In June, 1995 the Wausau Common Council adopted the River Edge Master Plan as a component of the City master plan. The report (available online as a 1.8 MB PDF) identifies long and short term strategies for improving public access to the City’s most important natural resource - the Wisconsin River. This master plan provides a framework for protecting and enhancing the scenic beauty of the river corridor and outlines activities, programs and projects that improve the public’s ability to enjoy this resource. The master plan addresses many management and use issues related to the Wisconsin River, with a focus on continuing development of the River Edge Parkway. The parkway is intended to: physically link the parks located along the river; improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation facilities in the community; and enhance recreational opportunities. The plan was drafted by the City Planning Office and the Wausau River Edge Commission. The recommendations contained in the report are intended to protect and enhance the community’s use of the river. Most of these recommendations are focused on the continued development of the River Edge Parkway along both banks of the Wisconsin River. Other recommendations suggest improvements to the scenic quality of the river corridor through enhancement of the public’s view of the river and protection of natural features and vegetation. Surface water use recommendations are also outlined in the plan to address safety concerns and potential water user conflicts on Lake Wausau and other segments of the river.
To provide a conceptual framework for this planning effort, a vision statement was developed of what the Wisconsin River corridor might be like in 20 to 30 years. The entire vision statement is provided below:
- The corridor would be that portion of the City bordering both banks of the Wisconsin River, up to three city blocks deep in some cases, set off by purpose and design to make the natural resource its most important element and feature. An overall impression is that the natural qualities, expressed through trees, vegetation and both visual and physical access to the water, stand out.
Building development fits in and complements the natural elements. Some centrally located commercial properties have been converted to public ownership. Manufacturing and some commercial properties have evolved to retail and professional office enterprises and housing.
Central to the concept is a web of walkways, a network that reaches from City limit to City limit through the corridor and along the river wherever physically possible, including across bridges and islands. The walkway network is a transportation alternative allowing bicycle, pedestrian and other non-motorized modes of travel access to and from residential and commercial segments throughout the corridor and connects existing parks along the river edge. This walkway or parkway brings people to the river corridor.
A new central downtown bridge brings people to a view of the new Library and Wausau Century development. Recently landscaped and remodeled County buildings complement the entryway on the south. A segment of the parkway reaches from the heart of downtown at Oak Island all the way north along the river to Gilbert Park on the east side. Another high-bank, parkway segment brings people from northwest residences near Schofield Park to Bridge Street on the west side.
To bring this vision into reality, completion of the River Edge Parkway was identified as the central focus for public and private expenditures within the river corridor. It is generally felt that the parkway will stimulate other development within the river edge corridor. The strategies identified within the plan for implementing the various recommendations suggest that the River Edge Commission, Park Commission, Plan Commission, and various City departments and agencies outside of City government participate and cooperate in carrying out public improvements within the corridor. Since the plan’s adoption, substantial progress has been made to implement a number of the plan recommendations related to development of individual segments of the parkway.