Despite being smaller than the proposed full-on, state-wide network of cables, it was still able to communicate with submarines in the Arctic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and theoretically anywhere else in the world. The program, despite its success, was shut down in 2004.

At the time, the US Navy proclaimed that there would be no safety or health risks to people living above the cable network. But I, for one, am I glad that submarine whispers aren’t passing beneath my feet.  

Joseph Stromberg at Vox has done a great job making the science behind this bit of arcane history more user-friendly. You can read more about this unbelievable story here.

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Saturday, Apr. 18th, 2015

Wisconsin's 'Most Bizarre Building' Totally Rocks

There’s nothing quite like driving along, minding your own business, and finding a house built upside-down along the side of the road. A little weirdness goes a long way in making some character and America has plenty of character. Supercompressor compiled a fantastic list of the most “bizarre” building in each state. Some of these are absolutely unbelievable and range from “what were they thinking” to “how is that legal” to “I want to live in that.” You might be familiar with what they’ve decided is Wisconsin’s most bizarre building – and I have to agree with them.

Opened in 1959, The House on The Rock is truly bizarre. It was designed by Alex Jordan Jr. who took inspiration from Wisconsin’s own Frank Lloyd Wright; one of America’s most unique and prolific architects. A surrealist Disney World of eccentricity and eclectica, the building draws more tourists and visitors than any other location in Wisconsin. The House on the Rock’s twisting, subterranean corridors lead from one oddity to the next, taking visitors from the world’s largest indoor carousel, past a fully automated symphony orchestra, to the infinity room: an engineering marvel that vaults out over 200 feet above the surrounding forest.

Other American architectural oddities featured include a tower in Florida that looks like the Eye of Sauron, abandoned Indiana prison that spun in the ground, a majestic Colorado castle, and my personal favorite: a massive, Tibetan-inspired palace complex in West Virginia.

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Friday, Apr. 17th, 2015

Councilman Duax Remembered as ‘Iconic’ City Leader

Eau Claire lost one of its most recognizable, enthusiastic, and thoughtful civic leaders when City Councilman David Duax died Friday morning.

Duax, 71, wore many hats in the community over the years, most recently as a City Council member since 2005. Duax was known both for his deep knowledge of Eau Claire and its history and for his commitment to improving the city.

City Council President Kerry Kincaid lauded him for his “unprecedented” service, both on the City Council, the County Board (which he once chaired), and on numerous state and local committees and commissions. “Council Member Duax was a dedicated public servant, with a passion for his hometown,” Kincaid said. “His legacy will have a lasting impact on our community.”

Other council colleagues honored Duax in social media posts Friday. “Dave had a true appreciation of being a public servant – of trying to solve problems to make our community and our society a better place,” Councilman Andrew Werthmann wrote on Facebook. “He saw government as a force for good – and that’s why he served.”

As Duax told Volume One in a 2009 candidate interview, “We need to think boldly, and out of the box. We should not just talk about ideas, but realize the ‘urgency of the present.’ ” With his statesmanlike manner and penchant for public pronouncements and insightful inquiries during council meetings, Duax embodied such boldness, as well as civility and respect for government institutions and processes.

Fellow Councilman Eric Larsen wrote Friday that Duax was “an iconic public servant and leader.” Earlier in the week, when Duax was moved to hospice care at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Larsen noted Duax’s long experience both on the City Council and County Board. “It is very sad to see his service come to an end,” Larsen wrote. “He was a strong leader to the end and I know he would have gladly served another 30 years if he could.”

Duax served on the Eau Claire County Board from 1974 to 1983, and between 1987 and 1994 held a variety of posts in the administration of Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. Later, he was director of development and director of communications at Sacred Heart Hospital.

On Tuesday, State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, who served on the City Council with Duax and said he’d known him most of his life, spoke on the floor of the state Assembly about Duax’s legacy. “David has always worked across party lines,” Wachs said. “He’s been a standup guy, a great friend, and a champion for the city of Eau Claire.”

Although he was hospitalized following a brain bleed in January, Duax was re-elected without opposition to another three-year term on the City Council April 7. During his decade on the council, Duax advocated for downtown redevelopment, promoted the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, and authored a citywide smoking ban, among many other things.


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