Westside Pride: New neighborhood group forms out of love of nature
Across the street from Diane Omtvedt’s upper westside home is a little piece of heaven: a canopied wood laced with natural foot trails tucked between the High Bridge trail, 11th Street, and Bolles Street. It’s filled with natural growth, from walnut trees just beginning to fruit to raspberry bushes now past their prime. Nettles grow on either side of the pathways among tall grass and young trees. Those who visit there can barely tell by noise or sight that they’re in the heart of a bustling neighborhood.
Cheryl Leonard, who lives nearby, says that a small family of deer call this land home, as do rare birds such as the pileated woodpecker and the occasional fox. It’s not unusual for people to walk from several blocks away to enjoy the serenity of the place, the two women say.
Out of love for this swath of forest, Diane and Cheryl have teamed up with community members from Traux Boulevard to West Madison Street, from the Chippewa River to roughly 11th Street, to form the Upper Westside Neighborhood Association. The organization, which was officially founded May 30, covers the largest geographical scope (including the Cannery District) of any neighborhood group in the city.
At the beginning of 2019, the City of Eau Claire purchased this parcel of land, drawing the attention of Cheryl, Diane, and several other members of the community. Four years ago, when the trail from Folsom Street to the High Bridge was installed, they had watched construction efforts carve through part of the canopy, leaving a wide, grassy margin on either side of the way.
Cheryl has lived in the upper westside of Eau Claire for more than 35 years, and watched the neighborhood develop over decades. “When the first trail went through I went to the council and spoke out about trying to take the minimal amount of trees,” Cheryl recalled. “As much as I didn’t want the trail at first, it became good. I didn’t like how much we lost, but that’s why this time I’m being even more proactive.”
The formation of the association will allow Cheryl, Diane, and other members of the community to have a stronger voice in the development of the Half Moon Trail, and in discussions of use of the wooded area between 11th Street and the High Bridge trail. According to senior city planner Pat Ivory, development of a rail-to-trail walking and bike path from the Montessori Charter School on Cameron Street to the Roosevelt School playground on Folsom Street is slated to take place sometime around 2021. Changes to the bulk of the forested area are not on the five-year docket at this time, he said.
“We’re excited about the trail because it’s just a wonderful thing to have in this neighborhood and it really lifts this neighborhood,” Diane said. Especially considering the trail’s its proximity to two schools, she and Cheryl believe that it can be an opportunity for children to interface with nature.
Members of the Upper Westside Association are excited to take a proactive role in the development of their neighborhood, not only by coordinating with the city, but by growing a culture of connectedness among residents, Diane said. They note the area’s diversity in lifestyle, career, and cultural ties, and believe the association will be an opportunity to grow closer with one another. Their initial goals include the design and selection of a logo through a neighborhood contest, growing membership (anyone from the geographic area of the neighborhood can attend and speak at meetings, and those who pay the annual $5 dues can vote), and soliciting ideas and preferences for the use of the forested area to submit to the city.
The next meeting of the Upper Westside Neighborhood Association will be Thursday, Sept. 12, at 6:30pm at the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, 1814 N. Oxford Ave. More information about the association, including its boundaries, can be found online at Facebook.com.