Wintermission Eau Claire Wants to Adjust Our Attitudes About the Season
If you’ll forgive the pun, a newly designated Winter Recreation Path – which will be given high plowing priority when it snows – is just the tip of the iceberg for the Wintermission Eau Claire project.
The grant-funded initiative aims to improve the way Chippewa Vallians of all ages and backgrounds think about winter, helping us become more active and less socially isolated during the inevitable cold and snowy season.
“We like to say we’re trying to be winter positive, and to think positively and talk positively about winter,” explained Scott Allen, community development director for the City of Eau Claire. Allen has been part of the Wintermission process for about a year, since the community applied for a grant from 8 80 Cities, a Toronto-based nonprofit dedicated to ensuring cities serve people of all ages. Last January, 8 80 Cities chose three cities – Eau Claire; Buffalo, New York; and Leadville, Colorado – to received the grant. Allen was part of the delegation that traveled from Eau Claire to Saskatoon, Canada, last winter for a conference exploring ways to boost wintertime community engagement.
“We like to say we’re trying to be winter positive, and to think positively and talk positively about winter.” - Scott Allen, City of Eau Claire community development director
Allen has already seen the benefit of recalibrating our relationship with winter in his own life: Although he grew up in Wausau, last winter was the first he’d experienced in the Upper Midwest in 16 years after living and working in Missouri. “I’m so thankful for the Wintermission program,” Allen said. “In all honesty, it helped with the coping to talk about things in a more positive way and to be mentally prepared for the rigors of winter.” And – considering the record-breaking volume of snow that struck the Chippewa Valley last year – Wintermission comes at a good time for the rest of us, too.
The Wintermission Eau Claire core team includes representatives of the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, UW-Eau Claire, Visit Eau Claire, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. During last year’s extended, snowy winter, the Wintermission project gathered input from hundreds of local residents – with tools such as surveys and pop-up events at Volume One’s Winter After Hours in Pinehurst Park – as well as agencies overseeing transportation, public works, public health, and parks.
Now, Wintermission is focused on using its $15,000 grant to launch pilot projects that address four wintertime priorities: snow and ice maintenance, winter mobility, winter events and activities, and winter culture. The Winter Recreation Path is the first project to be put into place. The path – which has been marked with special signs and which will be plowed with high priority after snow falls – connects Phoenix Park, the UWEC campus, the Historic Randall Park Neighborhood, and Hobbs Ice Arena.
“Having a four-mile portion of Eau Claire’s central city trails plowed at high priority after snow events signals a resounding investment in residents’ physical and mental health,” said Wintermission spokesperson Jake Wrasse, a government and community relations specialist at UWEC. “Knowing you’ll be able to continue outdoor recreation regimens – whether you walk, run, or fat-tire bike – year-round on Eau Claire’s city trails will make it easier to sustain healthy habits and enjoy our beautiful natural setting while preventing the ‘cabin fever’ that too often accompanies winter.”
Wintermission Eau Claire won’t stop with one plowed path, of course. The team is working on implementing a number of pilot programs in the coming months that will help combat the winter blues.
Allen, the city’s community development director, said other projects are in the planning stages. Among them is a possible winter gear sharing program, which would allow residents to check out equipment such as snowshoes, skis, and skates from local libraries. Another is improving local winter wayfinding tools in ways as simple as putting up signs to help residents find Pinehurst Park, a haven for snow-based activities that’s a bit off the beaten path.
Wintermission Eau Claire is also working on a strategy that draws attention to new and existing events that promote winter positivity, as well as to create long-term resources that help residents adapt to Eau Claire’s climate, Wrasse said.
While geography and climate dictate that the Chippewa Valley will be cold, dark, and snowy for part of the year, local residents have a choice on how they think about these facts, Wrasse added. “We are trying to demonstrate that the psychological benefits of that mindset shift are really in and of themselves worth it,” he said.
Learn more about Wintermission Eau Claire at www.880cities.org