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Long-delayed visitors center along Wisconsin's Great River Road nearing completion
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

The new Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Genoa Fish Hatchery.

GENOA — Travelers on Wisconsin’s Great River Road will soon be able to learn about the Mississippi River and its people with the completion of a long-delayed federal project.

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the $3.8 million Great River Interpretive Center at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Genoa fish hatchery, nearly five years after the project broke ground.

Hatchery manager Doug Aloisi said it’s about far more than fish.

With galleries devoted to the river’s history as a byway of commerce, its ecosystems, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work to preserve it, the 6,000-square-foot museum was designed to focus on the intrinsic value of the river. It also includes a gallery devoted to the history of the Sauk people, who lived along the river before conflicts with European settlers culminated in a massacre just south of the current hatchery site.

“We can tell them about the area as well as our conservation efforts,” he said. “They’re important pieces to our heritage, so we’re happy to tell those stories as well.”

Five years to build

The project got its start in 2011 with an initial $1.7 million grant from the National Scenic Byways Program, a now-defunct arm of the federal transportation department. It was the first such grant to a fish hatchery.

Despite being bisected by Hwy. 35, the 85-year-old hatchery has never had a proper visitor contact area. Aloisi said the agency sought to partner with the Byways program to expand the mission and reach.

The Fish and Wildlife Service held a groundbreaking ceremony in 2013, with plans to open the following year. But Aloisi said design and prep work on the half-acre site on a sandy hill between hatchery and highway delayed actual construction into 2015.

“It’s not a real cookie-cutter building,” he said.

There were additional delays Aloisi attributed to contracting issues as the Fish and Wildlife Service allocated an additional $2 million.

“You have to build the house when you have the money,” he said.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

A stuffed bald eagle owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awaits placement in a bluff exhibit at the Great River Interpretive Center under construction at the Genoa Fish Hatchery.

Major construction wrapped up this winter, and most of the exhibits are in place. A grand opening is planned for June 1 but Aloisi hopes to be open by May.

On Thursday, Gary Brees was busy constructing a replica bluff that will stretch about 25 feet from the basement to ceiling, where visitors will be able to view the plants and animals — including a stuffed bald eagle brought from a Fish and Wildlife office in Virginia — that inhabit the rugged hills of the Driftless Region.

Part painter, part sculptor, part carpenter, Brees, owner of Brees Studio of Murphysboro, Ill., has built wildlife exhibits from Kuwait to the Arctic Circle. Now 65, Brees said he got his start doing taxidermy when he was a 9-year-old farm boy.

“People call us artists, and I guess we are,” he said. “We just consider ourselves highly skilled people.”

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Gary Brees of Brees Studio of Murphysboro, Ill., looks over the progress of a 2.5 story river bluff exhibit in the new Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Genoa Fish Hatchery.

Telling the river’s story

Michael Shackelford of the exhibit design firm Lyons/Zaremba spent most of the past year turning the Fish and Wildlife Service’s themes into narratives.

In one room, he traced the river’s long history as a corridor of commerce. More than 1,500 years ago, Mound Builders traveled the river in dugout canoes. Archaeologists have found copper and lead from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan brought during this time to South America.

“There was international trade going on, by canoe,” Shackelford said.

Inter-tribal fighting limited use of the river among later inhabitants, but it was a critical thoroughfare for the fur trade when white trappers began looking for new sources of pelts to keep Europeans in coats and hats.

Early steamboats could only travel 10 to 15 miles before refueling — a cord of wood stacked against the wall is a tangible illustration of what they consumed every 15 minutes — which explains the ubiquitous river towns.

“All these little towns along the way were gas stations,” Shackelford said.

Other exhibits address the channelization of the river for modern barge traffic as well as the short-lived but once prolific button industry.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

The new Great River Road Interpretive Center at the Genoa Fish Hatchery features history exhibits of the Battle of Bad Axe.

War history

As a stipulation of the Scenic Byways grant, the center was expected to include an exhibit on the Battle of Bad Axe, which took place about two miles south of the hatchery.

To get there, Shackelford first had to tell the story of the Black Hawk War, the last “Indian War” fought east of the Mississippi River. It begins in 1803, when future president William Harrison tricked Sauk leaders into signing away their land for a pittance.

A quarter century later, with white settlers were moving in and the U.S. military trying to push the Sauk west of the Mississippi, a group of about 1,200 people led by Black Hawk attempted to re-occupy their homeland.

In 1832 the Illinois militia ran them off, setting off a four-month chase as the Sauk men, women and children fled north into Wisconsin in hopes of finding their way back across the river. Hundreds died of thirst, starvation and exhaustion as warriors tried to keep the troops at bay.

By Aug. 1 the remaining Sauk reached the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Bad Axe, but a U.S. gunboat prevented them from crossing and the following day they were surrounded by troops who fired on them for three hours. About 70 Sauk who made it across the river were killed by members of the rival Sioux tribe. Only about 150 of the original group survived.

The site of the battle was later named Victory.

A tourist destination

Elsewhere in the museum, visitors will find a 3,000-gallon aquarium stocked with large and small-mouth bass, walleye, sturgeon and other native Mississippi River species and a smaller tank with some of the fish that inhabit the area’s streams.

Exhibits also detail the work of the Fish and Wildlife Service, from early days of rescuing stranded fish after spring floods to the formation of the hatchery in 1932 and its evolution to a conservation-driven mission. Today the hatchery works hand-in-hand with the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Aloisi said, “to try to help people place a value on (the river) so they can preserve it as well.”

The hatchery, one of two in Wisconsin, raises 18 species each of fish and mussels as well as mud puppy salamanders and an endangered dragonfly. Last year it sent about 8 million fish to waters from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

The facility attracts about 14,000 visitors a year, but Aloisi hopes the new visitor’s center will change that.

“Hopefully we’ll be a tourist destination,” he said.

Sherry Quamme chairs the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission, which has supported the project and helped guide the design. She said the center will be a boon for the regional tourism industry.

“It obviously is a diamond for the Wisconsin Great River Road,” Quamme said. “Tourism on this side of the state is growing, and this is another step up that ladder.”


Trump, the anti-globalist, declares America ‘open for business’ in speech to globalists

DAVOS, Switzerland (TNS) — President Donald Trump gave his salesman’s pitch for America on Friday before an international crowd of corporate and political titans, and took credit for its economic success, even as he was shadowed by fresh clouds from home about his heightened jeopardy in the Russia investigation and opposition to his immigration plan.

Contrary to predictions that Trump might use his keynote address to the World Economic Forum in Davos to bash multilateral trade deals and international alliances, as he did during his campaign, he appeared to soften the edges of his “America First” policy in his speech to the elites who gather in this glitzy Alpine resort each winter to champion free trade and global cooperation.

“America is open for business and we are competitive once again,” Trump told several hundred attendees, reading his speech from a teleprompter. “Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs and your investments to the United States.”

Given the complaints here about Trump’s aggressive trade policies and worries that America is withdrawing from its global leadership role, Trump received general credit for showing up and hobnobbing with fellow world leaders and moguls at an event that has not seen a U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 2000.

Some in the crowd booed and hissed when Trump, during a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, said it “wasn’t until I became a politician that I realize how nasty, how mean, how vicious, and how fake the press can be.”

While Trump’s anti-media remarks are familiar to Americans, they struck a dissonant note on the international stage since U.S. presidents historically have been global clarions for a free press.

Although the evidence was scant, Trump dropped at least one hint he might be moderating other views.

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau announced here that his country would join 10 others that have agreed to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact without the United States. Trump withdrew from the proposed accord shortly after taking office, calling it a “horrible deal.”

In his comments here, Trump cracked the door slightly to reentering the TPP in some way, saying he was open to negotiating trade deals with the 11 countries “either individually, or perhaps as a group.”

That sparked a buzz of comment here and on social media. Trump vowed to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement during the campaign, but his administration is seeking to renegotiate it with Mexico and Canada. In contrast, the White House has shown no sign it is reconsidering its decision on TPP.

And while global challenges like climate change and poverty dominate the agenda here, the CEOs and other top executives Trump met in his 36-hour visit publicly applauded the corporate tax cuts he signed into law last month.

All that put Trump in a good mood.

“I’ve been a cheerleader for our country,” Trump said in his speech, which largely echoed familiar White House talking points. “And everybody representing a company or a country has to be a cheerleader, or no matter what you do, it’s just not going to work.”

Trump said he will put America first just as other leaders should put their countries first, a line he used in a harder-edged address he delivered at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in November.

Trump accused “some countries” of exploiting the international trading system at the expense of others. He said he supports free trade, but it “needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal.”

“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies and pervasive state-led economic planning,” he said, probably a reference to China.

At his raucous political rallies back home, that sentiment often generates loud cheers. The crowd at Davos stayed silent, saving polite applause for the end of his remarks.

As he often does, Trump claimed credit for the booming U.S. economy, citing growth numbers and the removal of business regulations. That message was partly diluted by news Friday that U.S. growth slowed slightly in the fourth quarter to 2.6 percent, which was short of Trump’s projections.

The Davos conference is considered the premier event for the world’s wealthy glitterati, a familiar group to the billionaire owner of Mar-a-Lago and other high-end hotels and resorts. In his speech, Trump nodded to his working-class supporters, saying that “when people are forgotten, the world becomes fractured.”

Trump also couldn’t resist taking a jab at Hillary Clinton despite the American tradition of steering clear of partisan politics while on foreign soil. In the question-and-answer session, Trump said the stock market would have dropped 50 percent if “the opposing party” had won instead of him.

The audience scored the tone of Trump’s speech carefully, given his antagonism to international organizations and pacts, such as the Paris climate accord, trade agreements and the Iran nuclear deal that are generally celebrated at the conference.

It was partly overshadowed at home after the The New York Times reported late Thursday that Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last June, halting the effort only after White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign.

Nor could Trump escape fallout here from reports that he had labeled African nations “shithole countries” during a recent Oval Office meeting with several members of Congress. The comments sparked widespread condemnation around the globe.

Trump ignored reporters’ questions about the crude language when he met early Friday with Paul Kagame, longtime president of Rwanda and incoming chairman of the African Union. Kagame is the first African leader Trump has met since his comments were reported on Jan. 11.

ed on Trump to apologize for the remarks, which he has denied making. It is not known whether the dispute came up in Trump’s private discussion with Kagame. A subsequent statement from the White House summarizing the meeting did not mention the issue.

“It’s a great honor to be with President Kagame,” Trump told reporters as he sat beside Kagame and several aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We have had tremendous discussions.”

Kagame also tried to smooth over the dispute, thanking Trump “for the support we have received from you … and your administration.”

Trump also dismissed a shouted question about the Mueller development as “fake news.” Instead, he boasted of how his appearance had swelled the crowd at Davos this year.

“We have a tremendous crowd, and a crowd like they’ve never had before. It’s a crowd like they’ve never had before at Davos,” Trump bragged as he entered the hall with Klaus Schwab, the German founder of the forum.

Then, in a rare burst of modesty, he quipped, “I assume they’re here because of Klaus.”


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Onalaska’s Jalyn Dobbins shoots over Holmen’s Kendra Leis during Friday’s game at Onalaska High School.


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Coming Sunday for LaX Saturday 012718

Face-to-face conversations and campus visits remain the backbone of college recruitment of high school athletes. But the ways coaches identify recruits, reach out to them and maintain contact have changed dramatically.

Services such as Hudl and social media channels Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have become mainstays in the lives of both high school athletes and college coaches.

Turn to Sunday’s Tribune for the first installment of a three-part series “Modern Recruiting” to learn how Hudl and social media platforms have revolutionized recruiting.


Flu widespread across US for third straight week

Sick with the flu? You’ve got a lot of company.

The flu blanketed the U.S. again last week for the third straight week. Only Hawaii has been spared.

Last week, 1 in 15 doctor visits were for symptoms of the flu. That’s the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn’t track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, and 39 states reported high flu traffic for doctors last week, up from 32.

In Wisconsin and neighboring Iowa and Michigan, flu activity was on the low end of the high level, with traffic in Wisconsin highest in the northern half of the state, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The state’s flu traffic was up from previous weeks but has been lower than at the same point during the 2015 flu season, the health department said.

This flu season, 37 children have died from flu around the country. No such deaths have been reported in Wisconsin.

At this rate, by the end of the season, somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Some good news: Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven’t been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — has been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20.

This year’s flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won’t be known until next month. It’s the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn’t so bad. It’s not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.

“That’s the kicker. This virus really doesn’t look that different from what we saw last year,” said Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

It may be that many of the people getting sick this year managed to avoid infection last year. Or there may be some change in the virus that hasn’t been detected yet, said the CDC’s Dr. Dan Jernigan, in a call with reporters Friday.

Based on patterns from past seasons, it’s likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said.

“If I was a betting man, I’d put money on it going down,” Webby said. “But I’ve lost money on bets before.”

The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu.

In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Last seasons, about 47 percent of Americans got vaccinated, according to CDC figures.

At this rate, by the end of the season, somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu.