When passing into the Midwest region of the United States on my trip abroad last summer I decided to spend some extended time in both larger and smaller cities along the way. I enjoyed the rush of Chicago and the thrill of Minneapolis but one of the cities which has stayed with me the most is a home styled town known as La Crosse. It is a medium sized city which occupies a vast plain alongside the Mississippi. It is a town with a lot of décor, character and nature. The city happens to be large for Western Wisconsin which is populated mostly by dairy farms and apple orchards. The people are friendly and welcoming and even when the town has rights to be aloof and varied it has a unified spirit and a defined pace of life.
I think the natural wonders and beauty of the region have a lot to do with the spirit this town evokes for the casual observer like me. First of all the town is completely hemmed in on one side by the mighty Mississippi river and on the other by rock faced cliffs known as bluffs which were carved by glacier erosion. The town itself occupies a vast floodplain which is full of many parks and deciduous greenery as well as various marshes, creeks and rock formations. I was particularly impressed by the natural preserves on the east side of the city in the area called Hixon forest which offers a wide variety of nature trails, for athletes and nature enthusiasts alike. The southern end of the town presents a eco friendly camp ground known as goose island which offers an amazing panorama of the Mississippi. I’m told by locals that the absolutely perfect season is fall when cooler temperatures prevail and a vast array of colors sweep through the floor of the plain to the lofty forests of the bluffs.
The city has a small downtown district which is dotted with an array of theaters, bars, parks and businesses. These have a bit of an impressive antiquity about them. The storefronts and sidewalks are all well kept but retain much of the charm and luster of yesteryear. Riverside Park which lines on the bank of the Mississippi is a great place for a stroll or to hang out with friends especially in the summer months. The city is home to two universities one state and the other private. The state school brings a large population of young people and initiatives to the city, while the private university specializes in theater and produces top quality performances for a town of this size. Most of the houses in the city have at least a small plot of ground and so driving down the streets is a real pleasant experience. The homes are very well kept with trim lawns and beautiful flowers. Most of the homes have their own design and the uniqueness added to the archaic look is a veritable delight.
Perhaps the aspect of the city which most assured me of its friendliness and at-home atmosphere were my encounters with people. Whether chatting with university students or new arrivals or generational dwellers I found a strong sense of identity between them and their home as well as a strong sense of welcome for myself the visitor. I was quickly introduced to other friends and family and people were ready and willing to show me the various attractions their city had to offer. I found out that many people here have relatives in the surrounding countryside and many go out to the farms to help cousins with work and harvests. There is definitely a neighborliness lurking here which one does not expect to find in other places of the same population. I found many businesses are still owned by local families and there is a strong sense of care and ownership for all the necessities of life. In my stay I was impressed by two great eateries in particular. I believe they offer a very artesian style of food with good quality and service are The Hungry Peddler and The Freight House Don’t forget to try some of the regions more specialized delights such as cranberries, beer and of course Wisconsin cheese.
I recommend La Crosse to anyone looking for an experience of the real Midwest without actually heading down on the farm. The people and city offer a pace of life which is more pleasant, homier and ultimately more adaptable to welcoming a traveler. La Crosse is a town not only shrouded by amicable people but set amidst some of the most serene nature that the Mississippi River Valley has to offer. I hope you enjoy your trip to what the locals call: “God’s Country.”