River Users Rejoice
EC City Council OKs plan for river overlook, trail
Eau Clairians will have a new way to enjoy the view of – and get to and from – the Chippewa River near Water Street as early as this summer. The Eau Claire City Council voted nearly unanimously April 22 to OK plans by the Water Street Business Improvement District to build a 45-foot-by-30-foot overlook and deck at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Menomonie Street. The deck will be linked to the river by a pathway, which supporters say will provide access for tubers and other river users who float by in droves but have limited options for getting back and forth to the water.
The project will be paid for by Water Street-area businesses, but construction required city approval. The deck and trail project was first suggested in 2009, but the idea languished for five years until this spring. Now that the council has given its thumbs up, construction likely will start this summer after backers iron out details with the city, said John Mogenson, chairman of the Water Street BID. The business group has raised $35,000 for the project, and may end up spending $100,000, he said.
While the project has been promoted as a way to foster river recreation, safety worries were a sticking point in the council’s discussion, leading City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle to propose an amendment eliminating the trail to the river.
Councilman Eric Larsen, a former deputy police chief, spoke strongly in favor of the amendment. Larsen said that drunk people who may be in danger of wandering into the water and drowning will do so at easy access points – such as the proposed trail – rather than by climbing down the riverbank.
However, the majority of council members said the benefits of the privately funded, publicly accessible project outweighed the potential hazards. “If you put something off limits, it creates more weird behavior,” said Councilman David Klinkhammer. “You can’t legislate morality; you can’t legislate stupidity.”
Ultimately, Emmanuelle’s amendment failed 7-3, and the council voted 9-1 to approve the project, with Larsen casting the lone dissenting vote.
Mogenson, a developer and restaurateur, said the overlook and trail are only the beginning of what neighborhood merchants hope to do to improve river access near Water Street. The BID board will now seek donations – monetary and in-kind from businesses – to complete the project, he said.