Keevin Peuse slowly made his way down a row of displays, looking at a map of a proposed veterans tribute project and its stones, statuary and monuments.
“I think it looks nice,” said Peuse of Eau Claire, who attended an open house Thursday at the city’s Central Maintenance Facility on Forest Street.
Peuse uses the Forest Street Gardens, one of the city’s community gardens where people can grow their own food, and he wanted to see how the tribute — also planned along Forest Street — might affect the gardens.
“So far, it sounds like there will be access,” Peuse said. “I’m quite happy to hear that.”
Organizers are planning to break ground on the first phase of the $2.2 million project in midsummer, said Mark Beckfield, president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation.
To date, $937,000 of the $2.2 million price tag has been raised, said Beckfield, who is hoping to see the fundraising total top $1 million by the end of the month.
“This is about the people of the Chippewa Valley,” said Beckfield, noting the tribute will be interactive, allowing those who visit a chance to learn more about the sacrifices made by people who came before them, including the stories of local veterans.
The tribute planned on property north of Phoenix Park between the Chippewa River and Forest Street also will provide a place to hold veteran-related and other community events and a place to rest, reflect and pay tribute to veterans past, present and fut.
“This is going to be just amazing,” said former state Sen. Dave Zien, a Vietnam War veteran and Marine. “It’s for the families of those who served and the people who never served. I think anyone who visits is going to feel a spiritual attachment to the tribute.”
The city of Eau Claire donated the land and agreed to maintain it from cutting the grass and clearing snow from the trail through the tribute, said Jeff Pippenger, the city’s community services director.
The tribute is to be built in three phases. The first phase, to be kicked off this summer, includes a trail and mall area and is estimated to cost $1.2 million.
In November, the Eau Claire County Board approved a resolution authorizing a donation of $450,000 — $225,000 each in 2019 and 2020 — to the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation provided four contingencies are successfully met.
The remaining cost of the project will be covered by donations, along with the sale off 12-by-12-inch engraved legacy stones. Other sponsorship opportunities include benches, flowering trees and lamp posts; life-size bronze period statuary representing soldiers from particular wars and conflicts; and memorials to Gold Star families and Old Abe.
(Gold Star families are those who lost an immediate family member serving during wartime. Old Abe, a bald eagle, was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.)
When it is completed, the tribute will pay homage to the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Merchant Marines and Coast Guard. It also will recognize the following — Civil War, Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War.
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For more information about the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute, ecveteransfoundation.com.