8 things to love about Wausau’s new riverfront

You’re forgiven if you haven’t kept up with every new attraction at Riverlife Park— something seems to pops up every other week. So we catalogued all the changes for you.


There was a big splash this summer surrounding the near-completion of first phase of Wausau’s new east riverfront project. But it wasn’t all completed. For the past several weeks crews have been finishing new features, and if you haven’t been down there for a few months, you should know that things look different.

Visitors often leave saying “I had no idea all this was down here!” Even those aware of the improvements are surprised at a number of elements that have popped up recently, including improvements downstream along the River’s Edge Trail. And work has now begun on the commercial/residential buildings slated to open in 2018.

One fabulous thing to keep in mind: The riverfront was designed to be beautiful at night, too, thanks to some stunning lighting features.

In 2018 the city will start building parts of the next public parks phase. Which of the projects ends up being built depends on which ones get funded—amenities such as a climbing wall, giant checkers and chess, and a sprinting course. Basically the city will build them as funding comes in, says City Finance Director Maryanne Groat.

The wharf


The stone structure alone is impressive, but the city also quietly installed piers that allow anyone to pull up their boat to the riverfront and get out, taking a stop at WOW Restaurant or having a picnic at the tables provided on the top side of the wharf (where bike racks were also recently installed). Downtown isn’t far away, either, so it would make an easy stop for a boater to dock for a day of adventure in Wausau’s River District. The top of the wharf is decorated with a green and blue awning and a series of flags that line its stone wall backing, with stone picnic tables and bike racks nearby.

Bike bridge and River’s Edge Trail


The city has been working for decades—that’s no exaggeration, decades —to connect the previously fragmented River’s Edge Trail. It now allows users to traverse all the way from Oak Island Park near Thomas Street to the north side of town past Bridge Street.

So it’s perhaps fitting that the flagship feature of the trail has become the centerpiece of the Riverfront area— a bike pedestrian bridge and structures surrounding it. It allows the trail to cross the newly unearthed Stinchfield Creek, and is lighted at night.

While much of the riverfront area won’t be useable during winter (unless you want to dip your toes in the water in the middle of January), the trails will be kept open and maintained throughout the year, according to the parks department. 

Stinchfield Creek


Once buried under dirt during the area’s industrial period, the creek is now fully opened up. Why? Well, because it looks nice. The bike/pedestrian bridge and the River Drive bridge cross the creek, which is lined on both sides with stone platforms for hanging out or viewing the creek. A person could pack a picnic to enjoy by the waterfront, and dip toes in the water on a warm summer day.

Mini-park/green space along the creek


You might almost not even notice the small green space at the top of a small hill next to the creek. If you only went north and south on the River’s Edge Trail, you might never see it. But following the two trails on the north and south side of the creek will take you to this little park which provides a wonderful view at sunset (or any time of day, frankly). Also of note is that the trail on the south side of the creek leads all the way to Third Street, emerging on the street around the area where Glass Hat and the Pollack Inn are located, providing a safe alternative to get to the north side of downtown.

Lighted waterfalls


Dan Paul Vision-airy Films

I fully admit that when I saw these they completely took me by surprise. I’d heard some talk of waterfalls but you don’t realize what a great feature they are until you see them in person.

At night they’re lit up, and add to the character of the riverfront. They’re important because they really complete the ambience. Take an out-of-town visitor on a walk along the riverfront and they’ll be impressed as they look on the waterfalls from the observation outcropping on the bike bridge. It’s the kind of attention to detail you normally see in major cities; and we have it right here.

Adirondack area

Sure, it’s basically a platform with attention-drawing red chairs in various formations on the stone deck. It might be the least detailed place along the riverfront but take a walk by the area in the evenings or weekend you’ll always see at least a few folks enjoying an adult beverage or two while basking in the scenery. It’s a great place to watch the sunset or simply take a break on your adventures.

Kayak slips and launch


Many people traveling the River’s Edge Trail in past years probably have thought, “Well, the river’s right there, but why can’t I get to it?” It’s like Wausau wasn’t letting you touch the Wisconsin River.

That’s now changed, in multiple locations.

Features that paddlers should take note of are on opposite ends of the trail. Now there’s a stone platform leading down to the water just south of the Whitewater Park kayak course, just right for docking or launching a kayak — not necessarily part of Riverlife Park, but a useful river feature nonetheless. Keep following the trail south and you’ll find smaller slips into the river.

And just north of Bridge Street is a pretty elaborate kayak launch pier that lets someone sit in the boat, and slide themselves off into the water. It includes handicap facilities to make it easy for anyone to launch and disembark their kayaks along the river.

Next phase projects and what’s been funded

Games Plaza, Green Space and Fountain $440,000

Fountain $205,000 (committed)

Games Plaza $60,000

Riverfront Park and Play Area $1,000,000

Net Wave $38,000

Sky Cabin, Walk and Slide $685,000

Small Play Equipment Grouping $42,000

Climbing Boulders Grouping $65,000

Individual Play Equipment and Boulders $5,000-$10,000

Riverfront Fitness Park $750,000

Climbing Wall $125,000

Sprint Track $35,000

Challenge Course $140,000

Suspension Trainer $34,000

Climbing Sphere $48,000

Fitness Equipment $45,000

Riverfront Bathroom and Concession Building

Building $1,000,000

Overlook $95,000 (committed)

Riverfront Bike Share Program

$35,000 two year program

To donate:

Visit cfoncw.org and search for Riverlife Park Fund, or visit City Hall to pick up a form. A donor can designate the money to a specific feature if they desire.