West Central Wisconsin Offers Fun for All

From affordable communities to outdoor adventure, West Central Wisconsin offers the good life in abundance.

By
Kevin Litwin
On Wednesday, November 11, 2020 - 10:41
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West Central Wisconsin offers it all: wide-open spaces, spectacular natural features, arts and culture amenities that can rival much larger areas and communities with revitalized and walkable downtowns.

Outdoor enthusiasts can access impressive hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and ATV trails, while water lovers can make a splash on the numerous streams, rivers and lakes that are ideal for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and boating.

The 250-mile Great River Road, the only national scenic byway in Wisconsin, winds along the Mississippi River through 33 historic towns, several in West Central Wisconsin, including Bay City, Hager City, Stockholm and Pepin. All along the Great River Road, visitors can experience unique dining establishments as well as sample wine or a malt beverage while overlooking beautiful terrain at one of the many vineyards and craft breweries.

Summers in West Central Wisconsin are filled with music festivals across a full spectrum of genres. From one of the largest country music festivals in the nation to weekly festivals along the waterfronts, the region has quickly become a hub of live music.

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Photo by Chad Johnson/Country Jam USA

Affordable Places

One of the region’s leading features is its overall affordability, with housing costs averaging about 12% below the national average. The region offers a range of housing options, from downtown living to traditional suburban to rural opportunities offering plenty of elbow room.

In Eau Claire, the historic Cannery District is undergoing a transformation that includes new housing options and public spaces. One new project in the works is a three-story urban housing development that will be built in two phases and add around 150 market-rate and affordable housing units.

Another appeal West Central Wisconsin offers is ease of getting around. Nearly 71% of the region’s residents have a 30-minute or less commute, well above the national average. Commercial air service is provided by Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, and Minneapolis-St. Paul International is in close proximity.

Communities with distinctive downtowns are a West Central Wisconsin hallmark. Several communities in the region participate in the state’s Main Street downtown revitalization program, including Chippewa Falls, Osceola, Rice Lake and Menomonie.

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Photo Courtesy of Visit Eau Claire

Active Main Streets

“Our district stays busy because we’re largely a college community, with several buildings of the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus located downtown,” says Dustyn Dubuque, executive director with Main Street of Menomonie Inc.

Downtown Menomonie features The Mabel Tainter, which opened in 1890 and now hosts dozens of live performances and a full plate of annual events each year, including Historic Beer Walk and Great Community Cookout, which draw up to 1,000 people. “The district is becoming more of a destination all the time,” Dubuque says.

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Photo Courtesy of Zymurgy Brewing

That’s the Spirit

The region’s heritage and well-developed appreciation of craft brewing and distilling has created a number of successful enterprises, such as Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls and 45th Parallel Distillery in New Richmond, which opened in 2007.

The distillery buys its grain from Rusmar Farms in St. Croix County, which supplies it with the corn, wheat and rye used to produce its spirit products, which include vodka, gin, bourbon, rye, wheat whiskey, liqueurs and aquavits.

The distillery is undergoing a fourth expansion and is a growing destination for tours and tastings, especially on the weekends.

“Half of what we make goes out in bulk to other whiskey brand companies to use, and we’re producing seven days a week with two shifts,” says Paul Werni, founder and owner of 45th Parallel Distillery. “We were busy even through the roughest coronavirus months.”

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Photo Courtesy of Visit Eau Claire

Expressing Ourselves

West Central Wisconsin has a strong appeal for artisans and creatives.

In Eau Claire, Artisan Forge Studios (AFS) leases space to 40+ artists and craftspeople who produce their works while fostering artistic collaboration between one another.

Local metal artist Greg Johnson founded the guild in 2015 to elevate and showcase the talents of local artists, building on the AFS cornerstone ideals of creativity.

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Courtesy of Artisan Forge Studios

Seeing is Believing

West Central Wisconsin boasts several must-see arts and culture attractions for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate. Here is just a small sample:

  • Pablo Center at the Confluence: The Pablo Center is operated by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and presents performing, visual and literary arts productions. The center’s campus venues include a 1,200-seat theater, 400-seat flexible theater, art galleries and three rehearsal/dance/ community rooms.

  • Heyde Center for the Arts: In Chippewa Falls, the Heyde Center for the Arts is housed in a neoclassical building that opened in 1907 as McDonnel Memorial High School. The Heyde draws about 18,000 patrons annually to see comedy shows, theatrical productions, musical performances and visual arts presentations.

  • Widespot Performing Arts Center: In Stockholm, on the second floor of the Spring Street Arts Building is WideSpot, originally an opera house that now draws local and national performers who take the stage for musical, theatrical and spoken word performances throughout the year.

If you'd like to learn more about West Central Wisconsin, check out the latest edition of West Central Wisconsin Economic Development

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.