Wintermission, city of Eau Claire establish winter recreation path

Wintermission recreation route map

With parking and access from Hobbs Ice Arena, Phoenix Park, and UW-Eau Claire’s lots on Water Street, the winter recreational route is an easily accessible asset for residents across the city.

Wintermission Eau Claire, in partnership with the city of Eau Claire and area running organizations, has announced its first pilot project for the 2019-20 winter season: a winter recreation path to be plowed with high priority after snow events.

The route, which will connect Phoenix Park to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus and create a four-mile circuit around the Historic Randall Park Neighborhood, will receive the same priority plowing as major arterial city streets. The path will be easily accessible from the city’s Phoenix Park parking ramp and Hobbs Ice Arena, and UW-Eau Claire will maintain priority access to the route from its parking lots on Water Street, as well as provide free parking on weekends.

Jake Wrasse Headshot

Jake Wrasse

Jake Wrasse, government and community relations specialist in UW-Eau Claire’s Chancellor’s Office, represents UW-Eau Claire in the Wintermission Eau Claire steering group alongside partners that include the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, Visit Eau Claire and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

“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,” Wrasse said. “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.”

Matt Evans

Matt Evans

Matt Evans, a UW-Eau Claire physics professor who also teaches a distance-running class and is involved with numerous area running organizations, was working with the city to establish such a route before he connected with Wintermission. When Evans learned more about the project, it became clear the idea for a plowed winter running route aligned perfectly with Wintermission’s goals.

“In a climate like ours, it can be difficult to stay active year-round, and many runners report they fall out of good habits in winter because their summer running routes aren’t accessible in winter,” said Evans, noting that running on treadmills is irksome for many distance runners. “Knowing the city will give priority to clearing this path means people can count on having this public space available as a recreation resource all year.”

The Eau Claire Community Services Department oversees the Street Division responsible for clearing roads, sidewalks and trails and has agreed the winter recreation path will be a high priority for the city. While a major snow event requiring a full plow operation may delay service to the path, the department expects that the route will be actively maintained whenever the city is in a snow and ice control operation.

Evans said that besides a route cleared of ice and snow, running outside in the winter requires additional preparation. A solid warm-up routine and layered clothing is imperative to achieve an optimal winter workout, he said, noting that a moisture-wicking base-layer, thermal mid-layer, and a windproof and waterproof outer shell help keep the body dry during outdoor workouts without sacrificing warmth. Gloves, hats and other accessories that protect the extremities are important as well, he said.

“If you’re new to winter recreation, take your time getting started,” Evans said. “Adjust your walking or running stride until you’re comfortable with weather and trail conditions, and listen to your body. Embracing the Wisconsin winter with a little outdoor recreation can be exhilarating with the right clothes and mindset.”

For those interested in trying a new winter activity, Wrasse noted that UW-Eau Claire’s Environmental Adventure Center offers winter equipment rentals for students and community members at affordable rates.

“Cultivating an attitude of appreciation for winter can help you see opportunities to experience the beauty of our natural setting,” Wrasse said. “Plus, decreasing social isolation and increasing outdoor physical activity in winter are shown to reduce risks for chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and mental health issues. We cannot choose what winter weather comes our way, only how we respond to it. Why not choose to enjoy it?”

Wintermission Eau Claire, which supports increasing outdoor recreation opportunities and decreasing social isolation in winter, decided to advocate for the winter recreation trail based on the success of similar efforts in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton has been designated a Winter City Vanguard for its comprehensive winter planning efforts, which include recommendations for “shared use paths and open space connections” for pedestrians, runners and cyclists even after major snow events. At the completion of an 18-month Wintermission grant, Eau Claire will have developed its own Winter City Strategy.

The Eau Claire Wintermission team is working collaboratively with local governments to identify projects to implement during the 2019-20 winter season, and more pilot projects will be announced soon. Those interested can stay up to date by following the Wintermission Eau Claire Facebook page at facebook.com/wintermissioneauclaire.