County-By-County La Crosse: Grandad Bluff

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This week Fox 25/48 is taking a closer look at La Crosse County in our County-By-County series. Tonight, reporter Zach Prelutsky tells us about a La Crosse landmark: Grandad Bluff Park.

Grandad Bluff is one of the first sights that comes to mind when you think of La Crosse. It is postcard-esque.

“I’ve been told that it is the number one scenic overlook on the Mississippi from north of Duluth all the way down to New Orleans.”

Starting in the 1850s, the land known as Grandad Park was used for quarrying as stone from the side of the bluff would be taken out and used to build the foundation of houses.

In 1912, a group of women led by Ellen Hixon purchased the land, which was in turn given to the city of La Crosse to be used as a park.

Over the years a shelter was added to the park, the flag pole was added, as well as other amenities and landmarks.

Steve Carolyn took over as La Crosse parks and recreation director ten years ago.

“One of my mentors from my previous job employment was in town and I did what everybody here does.  You take him up to Grandads, you say there’s Iowa, there’s Minnesota.  That cliff over there Minnesota, and this one right here were the banks of the Mississippi River and that’s fact.  That’s how wide that river was, and he pretty much looked at me and said Steve is this one of your parks?  And I said yeah, and he said this is not what I expected to come out of what you do and then I looked at it and it was obvious it was in was in bad shape.”

In 2011, restoration for the park began.

“It’s one of those projects that you don’t know where it’s going to end up, but you know you gotta do something.  We were about to close it, that’s how dangerous it was up there in terms of the foundations, the terrain, it was just deplorable.”

More than a year and 1.4 million dollars later, Grandad Park reopened with the same feel it had a century earlier. Now, a new shelter rests on top of the bluff. The exact dimensions of the original shelter drawn up in the 1930s.

“You get a sense when you’re up there, just as in many parks, that more than just looking at it, you feel what’s going on there.  You understand what happened in the past, you can appreciate the beauty of this community.”

For Carolyn, the community was the reason he couldn’t close the park because as he learned everyone in the area has a story from the park.

“An elderly couple from Omaha, Nebraska, was here for something with the university. They had gone to school here and they showed up and said can we go look at this.  You know, we were kind of reluctant at first and then we realized they had come from a long distance, so we put hard hats on them and we walked them out on the construction site and you could see them giggling a little bit and the one guy looks at his wife and says remember when we were over there.  So, they have memories, those memories were created either when they grew up or they went to school here and to come back and see that it’s still there, those are the personal stories that I think everybody may have those, we just hear a few of them.”

The restoration won various state and national awards back in 2013. Today, Grandad Bluff Park is open and is in its best shape in decades.

In La Crosse. Zach Prelutsky, Fox 25/48 First News at Nine.

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