Chippewa Valley blessed with great bike trails
by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist
I spent the first two weekends of September bicycling with kids. There are some great trails in this area!
The Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we took our five kids on the Red Cedar Trail for the first time. This is an off-road bicycle trail that follows the Red Cedar River from Menomonie to the Chippewa River.
The Red Cedar Trail is made of crushed limestone, like its older and more famous sister trail, the Sparta-Elroy. The Red Cedar doesn't have the cool tunnels that the Sparta-Elroy does, but the river it hugs is quaint and scenic.
We stopped to eat the lunch we carried at a picnic table near Downsville. After lunch, we were soon at the end of the trail, where the Red Cedar merges with the Chippewa River. Unlike every other bike trail we've been on, this one does not end in a town, although the end of the Red Cedar Trail is the beginning of another trail that takes you to Eau Claire.
Eau Claire wasn't on our itinerary that day, but swimming was! There were some great sand bars at that spot on the Chippewa River that allowed some refreshing frolicking in the water. We have found in the past that a mid-ride swim can renew our kids' enthusiasm for biking.
Speaking of kids, we have found another secret of bicycling with kids. If they are with others their age, the complaining disappears! For this trip, my brother and his wife drove out from St. Paul with their two boys and two girls. When there are nine kids, the positive peer pressure to finish is stronger.
On the way back north to Menomonie, we stopped in Downsville and found a coffee shop that made incredible Mocha Fudge malts. Our kids normally pay their own way for treats, but on a bike trip we like to treat them to whatever they want, to make sure they have the energy to finish.
When we got back to Riverside Park in Menomonie, tired but satisfied at our 30 miles, we used our cell phone to find out if there was a Domino's Pizza in that town, and if they delivered to a city park. There was, and they do! Gorging on pizza is a nice way to end the day for hungry bikers of all ages.
That trip on the Red Cedar was a nice trial run for our longer trip on the Old Abe Trail the following weekend with our Boy Scout troop. Our troop has done the Old Abe Trail in the past, but we always started at the trailhead by Native Bay (formerly Water's Edge) restaurant.
Now, however, with the great new trails through Chippewa Falls, we could start right in town!
We reset our bike odometers, hoping for a 60-mile weekend. From our house near Irvine Park, we headed for the new path on the east side of Duncan Creek, the one that starts at Leinenkugel's. That path leads all the way to the Chippewa River, where it takes a new shortcut to Pumphouse Road. The one-mile stretch on Pumphouse was the only time in the entire trip we had to actually ride on a road.
After crossing County I near the hospital, we were able to hop on the new trail in the business development. I told the boys that this new trail leads all the way across County S, but we soon hit DIRT! Hmmm...I assured them that I had used that path before and it was all paved, but it looks like some of the the bike path had to be rerouted and weren't done yet with the new construction.
No big deal; we were soon on pavement again and got to ride on the newly-converted railroad bridge over the Chippewa River near Native Bay.
From there it was a great ride to Jim Falls, where Julie Schaller, one of our troop moms, was waiting with our lunch. Another secret to biking with kids is to make sure they're well-fed!
After lunch we raced off to Cornell and beyond to the end of the trail, Brunet Island State Park. That place is beautiful, especially in September when it's so empty! All our camping gear was waiting for us, thanks to Troop Dad Scott Tillotson, who hauled up our trailer while we biked.
The afternoon and evening and the next morning were all typical of any Boy Scout campout -- splitting wood, building fires, cooking, setting up tents, bugle calls, a little football, and stories around the campfire.
Our total distance was 55 miles over two days. Next year I think we'll try an even longer trip! We also need to try the Chippewa River Trail that goes from Eau Claire to the Red Cedar, and we're keeping an eye on the progress of the new trail through Lake Hallie.
I was surprised that of the 16 boys and five men -- that's 42 tires -- we didn't have a single flat! I didn't have to lug around my heavy floor pump and bike tools after all.
But I couldn't help it: the Scout Motto is "Be Prepared."
You can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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