Parks & Recreation
Four seasons worth of recreational opportunities abound in the Chippewa Valley, beginning with the 364 acres of public park and 21 miles of trail inside the city of Eau Claire and extending outward to an extensive bike trail system that sprawls across the region; top-notch county parks like Lake Altoona and Big Falls; popular state parks such as Lake Wissota and Brunet Island; as well as countless waterways, byways and ball fields in between.
“We’re in the top 10 percent of communities our size, and I think we’d beat a few that are bigger than us.”
In Eau Claire, plenty of recreational indicators were on the rise in 2012, including trail usage, pool attendance, the number of special events in city parks, and the number of games at the Carson Park Baseball Stadium. And don’t forget the NCAA Division III championship won by the UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team and the hockey state championship won by Memorial High School. Other indicators slipped: summer and winter rec program enrollment nosedived (though in the latter case that was partly because of the warm winter of 2011-12), while the total number of hours major recreational facilities were rented also fell. City parks chief Phil Fieber attributes these declines to changing dynamics: With both parents working, today’s families have less free time and a smaller appetite for structured recreation programs that run for weeks and weeks. “What has been popular are one-day events, especially one-day events people can do as a family,” he says. In response, he says, the city needs to become more of a facilitator of recreational opportunities than an organizer of them: providing trails, ball fields, and other facilities and allowing people to make their own fun on their own time.
Eau Claire YMCA Executive Director Ken Van Es – who preceded Fieber as city parks director – agrees that the recreational landscape is changing, with a plethora of parent-operated sports leagues for kids. Add these leagues with the opportunities provided by the city and private groups, and the Chippewa Valley stands out, Van Es says. “We’re in the top 10 percent of communities our size, and I think we’d beat a few that are bigger than us,” he says, noting the availability of a broad range of activities, including some that are harder to come by in other places, including ski jumping, curling, and waterskiing. (We’ll add river tubing and kubb to that list.)
In this subject, the Chippewa Valley really shines. The region continues to provide diverse recreational options in terms of organized events and public facilities as well an an environment in which leisure activities are there for the taking. Going forward, event organizers should pursue efforts to engage the public in activities outside traditional recreational leagues.
Listen! Editor's Conference
Phil Fieber, Eau Claire parks, recreation, and forestry director; Ken Van Es, executive director, Eau Claire YMCA; City of Eau Claire Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department; RCU; Indianhead Region of Special Olympics Wisconsin.