Quarantine got you down? Itching to travel again? Seven countries are within your reach and your pocketbook. Where?—the Riverside International Friendship Gardens, at the north end of Riverside Park in La Crosse.
It is a place of beauty and reflection and an homage to our seven Sister Cities in China, France, Russia, Germany, Norway, Ireland and Cameroon. It celebrates our place in the world, the differences, and the oneness of our humanity.
The newest garden represents the culture and mythology of Cameroon in Africa. It is a sculpture garden, with three statues currently in place. The remaining four sculptures are in the works.
Since the RIFG is a nonprofit organization, it relies completely on the community for financial support. Anyone can contribute to the Gardens and claim a bit of ownership by going to the website at https://www.riversidegardens.org.
To celebrate its 100-year anniversary, the Rotary Club of La Crosse—Downtown chose the RIFG as its nonprofit organization to support, and specifically, the newest garden in celebration of our Sister City relationship with Cameroon. Because our climates differ drastically, it was clear that African plants would suffer here, so a sculpture garden was conceived as a perfect alternative.
Seven stunning works will eventually fill the Cameroon Garden, three of which are already in place. Local artist Doug Bilyeu created the two Palm Trees which grace the south entrance and evoke the trees of Africa. Sparta native David Oswald created the other two sculptures: the Mami Wata sculpture in the fountain which honors the mythical water protector; and the newest addition to the Gardens, Sense Pass King, which pays tribute to the legend of a little girl, the king’s slave, who killed the evil Lizard Monster and who lives on in Cameroon’s oral history as the girl who had more sense than the king.
Four other sculptures are in the works for the Garden. They include the Fon sculpture, representing the origin story of the brave woman who turned back invaders; a Storyteller sculpture, depicting a woman telling stories to children around a fire; a sculpture of Dancing Children, as children and dance are both highly revered in Cameroon; and the Gateway sculpture, an arch going into the Irish Garden, symbolizing the traditional gateways into many Cameroon villages.
A visit to the RIFG will take you on a global journey. The paths connecting the Gardens are all made of the same bricks, symbolizing the fact that we are one world. Each Garden has elements that represent its Sister City.
The RIFG is unique in that it exists in partnership with the City of La Crosse Parks Department, which provides much of the major maintenance, and the Bluff Country Master Gardeners, who volunteer their time to plant, weed and provide loving care for the flowers, shrubs and trees.
But none of the work would be possible without the support of donors who provide the funding necessary for the upkeep and purchase of the beautiful plants and elements in each Garden.
A fund was recently established at the La Crosse Community Foundation (LCF), to which anyone may contribute. It ensures that funding will be available for upkeep of the Gardens, and benefits from the solid reputation of the LCF in promoting lasting good in our community.
So why wait? Head to the Riverside International Friendship Gardens and experience a global community in your own backyard. Please stay on the paths and enjoy the quiet, peace, and beauty as you are visually transported to seven countries through your visit to the International Riverside Gardens.
Carol Popelka is a board member of the Riverside Int’l Friendship Gardens (RIFG).