why it’s important to stop worrying about people touching the water
“The public will be encouraged to view the waterways, to boat, float, fish, and swim in the waters, and to walk or bicycle along the waterways. … Access to the water will be enhanced with stairways down the steep bluffs, fishing docks, boat landings, beaches, seating, and paths carved by users.”
– Eau Claire Waterways Plan
Even though several city plans call for increasing access to our waterways, that doesn’t mean they’ll definitely happen. As each is specifically proposed, residents may very well come forward to put a stop to it.
It may sound ridiculous, but just a few short years ago the Water Street Business Improvement District saw the need for river access and proposed an overlook and landing/launch on 5th Avenue. The idea was to create an obvious gathering point for tubers in the summer, since there are hundreds of them in the neighborhood. The BID would pay for the launch structure entirely by itself because it could have crossover interest for kayakers/canoers, increase business, inform about local riverboat history, and positively impact the sense of place. But when the BID brought the idea to various city officials they saw liability and poor image if a student would drown (we’ve had several over the years). The idea has been on pause ever since. That shouldn’t happen.
“[touching the water] is what we want people to do. Residents want access, both visual and physical,
but there ARE some people at the city who have said, ‘Wait a minute. Not there.’”
– Phil Fieber, director of Parks,Recreation, & Forestry on the knee-jerk reactions against allowing river access
River access points are something the DNR and parks departments typically encourage, and the Waterways Plan mirrors that with statements like, “The city will aim to maximize public access and visual connections to the rivers” and “The idea of being able to literally touch the water is important to creating a greenway system that is loved and supported by the citizens of the community.” But that doesn’t mean other officials or concerned citizens feel the same.
“It’s what we want people to do,” said Parks, Recreation & Forestry Director Phil Fieber. “Residents want access, both visual and physical, but there’s some people at the city who have said, ‘Wait a minute. Not there.’”
To some of these people, the worry with access near Water Street specifically has dealt with the proximity to taverns. And while there’s also a newfound desire for more access in the Barstow/Graham area downtown, the same sort of fears could prevent that from coming to fruition because there are taverns there too.
“The biggest thing, to me, is the demand for access to the waters in this town,” Fieber said. “Whether you can see it from the library or make a spot for people to have a picnic or go fishing. It’s a need.”
Several officials we’ve talked to said that, believe it or not, adding access and other amenities on our riverfronts will actually increase safety. First, development will now face their windows and doors toward the water. Second, lighting and walkways will increase the number of people and watchful eyes. Third, the DNR, UW-Eau Claire, and local recreation groups will help disperse educational materials. And fourth, more experience in and near the water will increase everyone’s knowledge of how beautiful and treacherous it really can be.
By not building pathways or structures – and instead having only steep slopes and giant boulders in the way – the city is telling us we’re not meant to be near the rivers. You’d think these bodies of water that historically and physically define our community would spur us to promote the exact opposite mentality.
“If you think of the things that define cities. Things they use for logos. This is our Rocky Mountains; our Pacific Ocean; our skyline,” Fieber said. “This is our natural resource. So let’s use it to our benefit.”