New city partnership to preserve and protect bluff land

You can’t drive through the Coulee Region without noticing the bluffs towering along the road.    

It’s a resource leaders in the La Crosse area are coming together to try to protect.

On Wednesday, city officials from La Crosse and Onalaska as well as town officials from Shelby and Medary announced their newly formed partnership.

The goal is to join forces to preserve and protect the area’s bluff lands by buying as much property as they can.  


The city of La Crosse has worked closely with the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to buy and protect more than 1,000 acres of bluff land.

But city officials said to truly make this a success, the whole region has to be involved.

“I think people came to the realization that at some point we wanted to update the bluff land protection plan. The city has a plan but it really just deals with the city, so it led to a meeting that led to a couple more meetings that said, ‘Let’s get these townships and the city of Onalaska into the discussion and say this is more than just the city’s bluff land program,'” said Larry Kirch, director of the La Crosse Planning Department.

Next week, the group will ask the La Crosse Area Planning Committee to facilitate the effort.

From there, they’ll map out a plan that will figure out which areas are a priority to preserve first.    

Along with its natural beauty, the land is also a major player in the health of the local economy.

The recreational opportunities the bluffs provide for people living in the Coulee Region are unique.

City officials said when it comes to attracting and keeping talent at our local businesses, the bluffs are a major selling point.

Drive down Losey Boulevard in La Crosse and it’s not hard to notice the beauty of the Coulee Region.

It’s a sight local businesses hope their recruits will notice too.

“I ran a company for a long time and hired, and that was one of the big recruitment tools,” said Ralph Heath, board member of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance.

Heath said the new partnership among city leaders to protect the bluffs is crucial to local businesses.

“You’re trying to convince somebody to leave a job that they have in Chicago, rip their family out of school and move them to La Crosse. So you want to try and sell everything you can, and if you can take them on these trails, it just helps close the deal,” said Heath.

“This is an absolutely necessary and critical component to the package that our area can offer to attract people to come here and stay here. And what I hear from folks is once they get here and see what the area has to offer, they’re sold,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

While the plan won’t be cheap, Heath said it’s well worth the investment.

“Studies show that the return on investment when municipalities invest in these recreational trails is like 15-fold what they put into it,” said Heath.

Officials are hoping that joining forces will also help them come up with the money to purchase new land.

They’ll work closely with non-profit organizations like the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to apply for grants and find ways to acquire the land.   

The La Crosse County Administrator said there are about 300,000 acres of land in the county; 5,000 to 10,000 of it is protected.