Saturday, January 30, 2016

Walk quiet woods in historic logging site

Lakeshore Trail (marked in yellow), Eau Claire, Wis.
Day hikers can walk a tranquil, wooded path that at one time was a hub of Wisconsin’s bustling logging industry.

The Lakeshore Trail at Eau Claire’s Carson Park runs about a mile one-way. A side trail of the Chippewa River State Trail, it’s less of a wilderness route than an urban walking path.

To access the trail, from U.S. Hwy 12/Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire, turn east onto Menomonie Street then left/north onto Carson Park Drive. Use the parking lot next to the baseball stadium. From there, cross Carson Park Drive and go southwest or northeast on the trail.

The 134-acre park sits on a “peninsula” surrounded by an oxbow lake, Half Moon Lake, which once marked the course of the Chippewa River. Today, the river runs east and south of the lake.

Despite hugging Carson Park Drive, the path is quiet with the rustling of leaves in the wind far more common than passing vehicles. That wasn’t the case during the last 1800s, though, when Half Moon Lake was a holding pond for logs awaiting their turn at the sawmill. In 1884, more than 989 million board feet of logs came down the Chippewa River to Eau Claire’s sawmills. At the time, the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company owned what is now the park.

When the trees from up north were all felled, the lumber companies moved on, and for a while the land sat empty and unused. Proposals included building a resort and a race-track there.

Then in 1914 the heirs of millionaire lumberman William Carson purchased the land and gave it to the city on condition that it be used as public park. The following year, the park was named for their father, the former president of Valley Lumber Company.

In the 1930s, a baseball stadium went up in the park. This was soon followed by the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, another museum for the county’s history, and several other park facilities.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.