The City of La Crosse selected Ayres Associates to develop designs for an eagle viewing area along the west side of US 53/STH 35 (Rose Street) along the Black River near its confluence with the Mississippi. This prime birdwatching spot holds an official eagle viewing plaza, parking, a path, and native plantings. The 4-acre slice of land previously was bisected by a busy exit ramp connecting eastbound I-94 to US 53 and STH 35.
The small but notable project featured extensive communication with public sector entities, businesses, and organizations, and Ayres’ staff took great care in guiding the project’s vision through the obstacle course of budget demands and administrative requirements.
The roadside oasis’ appearance and the materials used to build it keep it rooted in the local significance of rivers and wildlife. Visitors notice a distinctive, custom-made perforated metal sign with an image of an eagle, along with a single-support shade structure that evokes an eagle in flight. The site features stationary viewing scopes at various heights for people to zoom in on birds and other features of the river valley. Permeable pavers in pedestrian areas reduce runoff to nearby waterways. Safe crossings for pedestrians are built into the Rose Street design at the entrance to the new wayside. The overall highway project north and south of this spot included a new bicycle/pedestrian pathway. The eagle viewing area accommodates the continuation of this multimodal trail, and its bike racks invite bicyclists to pause there.
City officials, neighborhood and business associations, a historian, and birders all were asked for their input on the design. Ayres’ landscape architecture group collaborated frequently with traffic engineers, civil engineers, structural engineers, a lighting consultant, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and City officials.
Key functionality concerns included spacing the facility’s access road a safe distance from the interchange, making sure most of the 4-acre site is accessible to people of all abilities, and designing safe, efficient vehicular circulation.
Creating visual continuity between the landscaping and plantings along US 53/STH 35 and those inside the viewing area was important. Other key design considerations included choosing seed mixes partly aimed at providing perennial food sources for wildlife, such as sunflowers, which are popular with various bird species. Cultivated varieties of native species were used. Slope stability and erosion control measures were crucial during construction, given the site’s proximity to rivers.
The eagle viewing area and nearby landscape enhancements and multi-use trail were supported by federal, state, and local funding, including over $800,000 in Wisconsin Community Sensitive Design Funds. The improvements are aimed at catalyzing private investment on this important corridor by enticing interstate travelers and local residents to experience the beauty of the region.