Work on the Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute will continue as scheduled despite COVID-19.
A groundbreaking ceremony for Phase 1 of the tribute is scheduled for mid- or late June at River Prairie Park in Altoona along the Eau Claire River, according to Mark Beckfield, president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation and an Eau Claire County Board supervisor. Other than the cancelation of a flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Beckfield said all other aspects of the groundbreaking are on track.
Funding is covered for Phase 1, which will cost about $700,000. It will include a "wall of tears" along with an honor mall next to a field of gray and red "legacy stones" made of granite. The foundation has sold close to 1,000 stones, which are available to anyone, and Beckfield said there is enough space for about 2,700.
Beckfield also said a tribute flag pole costing about $100,000 should arrive within the next two weeks. The foundation hopes to raise an American flag near July 4.
The tribute will be built in four phases totaling at least $2.2 million over four years. A tribute trail will eventually be constructed, and it will begin with the Civil War and feature monuments for the 13 American wars since. The tribute focuses on veterans and their personal sacrifices. The trail will also include life-size bronze statues, a water feature honoring prisoners of war, and an area supporting Gold Star families. Beckfield said the trail will be at least 1,900 feet long and about 12 feet wide upon completion.
Beckfield anticipates a few hundred people attending the groundbreaking ceremony in June. Under an Eau Claire County COVID-19 prevention and control order, a gathering of that size is currently not allowed to happen, but Beckfield expressed confidence it will occur.
Altoona Mayor Brendan Pratt said the community will play it by ear, as circumstances change every week. As the groundbreaking date approaches, Pratt and foundation leaders will talk with public health experts and county officials to make sure everything is done while adhering to proper safety.
"We want to work with them as much as possible and do what we need to do to comply as much as we can," Pratt said.
If the groundbreaking happens next month, Beckfield said physical distancing will occur, as he expects a significant turnout.
"The veterans say they'll come hell or high water," Beckfield said.
Patrick LaVelle plans to attend the ceremony and take precautions like physical distancing and wearing a face mask. He expects most people will act similarly and said it helps that the ceremony will take place outdoors, where COVID-19 is less likely to spread between people.
"Of course I'll be there," LaVelle said. "I wouldn't miss it for anything ... People just have to be careful."
LaVelle is an Army Reserves veteran and former County Board supervisor. He and several extended family members purchased legacy stones.
Coronavirus has slowed down the construction and shipping of a few tribute aspects, but Beckfield said the goal is to have everything in Phase 1 completed by Veterans Day on Nov. 11.