Ralph Heath: Grandma's Gateway plan is healthy for La Crosse region
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Ralph Heath: Grandma's Gateway plan is healthy for La Crosse region

From the Two views: Is Grandad Bluff trail good for La Crosse? series
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Ralph Heath


The Board of Directors of ORA Trails has been working on Grandma’s Gateway for nearly four years.

We received knowledgeable and experienced design assistance from one of the most respected trail-building organizations in the country.

ORA helps bring in the best trail-building organizations to design our projects.

We help La Crosse Park and Rec select from top trail-building organizations both nationally and locally. We support those efforts with our 300 volunteers to work at the direction of our trail leaders at no cost to the city.

And we raise funds to help pay for ORA projects. We have raised more than $100,000 so far for Grandma’s Gateway.

ORA Trails is looking forward to redesigning Millers Bluff into an exclusive hike-only area, using our design skills to stop erosion coming from the current system of rogue trails, and directing well-meaning explorers away from environmentally sensitive areas through modern, thoughtful trail design techniques.

Increased safety

Grandma’s Gateway was conceived as a way to help kids get safely from the bottom to the top of Grandad Bluff, without confronting cars and trucks on the narrow and winding Bliss Road.

It is a noble idea made possible by 160 acres of unused La Crosse City park land situated (roughly) between Bliss Road and Ebner Coulee.

It is park land that is underutilized and laden with rogue trails, litter, invasive species and graffiti (Note: last spring, 120 ORA volunteers dedicated a day to remove graffiti with super cleanup tool Elephant Snot!).

Access to Grandma’s Gateway at the bottom of the bluff will occur on 29th Street, and the city will be addressing signage, gates and other forms of safety prevention.

ORA has been attending Bluffside Neighborhood Association meetings since 2018 and welcome their valuable input. We do our best work when we work collaboratively with neighbors, volunteers, users, the city, donors and all of our partners.

Ease of use

Grandma’s Gateway will get kids and their families active and in the woods.

Older kids will enjoy close-to-home access, reducing the need for parents to drive to further access points for drop-off and pickup.

Families of all ages will enjoy screen-free outdoor activities, proven to improve health and mood. Research suggests that connections with nature formed in childhood, lead to a lifelong enjoyment of the outdoors and future environmental stewardship.

Conservation, environmental impact

The best way to minimize human impact in environmentally sensitive areas is to lead people away from the most sensitive areas through thoughtful trail design.

The existing rogue trails and off-trail activity places sensitive species that live in our bluffs at risk. Grandma’s Gateway was designed by trail professionals who know how to mitigate human impact and lead people away from sensitive areas. ORA Trails supports leaving no trace.

Erosion and water control

Recent rains have kept ORA volunteers busy repairing older, poorly built trails from an earlier era.

Modern sustainable trail design practices mitigate water flow and keep water “sheeting” across the trail, rather than running down the trail, concentrating flow and forming gullies that negatively impact natural habitats. Grandma’s Gateway will remove rogue trails and better protect the environment.

Safety on the trail

Trail access is easy and safe for neighborhood kids and provides them with a safe place to hike or bike.

Thoughtfully developed trails and the elimination of rogue trials will prevent kids from entering dangerous areas along the bluff. Consistent signage and wayfinding will help to prevent trial users from getting lost.

Faster rescue access

ORA worked collaboratively with La Crosse’s First Responders and La Crosse police in the design of Grandma’s Gateway, so the trails will provide safer and faster access for bluff rescues.

Homeowner property adjacent to city park

We knew from the beginning that space between the trail and homeowner property would be limited in several places. We worked to optimize that distance and respect the privacy of homeowners and keep the trail as far away as possible given the space involved.

This is a frequent problem for all communities attempting to optimize city park land while respecting the privacy of those who enjoy living close to park land.

Similarly, it happened in La Crosse with the paved trails along Pammel Creek (cement river) on 33rd Street. Nearby neighbors were concerned that the public would be on paths near their home or fence line. Today those same paved trails are enjoyed and loved by the neighbors who adjusted to the positives and negatives of having park land in their backyard.

Historical impact

The Hixon family (and Grandma Hixon) preserved the face of the bluff as park land, but the quarry away from the bluff face continued to operate for another half-century.

Rock was brought down to the foot of the bluff through a system of rails, trams and roads. The old roads and the bed of the tram line are still visible on both sides of 29th Street as well as the south face of the park. These historical scars and revived access points offer great opportunities to share the story of the bluff through educational signs and kiosks.

Safer rock climbing

Grandma’s Gateway will provide safe access to La Crosse area rock climbers. Rock climbing is one of the fastest-growing sports in America and it will no longer be viewed as a rogue underground activity.

Rock climbing may well inspire new entrepreneurial business start-ups that support the climbing community and prove a boon for area businesses that benefit from increased visitors to our city.

ORA is a big tent with plenty of room.

ORA is a big tent with plenty of room. Hiking and biking on trails is fun. Trails improve our areas quality of life, workforce retention and recruitment, new business opportunities, new business startups, tourism — all the while connecting families to the woods, and an active, healthy lifestyle.

You can show your support for Grandma’s Gateway by visiting our website and signing our petition of support for Grandma’s Gateway. Visit: www.ORATrails.org.

The board of directors of ORA Trails includes Brian Burns; Chris Stindt; Jake Hegge; Jeff Breit; Jeremiah Burish; Kurt Schroeder; Lisa Young; Marvin Wanders; Paul McLellan; Rick Diermeier; Ralph Heath; Randi Serres Pueschner and Scott T Cooper.


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