Eau Claire City Trails

The Chippewa River defines the character of Eau Claire. It's the reason the city grew here in the first place. Two fine parks, one old and one new, anchor this route offering scenery, history, entertainment and just plain relaxing fun. Phoenix Park is the cornerstone of the city's downtown revival. The name seems appropriate, but it comes from the Phoenix steel mill that once occupied the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers. Now the space is a wonderful public gathering spot that will become a venue for outdoor events and entertainment. An impressive stressed iron railroad bridge, converted for biking and in-line skating, connects to the west shore. In the future, the trail will extend east to Chippewa Falls and the Old Abe State Trail. When the Phoenix mill was established in 1875, steel was a distant second to Eau Claire's main industry. "Sawdust City," as it was known in those days, had 22 sawmills. In 1884 the city produced more than 800 million feet of lumber. Saw logs were floated down the Chippewa from the great Northwoods. Interpretive signs along the trail tell of the lumbering heyday and the history of the native Ojibwe. The Eau Claire area was at times a no-man's-land in their 150-year war with the Dakota who were based at Lake Pepin where the Chippewa meets the Mississippi. You can learn more about the city's fascinating history at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Carson Park (open MD-LD, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm, Tues -'til 8pm; LD-MD Tues-Sun 1-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Tues 'til 8pm, 715/834-7871 or www.cvmuseum.com). Carson Park's 135 acres have been a showpiece for Eau Claire since the lumber mills disappeared along with the virgin stands of pine. The park's beautiful limestone stadium is still a happening place for baseball. A statue out front honors all-time home run slugger Hank Aaron who began his professional career on a minor league team here. You can still catch a great game when the Eau Claire Cavaliers are in town (call for schedule, 888/523-3866). If you brought the kids and it's Sunday they'll love the Chippewa Valley Railroad (MD-LD, noon-5pm, 888/523-3866). Everything is child-size on this miniature steam train. Nearby is the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp (open daily Apr-Sep 10am-4:30pm; 715/835-6200 or www.paulbunyancamp.org). This logging museum includes a giant statue of the mythical lumberjack and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox - a perfect family photo op. For more fun, cross the Chippewa River on a bicycle/pedestrian bridge (access from Water St.) to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Campus to visit the James Newman Clark Bird Museum (open during school year Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 9am-1pm). The museum houses more than 530 specimens including now-extinct passenger pigeons. Admission is free. At the southwest corner of the trail loop, the city trail crosses the Chippewa River on another impressive iron railroad bridge. It continues south another mile to join the Chippewa River State Trail (see archive at www.travelwisconsin.com) that goes west to Durand and connects to the Red Cedar State Trail that goes all the way to Menomonie. You can pedal nearly 50 traffic-free miles if you've got the legs. When the future connections are complete to the Old Abe State Trail the total will be more than 80 miles. The Chippewa Valley - great biking in a great place.