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Eau Claire Veterans Park plan advances

Leader-Telegram - 9/11/2018

Sept. 11--The proposed $2.2 millionEau Claire Veterans Park in downtown Eau Claire is moving forward, as organizers have now raised $460,000 in donations and pledges, and they are seeking an additional $450,000 donation from the Eau Claire County Board.

Mark Beckfield, an Eau Claire County supervisor who is president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation, says the park is overdue.

"Eau Claire is the county seat, and there is no place for our veterans to do our services," Beckfield said.

The park would be on Forest Street, with a walking path that would connect to Phoenix Park under the Madison Street bridge. The four-block-long parcel is owned by the city. The city has agreed to manage the park and pay insurance on it, Beckfield said.

The park would feature flags from multiple branches of the military and different wars, monuments, artwork and possibly modern exhibits that would interact with smartphones and provide information. Old Abe, the bald eagle that accompanied local soldiers in the Civil War, will be a focal point of the park.

The fundraising effort began in January. Beckfield said the $460,000 in pledges and cash-in-hand donations doesn't include a variety of grants they are seeking. He added they also have a number of in-kind donations from businesses. Beckfield said it was a good start toward their goal.

"I'm not surprised at all -- we have a lot of people who want to support our veterans," Beckfield said.

The plan is for the park to be constructed in three phases, beginning next spring. Beckfield said phase one is estimated to cost between $1.1 million and $1.2 million and would include constructing the mall, lighting and a quarter-mile-long paved trail.

The County Board will vote, likely in October or November, on whether to donate $450,000 toward the project, Beckfield said. He is optimistic the project will receive the money, noting the county has additional revenue this year, between larger-than-anticipated sales tax money and the wheel tax beginning.

"With that sponsorship (from the county), we're almost at our (phase 1) goal," he said.

County Board Chairman Nick Smiar wouldn't comment if tax dollars should be used on the park but said he likes the idea of the veterans' tribute.

"Personally, I support the effort to set up the memorial," Smiar said. "I support veterans. I'd like to see that memorial in place, and it would benefit the quality of life in Eau Claire."

The park also recently got approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was required because the parcel is in the floodplain, Beckfield said.

The second phase would include installing the interactive stations and the statues, along with a parking lot. The final stage is adding restrooms.

In April, the Eau Claire County Board voted 26-0 to support the effort to create the park.

To learn more or donate to the park, visit ecveteransfoundation.com.

Contact: chris.vetter@ecpc.com

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(c)2018 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at www.leadertelegram.com

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