The entrance to La Crosse got a bit more welcoming Wednesday after a project more than a decade in the making was opened to the public.
The city’s eagle watch wayside, just south of Exit 3 on Interstate 90, showcases the resources of the La Crosse area, Mayor Tim Kabat said Wednesday, just before a group of area business and political leaders cut the ribbon on the site.
The area across Hwy. 53 from West George Street is a place to take in the natural beauty of the area around the Mississippi River, but it’s also an example of how partnerships and perseverance can make a positive change, the mayor said.
“These efforts, they’re very, very important,” Kabat said. “I believe strongly in the community’s persistence at times, especially as you run into problems with engineering or floodplains or not being able to follow through on a grant. Folks can lose a little bit of steam.”
The wayside, which overlooks an area commonly called Shopko Bay, was included in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s I-90 and Exit 3 project that concluded this year.
People are invited to pull off the interstate and take photos or use one of the telescopes, set at varying heights, to get a closer view of the wildlife, which can include hundreds of eagles in the springtime.
State Rep. Jill Billings of La Crosse grew up on the Mississippi River, but she never saw an eagle, she recalled.
“Now we have 5,000 eagles up here, up and down the upper Mississippi River. Who could have imagined that we could have done that?” Billings asked.
She likened the hard work and vision that restored the eagle population to that which lead to the area’s redevelopment, with a focus on embracing natural resources.
“When we all work together, come to the table and bring our good ideas, we can grow,” Billings said.
WisDOT deputy director Angela Adams called the project “a story about collaboration,” saying the department worked closely with the city of La Crosse, the North La Crosse Business Association, the Federal Highway Administration and others to get it done.
“We tried really hard to incorporate the natural beauty of this area. Our designers were working constantly with city and business partners to enhance that natural beauty and find that collaborative effort,” Adams said.
They succeeded, according to state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, who said, “It’s just another gem and why we’re proud to call La Crosse home.”
Kabat credited council members such as Andrea Richmond, who represents District 1, and business leaders like Randy Eddy Sr., of the North La Crosse Business Association, among others, for working to get the project done.
“This is something that’s been in the works for quite some time, and having this ability to safely pull off the interstate and safely pull off of a main thoroughfare and really give people the chance to connect with the river and this setting is truly remarkable,” Kabat said.
The city has been focused on improving the area for more than 10 years, he said, listing the eagle viewing area as a priority as far back as 2008, as was reported in a 2008 La Crosse Tribune story titled “Exit 3 area to be city’s focus.”
“This really is people’s first impression in many cases of this whole area, and we need to seize advantage of the fact that we have this beautiful river,” Kabat said.
The Tribune article also referred to a need to build a vision for rezoning and redevelopment along the Hwy. 53 corridor.
“That plan was just approved by the Common Council,” Kabat said.
The mayor predicted more changes in the coming years, saying the vision will help prompt new investment, housing and job opportunities.