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Veterans trail project seeks OK to start this summer

Leader-Telegram - 2/12/2019

Feb. 12--A veterans tribute trail will honor those who served, but will also be an attraction that will bring people to downtown Eau Claire, city resident Kenny Lane said.

Recently retired after 34 years in the Army, the Eau Claire veteran was among many who turned out Monday night to show the City Council how much support the project has.

"It's going to put Eau Claire on the map," Lane said during the project's public hearing.

On Tuesday afternoon, the council will vote on giving the green light to the project so construction can begin this summer on public land between Forest Street and the Eau Claire River, just south of the city's Central Maintenance Facility.

"There have been enough funds collected to date that we can enter into phase one of the project, which is to connect the trail system from the High Bridge to Phoenix Park," said Jeff Pippenger, Eau Claire's community services director.

This summer's planned work includes a paved trail, gathering place for veterans ceremonies and a small parking lot off of Forest Street, which will also serve nearby community gardens.

Future years will add lighting, a restroom, stone monuments and other features along the trail.

Estimated to cost a total of $2.2 million, the project had raised nearly $1 million by mid-January.

"I have to tell you I've never been so proud of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County as I've been of their contributions to this project," said Mark Beckfield, a county supervisor who has been a part of the volunteer project since it started about two years ago. He noted that public and private sources have helped make it happen.

The tribute will include monuments for every war from the Civil War onward, flags for every branch of service, a Gold Star mothers emblem, a water feature recognizing prisoners of war and a bell representing peace. Eventually the volunteer group behind the project also wants to commission statues representing soldiers from each war, Beckfield said.

While the tribute will commemorate how Eau Claire's history and people intersect with America's wars, it is not going to have weapons displayed prominently.

"We're not going to put anything in here with big war machines," Pippenger said. "We wanted to promote a big reflection area."

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(c)2019 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

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