Thursday, November 19, 2015

Urban hike heads link historic area, park

Chippewa River State Trail from Historic Water Street District to Phoenix
Park in Eau Claire, Wis.

Chippewa River State Trail runs through heart of Eau Claire, Wis.

Day hikers can enjoy a pleasant urban hike along a river in the Chippewa Valley’s largest city.

Though most of the Chippewa River State Trail runs through rural areas, its most used portion sits in the middle of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A 3.7-mile round trip segment of the trail links the Historic Water Street District to beautiful Phoenix Park.

People have used the trail since at least 1882 when the Milwaukee Road set down a rail line on most of the route. The rail line was abandoned in 1980 and soon converted to a bicycling trail that also can be hiked. Like most former rail lines, the trail is fairly flat and wide (10 feet); much of it is now paved.

Start at the Chippewa River State Trail’s 10th Avenue trailhead. From Menomonie/Water Street, drive south onto 10th Avenue; a small parking lot sits at the road's end southwest of Hobbs Memorial Ice Center. A short stem trail then connects the lot to the Chippewa River trail.

Historic Water Street District
Once at the main trail, go right/north, heading through quiet neighborhood. At Seventh Avenue, you must walk along the street. Turn right/east at Menomonie Street and then pick up the trail again at Sixth Avenue. The trail then passes through Historic Water Street District with the Chippewa River on the trail's right/south side.

The majority of the business buildings in the Water Street District were constructed in the early 1880s. At that time, the lumber industry was king in the Chippewa Valley with logs floating from the Northwoods down the Chippewa River to sawmills in Eau Claire.

Upon leaving the historic district, the trail passes through a small stretch of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus, specifically in front of the Haas Fine Arts Building. The university’s music, theater arts, and arts programs, along with performance halls, are located there.

As the river curves north, so does the trail, crossing Water Street and running through Owen Park. Downtown Eau Claire sits on the opposite shoreline. At West Grand Avenue, a bridge crosses the Chippewa, linking the trail to downtown.

Phoenix Park
Next, the trail comes to the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. North of the confluence, the trail swerves right/northeast and via a trestle bridge crosses the Chippewa and enters Phoenix Park.

A steel company sat on the site for decades, though you would’t guess that today. Several years after the manufacturer closed its doors, the city reclaimed the area as a green space, with the park opening in 2005. A Farmers' Market is held each Saturday at the park, making it an interesting urban hiking destination.

For day hikers, the park marks a good spot to turn back. The trail does continue east, though, following the Eau Claire River, with a spur crossing the waterway to the Fairway Trail, before swerving north at U.S. Hwy 53 on its way to Chippewa Falls.

Generally on the Chippewa River State Trail, passes are required for bicyclists, inline skaters, and horse riders but not for hikers or for casual walking. Pets also are allowed but must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet long.

Alternate south route: Back at the parking lot, going left/south rather than right/north takes you to a junction with the Lakeshore Trail that circles to Carson Park, or you can continue south out of town to Carryville and on to Tarant Park in Durand. The trail sticks to the Chippewa River shoreline the entire way.

Learn more about Chippewa Valley day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley guidebook.