For decades, Wausau’s riverfront has captivated the imaginations of many who envision its possibilities encompassing housing, recreation and commercial ventures. The picturesque area — stretching south of Bridge Street to Thomas Street — is a source of inspiration for residents and visitors alike. With its potential for development, the riverfront draws the attention of city planners, entrepreneurs and residents who recognize the opportunity to create something exceptional in the heart of the city.
Dotted along the riverfront are success stories of how public parks and buildings went from concept to creation, such as Whitewater Park, Riverlife Park, Dudley Tower and WOW. Developers and dedicated citizens invested years and capital, bringing these worthy endeavors to fruition.
In recent years, changing consumer habits have made urban living more desirable, generating demand for affordable housing in downtown Wausau. The Foundry on 3rd will offer 154 urban apartments and mixed-use spaces. The city’s goal is to create a more pedestrian-friendly and highly connected area. “The ongoing improvements to the riverfront are becoming increasingly important as more residents will depend on these amenities in the coming years,” said Dave Eckmann, president of Wausau Opportunity Zone.
The Wisconsin River has a long history with the city, dating back to the logging era of the 1830s. Today’s urban developers have highlighted the outstanding advantages of having a riverfront within walking distance of the city center. Their vision includes a high-quality riverfront housing district seamlessly integrated with the downtown through landscaping, lighting, trail connections and other amenities.
Here are some of the latest riverfront developments:
The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway™The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway is a shining example of Wausau’s commitment to being a prominent water sports and recreation destination. The 108-mile-long water trail consists of three rivers winding through central Wisconsin, starting at the Hat Rapids Dam in Oneida County and ending in Portage County at the Lake DuBay Dam.
Park Service recently visited the area around Clarke Island to provide technical assistance in updating the water trail and kayak course. The three-day visit was part of a non-monetary grant that also focused on a dock launch system. Hadley Landing will be a handicapped-accessible canoe and kayak launch for paddlers that utilizes the portage at Clarke Island. The design of the Clarke Island campus also allows for 52 parking spaces. “It’s part of an effort to enhance accessibility and make the whitewater course more recreational,” said Bill Bertram, president of the Wausau and Marathon County Parks and Recreation Foundation. Bertram expects exciting developments on the horizon in the years ahead.
To further support the growth and promotion of the water trail, the foundation received a marketing grant to boost awareness and attract more kayakers to the region. A grand opening event is planned for Saturday, August 26, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting at WOW and heading to the Lake DuBay Dam.
Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce New Headquarters
The chamber recently relocated to the historic depot building, which was established in 1899 as the Chicago and Northwestern Depot, where trains connected Wausau to the rest of the world. “This beautiful restoration symbolizes the city’s enduring importance as a major hub of activity in the state,” said Eckmann.
Clarke Island WPS Powerhouse
Built in 1904, the Clarke Island Powerhouse played a significant role in establishing Wausau as an economic driver in central Wisconsin, harnessing the hydropower of the Wisconsin River. The Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Wisconsin Public Service to preserve and repurpose the powerhouse campus. Plans are underway to make it a dynamic event center focused on business and innovation gatherings. Some of the program offerings include the chamber’s Transformational Leadership, Senior Business Leader Mentors, The Branch and Workforce Hub.
A thousand-square-foot deck overlooking the Wisconsin River and a garden patio overlooking the Wausau Whitewater kayak course are in the works, along with a space to host corporate community events with groups of up to 150 people.
River Edge Parkway
The River Edge Parkway project is intended to link parks, walkways and multiuse trails along the Wisconsin River over several decades. The trail network is a conduit for alternative transportation, allowing bicycles, pedestrians other non-motorized modes of travel access to and from residential and commercial areas throughout the corridor. “This has the potential to increase activity and commerce along the riverfront and attract young professionals to the area,” said Eckmann.
Bikes are currently available between two stations — River Drive underneath Bridge Street near Riverlife Park and the other station south of the parking lots. Users can access the bikes for a minimal rate using an app on their smartphones and scan a QR code on the bike.
Streets and Parking
Continual improvements of surface parking lots, streets, sidewalks and underutilized areas is an ongoing endeavor that holds great importance as it enhances walkability and facilitates connections to the riverfront.
What’s Happening Down by the Riverfront
Big Bull Falls Blues Festival
Wisconsin's longest-running Blues Fest is held at Fern Island. Bring your lawn chair and get ready to enjoy some great blues! Food and beverage vendors on site. Go to Wausau Events for the music lineup and ticket information.
2023 Midwest Freestyle Championships
This kayak competition at the Wausau Whitewater Park is for everyone from beginners to intermediate and advanced. This event is also great to watch from river banks! A freestyle clinic will be held on August 17-18. Go to Wausau Whitewater’s website or visit their Facebook page for more information.
Saturdays and Wednesdays – 7:30 a.m.-until sold out.
Wausau Farmers Market
Summer produce is in prime season right now at the farmer’s market. You will also find flowers, plants, fruit, meats, cheese, fresh eggs, honey, maple syrup, baked goods, coffee and so much more. Visit the market on River Drive!
Jazz on the River Sundays from 5-7 p.m.
August 13 – Jeff Erickson Quartet
August 20 – Jesse Crandall Trio Quartet
Kick back and listen to some jazz on Sunday evenings at Kickbusch Plaza (behind the Marathon County Library). Bring your lawn chair and a picnic. Sponsored by The River Valley Jazz Society. Click here to see the full schedule or to learn more about the artists.
Saturday, August 26 starting at 11 a.m.
The Great Pinery Heritage Waterway Grand Opening
A grand opening of the Great Pinery Heritage Waterway trail at Riverlife Park by Wausau on the Water in downtown Wausau. There will be a ribbon cutting at 12:30 p.m., paddle tours, giveaways, raffles, prizes and more. Go to their Facebook page for details and to sign up.
Be Wausome and Enjoy Wausau!
Exciting changes are happening in downtown Wausau. Wausau Opportunity Zone (WOZ) invites the community to stay informed by signing up for regular emails at downtownrefresh.com, a site WOZ launched in 2021 to involve and engage everyone. WOZ is leading the charge toward a new era of prosperity by partnering with Greater Wausau Prosperity Partnership, local governments, businesses and organizations.