Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute Set to Expand

The veteran's tribute will be expanding in 2022, all thanks to community donations and some help from the state.

At its Veterans Day ceremony, organizers with the Veterans Tribute Foundation, which maintains the tribute in River Prairie, announced they received a grant totaling $644,000. Half of the money was raised from donations, the other half matched by the Wisconsin DNR. The money will go toward phase three of the Veterans Trail Tribute project. 

"Along the almost one-mile trail, there will be 15 bump-outs where people can stop, rest, and learn," said Mark Beckfield, President of the Veterans Foundation. "It's really an exciting addition next year."

At each of the stops along the trail, people will find interactive stations to learn about every war from the Civil War to the War on Terror.

This phase of the project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.

Local Veterans Hoist American Flag at Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute

As a way to kick off the fourth of July weekend, hundreds of people gathered in River Prairie Park in Altoona to watch the raising of the American flag at the Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute.

While socially distancing, veterans and people from the community watched the 40 by 80 foot American flag raise up onto its 140-foot flag pole.

"It means everything to our veterans," said Eau Claire County Veterans Foundation President Mark Beckfield.

"You can't put it into words because it's so overwhelming," said veteran Eric Killen. "Then when you get all the veterans in one space and you do the national anthem and see this impressive flag it's an emotional event."

After over four years of planning by the Eau Claire County Veterans Foundation, people and veterans in the area say they are emotional to finally celebrate phase one of the four-phase tribute. The last phases will include an honor mall, a timeline trail, monuments, and stories of local veterans.

"This is really important in the Chippewa Valley," said Alex Laffey of Eau Claire. "We don't have a flag like this as large and as incredible as this so being able to drive by it every day is going to be incredible for all of the people throughout the Chippewa Valley."

"The whole tribute of the Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute is to honor the flag in our country," said Beckfield. "To educate our youth that freedom is not free and to remember those in the Chippewa Valley who have served with honor and their stories will be told right here in River Prairie."

Veterans and people from the community say there couldn't have been a better way to start their fourth of July weekend even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this newly added American flag, veterans say they are excited to continue to see the community's appreciation.

"This is a big thank you every day when they drive by," said Beckfield. "Over 80,000 cars drive by here every day and we say thank you to our veterans. Thank you for your service."

Copyright 2020 WEAU. All rights reserved.

Flagpole in Place at Future Veterans Park Site in Altoona

One of the tallest flagpoles in the Chippewa Valley was put in place Friday, June 26 at the site of a future veterans park.

The 140-foot tall flagpole stands on the northeast side of Altoona's River Prairie Park.

Earlier this month, ground was broken at the site of the future park.

As for the flag it will hold, it's 40 feet tall and 80 feet long.

It had to be spread out in the auditorium at Regis High School in order to be properly folded.

The plan is to have the flag flying in time for the July 4 holiday.

"The flag pole came from Michigan and was shipped here. We went through many, many permits like the City of Eau Claire, the county, and of course the FAA. Many permits and hundreds of meetings with people," said Eau Claire County Veterans Foundation President Mark Beckfield.

Copyright 2020 WEAU. All rights reserved.

Veterans Tribute Mainly on Track

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.

Veterans Foundation Is Very Proud of Moving Park Project to Altoona

The Veterans Tribute Foundation is very proud to announce our recent partnership with the City of Altoona for the new location of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute. 

In our mission to preserve Eau Claire County's history and inspire and educate visitors about the service and sacrifice of local veterans, we are excited to have access to the many amenities available within the River Prairie Park development. With easy access from Hwy 53, the tribute will be visible from the highway and accommodate large groups for school field trips and Veteran events. 

The site comes complete with ample parking and exceptional handicap access to a river trail, the flag honor mall, as well as an outdoor amphitheater. 

This community gathering space is already a place that people want to be and fosters a sense of pride in the people who live and work in the surrounding area. 

The existing conference center, restaurants, and a hotel on-site make it an ideal location for large group events. And with no FEMA flood plain restrictions, we are confident the new location will be a secure and safe environment for the monuments and statuary that will be part of the Veterans tribute. 

Overall the River Prairie park development is beautifully designed with breathtaking views of the historic Eau Claire river. We feel that our Veterans tribute concept fits seamlessly into an inclusive development that is perfect for all generations and abilities to enjoy. We look forward to working with the City of Altoona and their talented team of developers to give Eau Claire County a Veterans tribute it can be proud of for generations to come.

Our Decision to Move the Project Out of Eau Claire to Altoona

It is the official position of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation that after much deliberation, we are moving our plans for the $2,200,000 Veteran's tribute from the City of Eau Claire to the City of Altoona within their River Prairie development.

We have found this move to be in the best interest of the project and those who we represent as we have been welcomed without bias or agenda. The move is also financially responsible as it does not require additional infrastructure outside of our original design and budget, and we can begin construction sooner than anticipated.

We would like to sincerely thank the City of Eau Claire staff, especially Jeff Pippenger and Todd Chwala, and the rest of the Community Services and Parks Department, for their help with our project's planning.

We could not have asked for a more professional group of people to work with, and they should be commended for their talents and dedication to the City. For this reason, the Foundation is donating the schematics for the trail planned for the Forest Street special area to the City in the hopes that they will be used for a future project that the entire community can accept and enjoy.

At the start, the Veteran's tribute was well received by members of the Eau Claire City Council, City of Eau Claire Waterways and Parks Commission, and the Eau Claire County Board. With their support, we moved forward with a plan that met all of the requirements of the parties involved. Somewhere along the very complicated process, the focus of some elected officials was diverted to special interest and bias.

Let us be absolutely clear; we will not let the message of special interest groups dilute our mission of honoring our local Veterans of past, present, and future. While we appreciate the passionate and lively debate that this project has inspired in the community, we ask that future discussions be focused in a more positive and non-biased light.

In a public project of this size, we realize that we cannot please 100% of the population. However, we will bend over backward for the more than 87% who publicly showed their support for honoring our Veterans.

Our Foundation was born out of a United Council of Fourteen Veteran Service Organizations that has served the County for more than 100 years, and we would like to apologize directly to these organizations that have supported our mission from the beginning. We feel that you have been put through far too many public hearings where your stories of service, sacrifice, and loss have fallen upon ears deafened by personal agendas and political motivation.

If the decision-makers, whose capacity was given to them by the people, would have truly listened, there would be no controversy surrounding the name of a venue meant to honor and hold these stories as sacred. Be assured that the Foundation hears you and this was one of the major factors that led to the decision to move the project to the City of Altoona.

The Foundation is committed to completing this tribute in the spirit that it was started, as a proud legacy for our Veterans in the Chippewa Valley and beyond who served with honor. With an inclusive history of the men and women who are represented by diverse cultures, races, and creeds, we have many important stories to share with future generations - stories that honor the legacy of our Veterans and their families, whose sacrifices have made our community what it is today.