Meeting to Focus on Developing Region as Outdoor Recreation Hub

June 4 gathering at Beaver Creek aimed at boosting rural economy through outdoor assets

Tom Giffey, photos by Branden Nall

GET OUT OF HERE. Participants in last summer's Coon Fork 40,
HITTING THE TRAIL. Participants in the 2023 Coon Fork 40, a gravel bike race through rural Eau Claire County.

An upcoming meeting will help shape an ambitious effort to boost west-central Wisconsin’s economy by building the region’s status as an outdoor recreation destination.

The Regional Outdoor Recreation Meeting is planned for 10:30am to 1pm on Tuesday, June 4, at Beaver Creek Reserve outside Fall Creek. It’s billed as a networking and brainstorming event meant to drive forward an eight-county project to build the rural economy through promoting and creating outdoor recreation assets and marketing the region as a destination. The effort, which was spurred by the federal Rural Partners Network, includes Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pepin and Trempealeau counties.

“Our biggest push is to include everybody who needs to be at the table,” explained Kennedy Domerchie, outdoors development manager for Visit Eau Claire, one of the groups involved in the effort. Those stakeholders include outdoor recreation user groups and enthusiasts, but also business and municipal leaders.

Altoona City Manager Mike Golat, who is also part of the effort, said it’s particularly important to get involvement from rural stakeholders, including community leaders and business owners – such as those who own hospitality businesses from coffee shops to lodging – who are invested in increasing the region’s draw for outdoor recreation.

During the meeting, attendees will hear from Joe Thiel, CEO of Innovate Marquette, an organization dedicated to improving the economy of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, including through “outdoor innovation.”

The local effort is being fostered by the Northwest Community Network, which was created in the region by the federal Rural Partners Network, a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at “helping rural people build prosperity through job creation, infrastructure development, and community improvement.” Among the Northwest Community Network’s goals are:

  • Creating an interactive online map of existing outdoor assets.
  • Writing a regional comprehensive outdoor recreation plan and have it formally adopted through the region.
  • Supporting/finding funding for outdoor business and asset development.
  • Marketing/branding the region as its own outdoor recreation destination.
  • Unifying outdoor user groups throughout the region.
  • Developing an outdoor innovation investment fund and attracting early-stage companies that support this new industry segment.

Already, the team includes representatives from the participating counties, tourism agencies, economic development and regional planning officials, Eau Claire County Parks and Recreation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Beaver Creek Reserve, the USDA and U.S. Forest Service, outdoor groups such as CORBA and Bike Chippewa Valley, and others.

Those interested in attending the June 4 meeting – either in-person or virtually – can register online through this form. To learn more, email Kennedy Domerichie.