At Our Own Risk

continuing to block access to the rivers is a move in the wrong direction

Trevor Kupfer, illustrated by Holly Zimmerman

What started as a progressive idea to re-embrace the river and increase our sense of place has since been compromised and watered down so we can maintain the status quo.

I’m referring to the Water Street Business Improvement District’s (BID) plan to build a lookout on the Chippewa River at the start of the walking trail on 5th Avenue. It will provide a roughly 20-by-20 foot concrete deck with a few black metal benches and railings from which to view the river, beautification of the riverfront by eliminating invasive species and replanting native trees, all of which will be completely paid for by the BID with the hope of going in this summer (still needs city council approval).

As cool as it is, the plan is a compromise of their fantastic original conception, a beach launch and stopping point for tubers (of which there are thousands every summer, many from that very neighborhood). People can still get down to the river in the lookout plan, but the idea is that the lack of a structure won’t “invite” people to.

Safety officials of the city did not agree with the original plan, and made their reactionary decision to protect Eau Claire from a poor image and liability lawsuits in the case of a drunk student drowning (we’ve had several in the past decade). Yet as far as I know, no one introduced compromises like signage saying “no one allowed after sundown” or “at your own risk” or even a padlock. Just a simple “no” would suffice, and the BID respectfully conceded.

Not building any pathways or structures down to the river makes it appear as though we’re not “meant” to be near the river. Aren’t we supposed to be embracing the city’s rivers? Isn’t that what makes our area geographically unique? You’d think we’d be trying to promote the exact opposite mentality. Plus that kind of mentality creates a “forbidden fruit” situation that attracts the exact kind of people you don’t want screwing around by the rivers (drunk kids, vandals, polluters, vagrants, etc.) and repels the exact kind of people you want near the rivers.