Biking in Eau Claire – An Historical Perspective
Gain inspiration for Ride Across Wisconsin from someone who has been there, done that. Discover the history of biking in Eau Claire from a cyclist who participated in Race Across Wisconsin 35 years ago, and gain inspiration for your epic adventures like the 2022 Ride Across Wisconsin journey from La Crosse to Milwaukee.
Article and Photos by Friend of the Bike Fed, Martin Zens
The Old Abe Trail—Chippewa County
Old Abe means many things to many people in the Chippewa Valley. “Once an Old Abe, Always an Old Abe” is a popular saying at Memorial High in Eau Claire where I worked this last school year as Student Achievement Coach. To others the frequent images of bald eagles soaring over the Chippewa River in downtown Eau Claire is enough to recall 50 years past when extinction was in question. The famous Civil War mascot and then Memorial High namesake, Old Abe was a thorn in the Confederates side for many reasons during the war, they had a bounty out on him. All this history began in Eau Claire on the shores of the lifeblood of the community—the Chippewa River on a Friday in September, 1861. Fitting today that Abe, a bald eagle and our national bird, anchors 20 miles of paved trail next to the Chippewa River between Chippewa Falls and Brunet State Park in Cornell. If you’d like to have a river on your left and then on your right as you out-and-back this peaceful canopied forest tunneled trail, come to the Chippewa Falls. Dotted along the trail one finds historical remnants of Old Abe and how the legend came to be. Passing over the west side of Lake Wissota on the bike-only bridge the Old Abe Trail illustrates the superlative effort of the Wisconsin DNR to bring this historical trail to life. And, Leinie’s Lodge is a short drive from the trailhead.
Feeling The Power?
Riding back to back 100 plus days, 165 or 235 miles in one day is nothing to sneeze at, I know, “done ‘em all”. So, hold back on that power, dole it out with good forethought and open the sluice gates only when needed. We can all learn something from the flow of water. Along the Old Abe Trail in Jim Falls, Chippewa County lies an engineering marvel on the Chippewa River—the once largest hydro electric plant in Wisconsin at Jim Falls. Harnessing the Chippewa River this Xcel Energy facility lets the resource plunge into a rugged rock river bottom as needed. Stopping, one senses being off in a remote Precambrian setting. The view is well worth the fourth mile detour to the west of the Old Abe Trail on the north side of Jim Falls.
Come see the sights for yourself!