Riverwalk highlights Lawrence community’s renewed relationship with Fox River

Maija Anstine

President Jill Beck hosted an unofficial opening for Lawrence’s new riverwalk last Friday afternoon, May 14.
The trail runs along the Fox River, east of Trever Hall, all the way to the Gilboy Council Ring at the SLUG gardens.
The project, funded completely by alumni donations, is the final product of Assistant Professor of Geology Andrew Knudsen’s Environmental Studies 300 class, taught in the fall of 2006.
The course focused on the history of the Fox River and its connections to Lawrence. Students researched the biological history of the river, as well as the history of its pollution and how Lawrence was founded.
The goal of the course and the resulting riverwalk project was, as Knudsen explained, “to not differentiate between the human experience and nature. [to] give people a sense that the environment is here, not ‘out west.'”
“The riverwalk is very student-designed,” said Knudsen. Students in his class recommended what type of gravel to use for the path, the shape of the path and the content of the interpretive signs.
Knudsen explained that the process of transferring student ideas to the hands of landscape architects has been interesting to observe. “They did take the spirit and general design of what students had done and turned it into what’s down there now.”
Lynn Hagee, director of conferences and summer programs, played a primary role in the realization of the riverwalk project. Beyond being largely responsible for the nuts and bolts of the trail construction, she connected students with Michael Gross, professor at UW-Steven’s Point, to construct strong, graffiti-proof interpretive signs for along the river.
There are three interpretive signs along the riverwalk. One, located on nearby Sage terrace, addresses Lawrence’s history with the Fox River. The other two, along the riverwalk itself, address the river’s geological history and early European settlers in the area.
The latter sign was largely the product of Professor of Anthropology Peter Peregrine’s editing, though, like the trail itself, it was initially dreamt up by students. The sign contains anecdotes from Claude Allouez, a Jesuit missionary from France who stumbled upon the area when his canoe was stuck near what is today the Lawrence campus. Allouez disliked the Fox River, which, at the time, was mostly rapids, some nearly as high as Niagara Falls at points between Green Bay and Lake Winnebago.
The riverwalk is, in Peregrine’s words, “another way to get us tied to the river a little bit more.” He explained that the Lawrence community used to mostly ignore the river.
In recent years, however, the approach has been “totally transformed,” with the construction of buildings like Briggs Hall that take advantage of the river’s proximity. “The riverwalk is probably the end product of that change of focus.”
Hagee agreed that the riverwalk “[adds] a dimension to the campus not here previously,” noting that before “there wasn’t any area to commune with nature.”
Knudsen explained a hope that the new trail will “bring people down to the river. to appreciate the Fox as a dynamic ecosystem, as an environmental focal point.

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