CHIPPEWA FALLS — I have been writing about the development that would become Chippewa Riverfront park on the north shore of the Chippewa River for more than a decade. I’ve seen old buildings that were in the floodplain razed and the grounds landscaped to better show off the beauty of the river.
Sure, I’ve walked through the park since it officially opened earlier this year, but over the course of this weekend, I got to see the promise and possibility of this new development, as thousands of people showed up for Pure Water Days events there.
My family and I arrived at the park Friday night, just in time for the fireworks. Music had just ended, and people were milling around and enjoying the atmosphere. The water features seemed particularly vibrant at night and there was a buzz in the air as people enjoyed the comfortable summer evening.
On Saturday, we watched the parade to through downtown, then walked again to the new park, where many of the parade-goers stopped for live music, food, crafts and kid games. I was impressed with how the grounds could accommodate so many people without it even feeling crowded.
Quite simply, what was once an eyesore has become a beautiful cornerstone of Chippewa Falls.
At a Chippewa Falls City Council meeting in April 2007, city planner Jayson Smith walked through an ambitious, far-reaching plan to begin purchasing properties along the north shore of the Chippewa River, tearing them down, and creating the new riverside park. Altogether, this new park carried a $10 million price tag.
The thing is, you could drive through Chippewa Falls on River Street and barely even see the water, which was hidden by trees and the contours of the grounds.
At the time, there also was a sewage lagoon on the site, along with a variety of aging businesses that simply couldn’t be updated because the property was in a floodplain. (It should be noted that the park was designed with the awareness it will flood nearly every year. Every bench, every gazebo, is fixed to the ground, so it won’t get swept downstream.)
It shouldn’t be ignored how the south end of downtown has been reshaped in the past decade, as the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, the Short Elliott Hendrickson headquarters and the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce have all replaced older buildings, creating a friendly entrance to the city.
In just over a decade, the park Smith envisioned has become a reality. The park features a central amphitheater and stage in the center of the grounds, surrounded by bike paths, benches and water features. Smith, who retired in 2017 and still lives in the city, played a vital role in the creation of the park.
Yes, Chippewa Falls already has Irvine Park and the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, but this new park adds so much to the city.