Falls Bluff Loop project increases hiking options
Winter offers its own rewards for hikers willing to brave the cold and snow, say members of the Rivertown Trails Coalition, a team of Osceola residents working to expand the village’s trail system.
Those who make a point of getting out are likely to encounter the season’s stunning beauty, say Deb Kravik and Germaine Ross, Trails Coalition members.
“If you haven’t taken the trails in the winter after a snowfall, it’s purely magical,” says Ross, who also serves as director of the Osceola Area Chamber of Commerce. “Deer crossing, mist rising, the snowflakes.”
And a new landmark, the recently completed Falls Bluff Loop Trailhead, now connects three of the village’s existing trails — Cascade Falls, Eagle Bluff and Simonstad — into a challenging trek that brings hikers from the waterfall to the river, up the bluff and back again.
“We want our trails to be so you can get really up close and personal,” says Ross, “touch the waterfall, touch the river, hear the water.”
One tip for hiking the intentionally rugged path in winter: “Get those lovely little cleat boots at Bill’s Ace Hardware,” Ross advises.
“The Falls Bluff Loop is a challenging trail,” adds Kravik, who chairs the Trails Coalition. “But the reward is the incredible view of the St. Croix. The birding up there is amazing, and now with the Boy Scout benches, people have a place to sit and watch them.”
The idea for the Falls Bluff Loop seems to have grown with the Trails Coalition itself.
“The whole thing started as talk and a vision that evolved with the Rivertown Trails Coalition,” Kravik explains. “When we initially started we talked about all the people that come to Osceola and the beauty that we have. People come to ride the train and don’t know what else is here. They could come to hike.”
Instead of creating fragmented trails around town, the Trails Coalition worked to create loops so people could understand where they were going and get back easily. They also worked for a wow factor.
“It was always to bring more people here to enjoy what we have,” says Kravik, “the river, the waterfall, the views, and the businesses we have here.”
As the trails came together and the Trails Coalition began working on the trailhead in earnest, the design took on a life of its own.
A footbridge over the stream in Geiger Park, a little-used green space behind the BP station, grew from a side note into a primary component.
“It was an historical feature of Osceola that was overgrown with buckthorn and reed canary grass,” explains Ross, a landscape designer by trade. “We made (the footbridge) a bigger part … and the natural spring kind of led us through the whole design.”
As much as possible, the Trails Coalition incorporated products from the area into the trailhead: the deck is limestone from the site itself, cedar for poles came from Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy, and the sign was laser cut at BPS in East Farmington.
Trails Coalition members and other locals stepped in to help with the labor.
“It turned out to be a truly collaborative community project,” Kravik says, “which we absolutely could not have done without the help of the Boy Scouts.”
Local Scout Troop 131 and their families helped with everything from the trailhead bridge to benches for the paths, with leadership from Eagle Scout candidates Riley Koosman and Nicholas Kramer.
And community members Bob Whaley and Scott Lindahl hand scraped the poles and railings and installed pavers to make the patio and path up to the bridge.
Kravik and Ross estimated that volunteers spent a collective 1,500 hours on the project.
And many groups chipped in with grants and donations adding up to $6,000. These included the Western Wisconsin Realtors Association, Polk-Burnett’s Operation Round-Up, the Osceola Lions Club, Valley Brew Fest, Osceola Chamber Bluff Fund, Northwire and an in-kind donation from the Village of Osceola.
Materials were donated by J&S Landscaping, St. Croix Valley Landscaping, Abrahamson’s Nursery and Dresser Trap Rock. Many others offered discounts.
Ross and Kravik estimate the project’s value at $45,000 — roughly quadruple their initial plans and expectations.
They say the project has been very well received.
“We’ve had people tell us, ‘I never knew this was here,’” says Ross. “And, ‘What other town has these three features (a waterfall, river and bluff views) right in their downtown? … It’s great to be able to hike these trails and then go to lunch.’”
“I also heard, ‘We used to drive through Osceola but never stopped,’” says Kravik, “‘but now we’ll stop.’ People who stopped for the first time one week came back the next week to bring their neighbors.”
For locals, monthly Doc Walks offer a year round opportunity to get to know the trails on doctor-led hikes.
“The thing about all the trails,” says Kravik, “is they’re so good for your health — physical health, mental health, your social life. They get people outside and enjoying what we have, winter and summer.”