Most days, there are a plethora of reasons I’m proud to go to school at UW-Eau Claire.
Sure, you have to pretend you’re not in fact panting and feeling like you’re going to die as you climb the hill to upper campus. Sure, Eau Claire has some of the coldest winters around. Sure, I have to explain to others that a Blugold is some sort of mythical, blue and gold bird (I’m three years into my college career and I still don’t know quite how to explain it).
But what I’m most proud of is the vibrant, eclectic community in which the campus lies, and the only way you can truly appreciate it is if you spend at least one summer during your collegiate career in Eau Claire.
If you’ve followed this column for the past year (wow!), you’ve seen the wonderful (and at times not so wonderful) coffee shops, restaurants, parks, shops and libraries I’ve found by daring to venture off campus within the Chippewa Valley during the academic year.
But Eau Claire is a strikingly different place during the summer, without college students crowding it. To say the least, it was refreshing.
On any given sunny afternoon, I saw individuals of all ages clad in swimsuits, carrying their bright-colored tubes down Water Street, heading for a relaxing float down the Chippewa River. (There’s absolutely no better way to spend a sunny summer afternoon, in case you were wondering.)
Although Eau Claire has a population above 65,000 and is not a small town by any means, it feels like the most charming, quaint little river town you ever did see during the summer.
But don’t get me wrong — it may feel like a small town, but there are a ton of new places to explore, events to attend and a new pool of people created from the leftover Blugolds who chose to stay for the summer months. Every day of the week brought a new, exciting adventure.
Thursdays ended up being the best day of the week. I’d bike or walk over to Phoenix Park, which is beautiful as ever during the summer months, for a few live, usually local bands as part of Volume One’s Sounds Like Summer concert series.
The event brings the community to life in an almost indescribable way.
Groups of families and friends spread out their blankets on the grass for picnics and socialization to the tune of local music. Local vendors line up around the park area, allowing folks to buy a variety of goods special to Eau Claire, as well as delicious treats to snack on (the most important being ice cream, mind you).
I was also able to relish some of my favorite activities during the school year by remaining in Eau Claire for the summer.
Minus my typical busy student schedule, I was able to further explore the many biking and walking paths Eau Claire is graced with.
I had time to read in the various parks Eau Claire has to offer. I went to Mount Simon and Putnam Rock without the same concerns I had about weather for most of the academic year. I tried new restaurants and coffee shops galore.
As students have returned to campus the past week, I’ve been annoyed.
Now, don’t get me wrong — it’s great getting to see many of my friends again, who are fresh from summers at home or in other places across the Midwest, the country, the world.
But they just don’t get it. And you won’t either — that is, until you have your summer in Eau Claire. Until that day, one cannot fully understand the magic of this place.