This September, we spent time in one of our many favorite areas of the Mississippi River, La Crosse, WI. Upon our arrival, the very first thing we did was (You guessed it!) take Kupendana for a paddle. With no responsibility to keep track of mileage or to take pictures, it was a delightful dip into nature’s pool. We saw cormorants, ducks, herons and a bald eagle who majestically surveyed it all from its lofty perch – not at all intimidated by our intrusion. We stopped near a sand beach to chat with other kayakers, sharing an easy camaraderie and remembering all the things we loved about this amazing section of the mighty river.
We visited the Salvation Army and found that, while some of the names and positions changed, the organization and the people we met were as strong and compassionate as we remembered, offering help in so many ways to the residents of La Crosse County. While Nick, the Director of Development, was busy with meetings, Kelley helped facilitate an interview with Channel 8 news, for a short segment about our book and a signing later that evening at the Valley View Barnes & Noble.
Later, we sliced potatoes to help prepare the evening meal while a group of volunteers from the community served lunch. Dan, now retired and two architectural firm employees, Mike and Nate, made up the Friday lunch team. “They call us the A Team,” Mike said, “but I suspect they say that to all the teams.” Ranging from two to six years of experience, I had no doubt this lunch crew was an experienced and dedicated bunch.
Doug, the Kitchen Supervisor, zipped about, but took time to answer our questions and tell us more about the food program. “We have plenty of volunteers,” he said, “but right now, we’re looking for a full-time weekend cook to supervise the food program on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The position comes with benefits, but it’s hard to find someone who has weekends free to work.” If you live in the La Crosse area and would like to know more about this open position, please email Doug, Kitchen Supervisor, or Abbey, Director of Operations.
Our next visit was Myrick Park, where we spent time during our trip at the Myrick-Hixon Eco Center. Unfortunately, we learned that the Eco Center is no longer operational and several elements of the park have been removed. Water no longer tumbles down the hillside, and the Forest Scramble playground has been relocated to a Boy Scout camp nearby. But, the beautiful prairie plantings have been expanded and still line the long walkway that we weeded during the day we spent with them years ago! Many of the plantings are maintained by the Buff County Master Gardeners, and were spectacularly decked out in fall color.
The building is now leased by WisCorps, a 501(c)(3) conservation corps dedicated to “engaging youth and young adults” in three different areas. Crews of 4-6 young adults, age 16-25, complete conservation projects throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. They are supervised by experienced leaders and are paid for their work. As they construct trails, manage invasive species, build retaining walls, bridges and boardwalks, stabilize prairies, restore stream banks and clean up storm damage, the youth gain skills and knowledge about and appreciation for our natural resources. A second employment opportunity is through WisCorps WORKS. Students gain longer-term work experience and classroom training which prepare them for the world of work.
The third component of WisCorps is one in which the Eco Center was also highly engaged – providing nature education programs. Stephanie, the Education Manager and the only employee still there from the Eco Center days, told us, ” We’re still here, doing a similar mission.” Just finishing up a teacher training, Stephanie introduced us to two student assistants, as they cleaned up the room lined with aquarium habitats for live fish, snakes and turtles. Holding Foxy, the Ornate Box Turtle gently, she told us about fostering appreciation and stewardship for our environment through school and public programs, day camps, playgroups, and even a “critter-mobile”, which brings interesting animals out into the community.
Before we left, we walked outside to the new semi-circular seating area with stepped concrete benches overlooking the lake. Two students from UW-La Crosse, David and Rachel, joined us for a study break. Together we watched bicyclists pedal along the paths around the lake and caught glimpses of ducks, muskrats, and sunning turtles. Even though the place we loved has changed, it is still a gem in the community and a lovely place to learn, relax, and enjoy the outdoors.
After a quick dinner and change of clothes, off we went to the Valley View Mall, where Barnes & Noble graciously hosted us for a Book Signing from 6-8. No lines around the block, folks. But, we did have some great conversations with readers and shoppers, telling the story of our trip, handing out bookmarks with our website address, and selling and signing a few books as well. Our friends from Waukesha, Terry and Donna even brought Donna’s brother, Bob and his wife, Liz to see us. Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for making us feel special with your advertising and your incredible hospitality. We signed some books to leave in the store, so if any of you are in the La Crosse area and don’t have yours yet, or want to pick one up for a gift for an adventurer you know, stop out at the Valley View Mall!
If you’ve read Paddle for a Purpose, you know we stayed with Terry and Donna at their retirement home on the family farmstead during our paddle. Well, it made sense to them to have us back during our book trip to La Crosse. Who were we to argue with that? We enjoyed the beautiful country, the small town De Soto life, and rides along the river. Reminiscing about the tractor pull we attended our last time in the area, I mentioned that, although I grew up in Wisconsin, I never rode a tractor. I was hoping Terry would give me a ride, but instead, he taught me how to drive his antique Massey-Ferguson all by myself! We finished our Wisconsin Mississippi visit by visiting a craft fair in Ferryville and watching Harness Races and a Demolition Derby at the Vernon County Fair. Thanks, Terry and Donna, for another wonderful visit!
Our last book trip along the river will be the Twin Cities in December. We’ll be appearing at Subtext Books in St. Paul, with one of my favorite authors, Jim Landwehr, doing a joint book reading and conversation. Jim is the author of two memoirs (Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: a 70’s Memoir) and two books of poetry (Written Life and Reciting From Memory), with more coming out soon. I’m honored to be appearing with him. If you’re interested in what else we’re up to, check out the Appearances tab on our main page. We wish you a blessed fall.
Barb and Gene