Onalaska celebrates Great River Landing project

Phase one officially complete

Onalaska celebrated a project years in the making with a grand opening Saturday.

The Great River Landing project on the Black River in downtown Onalaska aims to preserve the area’s natural beauty and bring tourism to the city.

Some 15 years after initial planning began and after about 15 months of construction, the first phase of the project is complete.

“(I’m) very excited,” Mayor Joe Chilsen said.

A new trailhead building, plaza area and scenic overlook off Second Avenue near Main Street face the river.

“Wisconsin people are known for working very hard, so they need a place to play, and this is one right in their own back yard that’s kind of laid dormant for several decades,” Chilsen said. “So we’re opening that opportunity back up.”

“Oh, it’s absolutely exciting,” said Mary Cody, a member of the Great River Landing Committee. “You anticipate it for so many years and go through so many different decisions and ideas, and what we ended up with, I think, is functional, and it helps the community come together.”

Cody and owns a restaurant across the street, and she’s looking forward to increased foot traffic.

“I’m excited to have people know that there is a downtown Onalaska,” she said. “You know, it’s that old adage, ‘If you build it, they will come.'”

Chilsen said the Great River Landing project has already paved the way for the Skogen project, adding a park and restaurant across the street, and it opens up other possibilities for what downtown Onalaska can be.

“It’s going to be a launch pad for great things to come,” said.

With the completion of phase one comes the beginning of phase two. Chilsen said it’s still early in the planning process, but he thinks it will involve building a walkway to the spillway.

He also said there will be at least three phases in the project. Phase one cost $2.3 million, which the city secured through DNR grants and money from room taxes.