Chippewa Falls area tourism is expected to continue its pattern of success in 2019 with a focus on the Northwoods atmosphere and cost-effective activities.
In the most recent numbers, the county followed a statewide trend of increased tourism, with around an 11 percent increase in 2017, up to $98.4 million spent countywide.
The state reported around $20.6 billion in tourism over 2017.
The state will release 2018’s tourism numbers in early May.
Jackie Boos, tourism director for the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said that in the 10-plus years she’s worked in tourism in the area, the county has seen a trend of increased tourism spending both in the county and across the state.
She credited a number of factors.
“A lot of our national campaigns are around those Northwoods attraction points,” Boos said.
She noted that visitors are often drawn to the area, and come back for return visits, based on the both the economic points, like affordable activities, lodging and drivable destinations.
In the last year, the area also saw continued investment in some of the areas it already excels in, particularly outdoor recreation.
Investments like the $2 million Riverfront Park and the $2.2 million Erickson Park projects, both of which will be continued or finished in 2019, along with updates to area bike trails, are hoped to continue bringing in visitors as well as tying into existing attractions.
Randy Scholz, Chippewa County administrator, said the county has also concentrated on a lot of outdoor aspects like ATV and UTV trails and other recreational activities.
“Anything the county can do to enhance those trails helps tourism,” Scholz said. “That’s probably the area we do the most.”
Scholz said the county primarily work on creating opportunities with groups like the Chippewa County Tourism Council and Chamber of Commerce.
Going forward challenges include keeping activities fresh to attract and retain visitors.
Boos said that continued marketing and promoting the existing attractions will be as important as developing new ones.
So will, she said, keeping those things relevant and attractive to new visitors.
But Boos said she thinks the county will be successful in continuing to market an accurate picture of the area and meet the expectations of visitors as part of a regional tourist attraction.
She noted that the state has seen an increase year after year, while the county tries to continue to capture a larger part of that growth.
“There always has been an increase,” Boos said. “People always want to travel and do things.”
WASHBURN — Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is sitting on a stool, hunched over a hole in the ice on Lake Superior near Washburn, Wis. The ice here, about a half mile from shore, is 9 inches thick, a cool greenish color, and every so often, it shifts and moves, making wild noises.
“It’s just the booms or the cracks or the growls — or any of whatever you want to call it — of Lake Superior,” she said. “I love that.”
But it took her a while to get to this point — to the point where she’s comfortable ice fishing here on the lake.
Six winters ago, her husband, Jim Hudson, fell through this ice. He was a fishing guide. He’d been working.
“He was just in a bad spot,” she said. “He went to a spot where there was ice before. And his snowmobile went in and they tried to get him out. And it didn’t work.”
Jim Hudson was under the water for about 45 minutes, not far from the spot where his wife is set up on the ice.
It’s her first time back here, fishing, since that day. She’s here as part of a women’s ice fishing group — the Women Ice Angler Project. Every winter since 2015, they’ve gathered on a different lake to fish.
Hannah had always enjoyed fishing. It was what immediately connected her to Jim the first time they met — 15 years ago at a bar in Superior, Wis.
“Somehow within the first couple of seconds, we got into a conversation about fishing and he said, ‘You like to fish?’” she said. “His eyes got huge!”
Within two months Hannah had bought Jim a fishing boat. A year later, they got married.
It was Jim who taught Hannah to ice fish. He taught her about Lake Superior and about things he learned from his grandfather when he was growing up on the Red Cliff Reservation, just north of Bayfield, Wis.
“When you saw him out here, you realized how he was just part of this lake,” she said. “He knew where stuff was, he knew where fish were, he knew the weather systems, he knew everything about it. And I feel really lucky to have been taught that by him.”
Jim spent a lot of his time on the lake. He ran a successful fishing guide business. And Hannah was a photographer.
In the summer of 2012, she took a picture of a friend, standing on Lake Superior, cradling his elderly, dying dog in his arms. It went viral on the internet.
“My life turned completely upside down,” she said. “I was traveling all over the place.”
She started taking pictures of other people’s dogs. And random people began showing up at her house, unannounced. “Not even knocking,” she said, “and then they’re crying, they’re standing in my kitchen, crying, talking about how the photo made them feel love and then telling stories about their lives.”
It was overwhelming and surprising and sweet all at once, she said.
Then, about six months later when Hannah was still riding the high of that photo, Jim woke up early on a cold January morning to take some clients ice fishing. He kissed Hannah goodbye.
A few hours later, she got a frantic call from a number she didn’t recognize. Jim had gone through the ice.
Immediately after he died, Hannah started going for runs, every day, on the ice on Lake Superior not far from their house in Bayfield. She was not going to be afraid of the ice, she told herself. She was not going to be afraid of the lake her husband loved so much.
But it took her a longer time to go ice fishing again.
The winter after Jim died, Hannah’s friend Barb Carey approached her with an idea: to organize an event that would promote and celebrate the growing number of women who ice fish. Carey is a fishing guide who founded a group called Wisconsin Women Fish.
She knew that Hannah loved fishing. And she knew that women are a growing demographic in the ice fishing world.
But the industry wasn’t paying attention.
“There (are) no photos of women anywhere in catalogs, in any print media marketing materials, nothing,” she said. “It’s just like women don’t exist in the ice fishing world.”
So, together, they created the Women Ice Angler Project. Hannah became the group’s official photographer. That first winter, they fished on Lake of the Woods in far northern Minnesota.
Hannah had a tough time out there on the ice.
“I was bawling my eyes out,” she said. “Not because I was afraid. Because it was the first time I ever fished without Jim.”
But since then, Hannah has fished every winter on several different lakes with a new community of women anglers.
And as the project has grown, it’s become about something much bigger than fishing, said Carey.
“Because I see how women’s lives are changed,” she said. “I see how all of a sudden they’re backing their boat in, they’re going fishing, they have confidence and pride in doing things they never thought they could do.”
Jan. 26 was the sixth anniversary of the day Jim Hudson died — his wife was on the ice again, with 50 women fishing on the big lake. Hannah Stonehouse Hudson wasn’t scared to be back. And she wasn’t sad.
She was thrilled.
“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know how I’d react,” she said. “I didn’t realize how happy I’d be, (how) joyful — and know this is where I’m supposed to be.”
And now she gets to share that gift with other women on the lake she loves.
“Ice fishing did not kill (Jim),” she said. “He gave that to me as a gift. He gave his knowledge of Lake Superior to me as a gift. And I am never going to give that up.”
CHIPPEWA FALLS — A Neillsville man who sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl at a home in Chippewa Falls in September 2017 was sentenced Friday to serve two years in prison.
Jason D. Adams, 44, entered an Alford plea in October in Chippewa County Court to three counts of third-degree sexual assault. An Alford plea means Adams maintains his innocence but acknowledges the state has enough evidence that a jury could find him guilty. Adams was originally charged with second-degree sexual assault and repeated sexual assault of a child. Adams lived on Birch Street in Chippewa Falls at the time of the assaults.
According to the criminal complaint, the girl told authorities that she had sexual intercourse with Adams multiple times over a several-week span at a home in Chippewa Falls. The girl and several of her family members attended the sentencing but didn’t speak.
Judge James Isaacson said he had problems with Adams’ version of events. He said he followed the presentence investigation, but wondered if it was enough. Isaacson also ordered three years of extended supervision.
Adams apologized prior to the sentencing.
“I’ve been in front of you before, and it’s because of the drinking,” Adams said to Isaacson. “I wish I could have addressed my self-destructive behaviors before it got to this point. I am responsible for my part in this, and I’m very apologetic to everyone involved in this.”
Chippewa County district attorney Wade Newell requested two years in prison and three years of extended supervision. Newell said that Adams had a right to have a trial, but he opted to enter a plea. Adams now has to accept the consequences of the charges, he said.
“This defendant took advantage of a troubled young girl,” Newell told Isaacson. “He took advantage of her youth. It was a toxic relationship that should never have began to begin with.”
Newell added: “I think he needs to own up to his before, because so far, he’s taken zero accountability for this. His actions are not healthy, not appropriate.”
Defense attorney Bob Thorson described her as a “troubled girl,” and that Adams was drunk at the time. He says Adams maintains he doesn’t know exactly what happened.
“All these intangibles just don’t add up,” Thorson said.
Thorson requested one year in the county jail, acknowledging that his client needs structure in his life.
Adams was convicted of theft in Chippewa County Court in 2016. He also has previously been incarcerated in Texas.