With the onset of snow and colder weather, the construction project that will add another1½ miles of walking trails to the new Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie, was recently suspended. Construction willcontinue next spring.
The project suspension also affects completion of the two small parking lots being constructed on the Refuge along County Road ZB. One parking lot is located directly across from an existing public walkdown that provides access to Lake Onalaska. The second will provide parking for a Lake Onalaska overlook to be constructed at some timein the future.
Much work was accomplished since construction began in late October. Among thetasks awaiting completion in the spring include adding gravel surface to about ½-mile of trail and paving another ¼-mile section of trail; installing curbs and gutters in both parking lots; paving the parking lots; landscaping; and constructing a kiosk and notice board at the parking lots.Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the Federal HighwayAdministration’s National Scenic Byway Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Transportation Program Funds.The general contractor is McHugh Excavating and Plumbing of Onalaska, Wisc.For safety reasons, the partially-constructed sections of trails and the two parking lots are not open to the public.The existing .75-mile section of paved walking/bike trail is open to the public this winter. No snow removal is planned.For more information, contact the La Crosse District Office at (608) 779-2399 or visit the new visitor center, located at N5727 County Road Z, Onalaska, WI. Visitor center hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and one Saturday each month during winter for special programs from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. We will be closed on all federal holidays.The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the most visited refuge in the United States. The refuge extends 261 miles along the Upper Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minn. to Rock Island, Ill., protecting and preserving habitat for migratory birds, fish, and a variety of other wildlife.In addition to being the most visited refuge in the country, the “Upper Miss” Refuge has the added complexity of a major navigation system, including 11 locks and dams, within its boundary. It is also a world-class fish and wildlife area which harbors 306 species of birds; 119 species of fish; more than 300 active bald eagle nests; thousands of heron and egret nests; spectacular concentrations of canvasback ducks, tundra swans, and white pelicans; and several threatened or endangered species.
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A year round resident on the refuge however numbers soar during the winter. Look below locks and dams where the river is not frozen. Aerial displays and pair bonding are best viewed from January through March. In winter, over 1,000 bald eagles grab fish,ducks or coots in the open water.