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Chippewa Falls offers plenty of fun for day trippers

A tiger at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls.

On a recent trip to Chippewa Falls, we took an opportunity to visit Irvine Park with our grandkids.

Our granddaughter Sophia is 5 years old and our grandson Zach turned 1 in April. Having spent the first two decades of our lives in Chippewa Falls, we tend to take a lot for granted. While our trips back home are getting fewer and farther between, we do manage to take the time to visit a few relatives and friends from time to time. Taking our grandkids to a location where we had spent many of our youthful hours added to the trip.

Irvine Park was established in 1906 when William Irvine, who owned the Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company, donated 165 acres to the city to form a recreational area. Since that time the park has grown to 318 acres and added many amenities.

Irvine Park has changed quite a bit since we had last made a visit. The old bear den, which was constructed in 1909 and began the start of the Irvine Park Zoo, has been replaced with a modern bear viewing area which allows the bear free movement and a natural setting in which to live.

Duncan Creek runs through the park and when we were kids we used to fish trout in the area. We caught chubs and suckers in the creek and then fed the bears through the woven wire that was just a few feet from the bars that separated the bears from the people in the old enclosure. The bears sure loved those fishy treats.

Located next to the bear dens was a long sandstone cave that was carved into the side of the hill. In years past, before reliable refrigeration, Leinenkugel's Brewery used this cave to cool its product, or so the story went. Walking into the cave certainly was a cool, refreshing experience on a hot summer day as a kid.

Irvine Park has always had some spectacular playground equipment. I remember particularly a set of three metal slides that were located in a single location in the park. The largest was a two-sectioned one that started out on a steep slope then leveled off a bit to be followed by a second slope that steepened sharply again providing maximum speed to the youth who dared to take the ride. I don't remember anyone really getting hurt on the equipment, except for a few minor bumps and scrapes. The slides and high swings are all gone, having been replaced with much safer versions of "politically correct" playground apparatus. I think kids had more fun back in those non-PC days.

Back in 1958, Chippewa Falls was in the path of a devastating tornado. A few people lost their lives and there was much destruction on the north end of town. I remember that evening well as an 11-year-old boy. Before the event it thundered continuously and the rain was torrential. My dad was an administrator for the National Guard and he received a call that the Guard was being sent out to help with the situation soon after the tornado hit. He spent the whole night and most of the next day helping to secure the devastated area.

Irvine Park, being on the north end of Chippewa Falls, was literally destroyed. The fences that contained the buffalo, deer and elk were blown down and most of the majestic white pines that were spared the logger's axe by the formation of the park were now gone. The park was no longer recognizable.

The Glen Loch icehouse which was used in earlier times to store ice for refrigeration, cut in the winter from Glen Loch Lake above the Glen Loch Dam, was demolished. It would take years to partially restore the damage done in just a few short moments. The scars from the storm have mostly healed but the magnificent park vista, visible before the tornado, can never be restored.

Despite the fact that "Jimmy the Talking Crow," who occasionally thrilled kids in early times with a choice cuss word or two, was gone, the quality and quantity of the zoo facilities and number of animal species has greatly expanded. Cougars and tigers can be observed within inches through glass windows and an ostrich or elk can be seen close up and personal in the high fence areas. Picnic tables are plentiful and open space is the rule and not the exception.

The grandkids had a great time during our three-hour park visit. Even Zach spent the majority of his time watching the events going on around him while the duck pond was Sophie's favorite attraction. There is much to see and do in the park and it was hard to get the kids to leave. If you are in the vicinity of Chippewa Falls, stop in for a visit. You won't be disappointed.

Best towns

In the June/July issue of "Outdoor Life," America's top 200 towns for outdoor sports activities are listed. Author John Taranto selects his locations based on a variety of factors, including hunting and fishing opportunities. He also looks at those places that rank high on youth activities, places to retire and value of the dollar.

With all things considered Rapid City, S.D. comes in No. 1. In looking over the list, Wisconsin does very well for itself placing seven of its cities in the top 200. Listed in order of ranking are Ashland (27), Phillips (31), Superior (44), Prairie du Chien (46), Rhinelander (67), Green Bay (112) and Stevens Point (159). Throw in the Packers, Badgers and Brewers and who wouldn't want to live in Wisconsin!

Wildlife surveys

Every few months I receive a copy of the Wisconsin Wildlife Surveys put out by the Department of Natural Resources. These green covered books contain a plethora of information. At times there is more information presented than the average guy really needs. I personally find the subjects in these publications extremely useful.

One of the articles in the April 2010 issue concerned a survey of archery hunters and was written by Brian Dhuey. Responses received back from 4,883 archers were analyzed with the following results.

"The average archer in Wisconsin is male, 46 years old, has 21.5 years of archery hunting experience, hunted for 15.8 days in 2009, uses a compound bow, camouflage, a tree stand, bow sites, deer scent, grunt call and mechanical release. Bow hunter density ranged from a high of 17.6 hunters per square mile of deer range per day in deer management unit 69C, to a low of 0.04 hunters per square mile in deer management unit 78."

About 75 percent of archers rated the 2009 season fairly low to very low in hunting quality.

Another report addressed the results of the 2009 Gun Deer Hunting questionnaire and was also written by Brian Dhuey. A total of 3,957 2009 gun hunters returned the survey which resulted in the following information. The 2009 gun deer season provided active hunters with more than 3.5 million days of hunter recreation. Gun deer hunters averaged 5.7 days a field during the 2009 season. The majority of gun deer hunting took place on private lands (71 percent). Thirty-two percent of the respondents in 2009 killed a deer. Eighty-two percent rated the 2009 season fairly low to very low in hunter satisfaction.