2016 was a big year for Chippewa Falls.
The Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge turned 100 and got a facelift, Irvine Zoo got a new welcome center and the iconic Northern States Power Company sign was relit. But 2016 was also the year Chippewa Falls saw a 25-year idea finally become a reality with the completion of Chippewa Riverfront’s Phase 1.
The new riverfront park, located just to the south of River Street and west of the Highway 124 entrance to downtown, now boasts just under 7,000 Wisconsin-native perennials and shrubs, 91 trees, 360 feet of amphitheater seating, seven acres of lawn, 250 feet of boulder shoreline on the river and a 10,000-square-foot paver entry area that will eventually include boulder benches and a fountain.
Those statistics come courtesy of Mark McGough, Green Oasis landscape designer. He should know. Through Green Oasis, the project’s landscaping subcontractor, he has spent hundreds of hours planning and ordering materials, attending meetings, pouring over blueprints and making sure his crew completed the landscaping, which comprises around 30 percent of the park.
“We’ll get to go by that for the next 20 years and know where every plant and every tree is, know all the ins and outs of how it came to be built,” McGough said. “It’s not very often you get to (design) a park.”
Phase 1 includes electric, lighting, irrigation, seating, landscaping and riverfront access. It basically makes the park usable, while Phase 2 will make it programmable for events to be held in the amphitheater. Heartland Contractors is the general contractor for the project.
McGough and his crew spent around three months in the park between August and November. The plan was to have all of Phase 1 complete by winter, but a lot of rain early in the summer and rising river levels set back all the workers.
City Planner Jayson Smith said he worried it wouldn’t get done in time, but along came a beautiful, warm November that was essential for the completion of Phase 1.
“It wouldn’t have gotten done without that weather — we never would have gotten the plantings done,” Smith said.
All the plants were ordered and delivered ahead of time, but Smith said the rain backed everything up and forced them to hold off planting. If it wasn’t for a warm fall, they never would have been planted.
McGough also said the warm weather saved the project, noting November is when they actually had the most workers in the park.
“We did over half the work in November,” McGough said. “That’s unheard of.”
While the entire project is one to be proud of, he said there are a couple things that stand out to him the most.
For one, the entryway looks fantastic. In the spring, there will be a fountain in the center, and McGough said there are 1,400 plants alone in the center spot.
“It’s going to take a couple years for everything to grow up, but it’s going to be really pretty,” he said.
He was most impressed with the river entrance, which boasts about 300 tons of stone bank rock.
“That’s about 14 semi loads of rock our guys laid,” McGough said.
Not only does that allow people to enter down into the water, but it’s also used to stabilize the bank. Those stones are installed by one man, who has to make the 600-pound stones sit nicely and effectively.
“There’s not really a blueprint for it,” McGough said. “It’s really up to the guy that installs it to have an eye for it, to put them all together and make it look natural. He’s really talented.”
McGough also enjoyed working with Heartland Contractors and Short, Elliot Hendrickson, Inc., which designed the plans for Chippewa Riverfront.
Unlike many landscaping projects, McGough said he was able to interact directly with the SEH architects, which made it feel more like teamwork than a contracted job.
“If we thought we could make something better or had questions, they were willing to work with us and allow us to have some creativity,” he said.
Phase 1 of the park is about 99 percent complete. Tony Tanner, Heartland’s project manager, said they have a couple signs and benches that need to be put up, and Xcel Energy is working on getting the lighting up, but he expects all of that to be completed this winter, weather permitting.
In the spring they will add the fountain, remulch a few areas and hopefully get some swing sets in, which Tanner is still in the process of finalizing.
“It feels awesome to be on the other end,” he said. “There were a lot of unknowns on this project when we started, and the expense of the rain pushed us back. But when we were there and able to work it went really well.”
They stayed on budget, he said, though they did add a few extras, but also took some things out.
Tanner hopes the company will get to continue work when Phase 2 starts, but because the project is split into phases the city will have to go through another bidding process.
“Hopefully we can keep going on the next phase. That’s our plan,” Tanner said. “It’s always nice to start a project and then finish it.”
If the Current Campaign, Phase 2’s capital campaign to raise $2 million, stays on track, work would begin on the second phase next spring. Smith said they are currently at around $800,000, and he anticipates the community will come together quickly to raise the remainder of the funds.
One of the campaign’s current projects is sponsoring the native trees in the park. For $500, individuals, families and organizations can sponsor a tree. All sponsors will receive a chart so they can visit their tree, and be publicly acknowledged without identifying the amount donated.
For more information, visit www.chippewafalls-wi.gov/riverfront.
“We did over half the work in November. That’s unheard of.” Mark McGough, landscape designer, Green Oasis