A New Place to Fish
Erickson Park will have accessible fishing pier, boat launch
By next year, a vacant piece of land across from Chippewa Falls’ famed Irvine Park will be transformed into a new park complete with a handicapped-accessible fishing pier and boat launch, a family area and pavilion, walking and biking trails, and a pedestrian bridge across scenic Duncan Creek. The volunteer-led $1.7 million project to create Erickson Park on the eastern shore off Glen Loch will open up the joy of fishing to everyone, including those who use wheelchairs or have other handicaps.
Providing such opportunities is important to Ron Bakken of Chippewa Falls, who helped lead the project. The name of his organization – FISH CHIPPEWA! Access For All! – encapsulates the goal of the effort as well as its backers’ enthusiasm.
Bakken and other supporters were all smiles during a press conference in April when it was announced the city of Chippewa Falls had received an $851,000 matching grant for the project through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The grant – the largest received from that fund in Wisconsin history – will pay about half the cost of the project.
After applying for the federal grant program – which is meant to help acquire and develop public parks – “We kept getting positive feedback that, ‘It looks like you’re gonna get it,’ ” Bakken said. “When we finally got the official notice, it’s like, ‘Holy cow, this is great!’ ”
Supporters now must raise the remaining funds. In Bakken’s words, they’re “fishing for $450,000,” having already raised about $400,000. If the fundraising goal is met, construction is expected to begin Sept. 1 with a park dedication planned for August 2018.
Bakken explained that the push for the new park came from several quarters. Some community members were interested in creating a better spot to fish from shore, and the effort grew to encompass other groups who would benefit from such opportunities, such as those served by Special Friends Inc., a nonprofit that offers social and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.
Advocates discovered that Erickson Park, a 4.4 acres plot on the north side of Chippewa Falls, had been donated to the city in 1960 but had remained untouched since. Other than one ruined building – which was decorated with a mural last summer – the property has been virtually vacant since a tornado struck in 1958.
On one visit to scope out the future park, Bakken came across a group of boys fishing and asked one of them to try to catch something from the existing boat landing. “Within a few casts, the guy had a nice Northern,” Bakken recalled. The lake is also teeming with brown trout, perch, crappie, bluegill, and largemouth bass, he added.
Phil Johnson, a landscape architect with Ayres Associates, said the engineering and architectural firm was asked to develop a facility that was accessible for people with limited mobility. When it’s completed, it will be the first handicapped accessible boat launch in the region, he said. (There’s an accessible fishing pier in Eau Claire’s Carson Park, but it doesn’t include an accessible boat launch.)
The project includes the redevelopment of the existing boat launch, the addition of an accessible kayak launch, and the construction of a boardwalk that will be able to hold up to 150 people in chairs. (That’s a lot of anglers!) On the north end, the park will include a new family area with pavilions and portable restrooms, while at the south a pedestrian bridge will be built over Duncan Creek into Irvine Park, just downstream from the dam that forms the lake.
“It’s an eyesore right here, so we’re really looking forward to giving it a facelift and making it beautiful,” said Dick Hebert, the city’s parks director, said of the goal for Erickson Park.
Donations for Erickson Park are being collected by the Community Foundation of Chippewa County. They can be sent to Community Foundation-Erickson Park, P.O. Box 153, Chippewa Falls, WI 54729. For more information, call (715) 723-8125 or email email@example.com.