Reclaiming the river
For senior Lindsey Quinnies and Joey Phillips, an ideal summer afternoon is one spent on a tube floating lazily down the Chippewa River.
Knowing they aren’t the only Eau Clairians who enjoy a good float, Quinnies and Phillips decided to start FLEAUT, a nonprofit organization for the Chippewa Valley’s floating enthusiasts.
“We noticed there was no community for people that float to come together,” Quinnies said. “There was a big enough audience of people available that we could actually make it a voice in the community and make a spot for people to get together who like the same activity.”
In mid-July, Quinnies and Phillips launched the FLEAUT Facebook page, designed to be a forum for floaters. More than 160 people “liked” the page by the time FLEAUT’s first event was planned.
“Last Thursday was the first event, called ‘Too Hot Not To,’” Phillips said, noting at least 100 floaters were on the river that day. “We didn’t want it to be an official kind of thing, we just wanted to see how many people we could get to go that day.”
Quinnies and Phillips plan to keep FLEAUT active during the off-season through group garbage pickups, focusing on another facet of FLEAUT’s goal: Environmental awareness.
“I don’t want to put any regulation on floating, it’s a freestyle thing and that’s why we all love it, but you shouldn’t be able to throw your cans in the river,” Quinnies said. “Bring a garbage bag, it’s not that hard to do and it helps a lot.”
Quinines and Phillips plan to host garbage pickup days throughout the fall to target areas on the river banks that become littered with floaters’ cans and bottles over the summer.
“We want this river to be clean so we can have fun and be responsible and safe,” Phillips said.
Eau Claire native and FLEAUT member Jenna Mattice said she’s been floating her whole life.
“We have the most beautiful natural water around; it’s important to me and important to preserve that,” Mattice said. “Sometimes environmental issues are neglected. FLEAUT encourages people to pick up after themselves,” she said.
Mattice said she hopes FLEAUT gets students as interested in the environment as they are in floating. “I think the whole idea is important and unique, it’s something we haven’t seen before,” Mattice said. “FLEAUT involves awareness of keeping the river clean and floating. I hope it will get students interested in floating and the environment.”
Another goal of the organization is helping to boost local businesses.
“People walking down Water Street with their tubes walk past everything,” Quinnies said, noting that downtown, too, gets its share of floaters as they walk to Phoenix Park to begin their float at the confluence of the rivers. Quinnies and Phillips hope to work with local businesses and restaurants to provide incentives to floaters for bringing their tubes in.
For the group’s future, Quinnies and Phillips are thinking big.
“By next summer we want to have a FATFAR event,” Phillips said, referencing the popular Frenchtown Annual Tube Float and Regatta that takes place in Chippewa Falls each June. Quinnies said she also hopes to have a kickoff event right when the weather starts to heat up next summer.
Why is floating so popular in the Chippewa Valley? Quinnies and Phillips, who estimated they went floating about 50 times this past summer, cited many reasons.
“I think a lot of people go because the river is a big part of the town, it runs through everything, you can’t ignore it,” Quinnies said. “There’s no better way to relax.”
“It takes all the elements that people in Wisconsin like — tubing, cooling off, being with friends,” Phillips said.
For Phillips, floating has even been a way to meet people.
“Some friends asked me to go floating with them and ever since that happened I haven’t been stuck inside,” Phillips said, “It was a really good way to start meeting people. All the people I went floating with are some of my best friends.”
No longer a student himself, Phillips said floating isn’t just for students. “Even though floating (has been) kind of a student thing, it’s for anybody. Students, community members, people of all ages,” he said. “We’re just trying to make the community aware of it so it can get bigger.”