Exploring in River Falls may take going beyond the trail
October 5, 2016
Many people know about, probably even visit, Glen Park.
It’s a great place to go read a book on a quiet afternoon or eat lunch on a warm summer’s day, but most people do not look beyond the mowed lawn and the playground sets.
Below the level of the parking lots, where the land drops away into a deep river valley, is a world of trees, streams and paths that become increasingly wild as you move away from the central park.
The most well-known path is likely where the waterfalls are, beneath the Swinging Bridge. The paths are accessible by an asphalt path that runs north and downward from the parking lot next to the tennis court. At the bottom of the hill, the river turns abruptly right and the asphalt turns to dirt, and an adventurous explorer might follow it up and down its winding length, hop across logs and clamber around rocks until they come to where the river spills over dark, slick rock faces in a series of waterfalls.
For those wishing to get off the beaten path, I recommend a more hidden route just south of the tennis court parking lot. Those who kayak know it as a good place to put in, and those who don’t might know it as the spot where the dam sits. Beyond the kayak loading area is an intricate web of hiking trails that I’ve never even completely explored.
There’s a series of wider trails that run maybe a mile back, some down on the level of the river and others that run up the side of the valley. The trails are lined with heavy, arching growths of trees and underbrush, with the occasional stone ruin where remnants of River Falls’ industrial past once stood.
These wider trails are typically well traversed by local fishermen and joggers, and they in a long, grassy stretch of wide-open space where the city has kept back the trees and placed benches along the edge of the river. It’s a good place for picnics or sitting down with a good book when the weather is warm.
It is, however, possible to go even further afield.
Beyond the grassy space, where the South Fork comes to meet the main body of the Kinni, there’s a series of narrow trails that branch off in several directions. One goes to the left, and will wind up, down and sideways along the South Fork, wending tightly between trees before finally spitting a traveler out next to the Rocky Branch Elementary School.
Another branch of the trail snakes off to the right and follows the edge of the Kinni. Fishermen like to access the water from here—you’ll often see them knee-deep in the water with their nets clipped to their backs as they flay the water with their rods—and if you venture far enough, there’s a simple wooden bench set beneath a large willow tree that overlooks the river.
The third branch of the trail—straight ahead—is the most rugged. It goes up, and up, and up even further, and you find yourself at treetop level at the top of the valley. This section of trail is a loop, but it’s a long, hilly goat path and very much not for the faint of heart. It meanders back and forth, occasionally doubling back and forth on itself and giving the explorer occasional glimpses of the river. You end up walking up and down the side of the valley, and the path often turns rough, steep and easy to trip on. The trees hug closely in on either side, and sunlight from overhead must filter through a thick canopy of leaves to create a mottled, speckled effect on the ground below.
There’s more back there. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon hiking back and forth through the trees and clambering up and down goat paths, and I still do not fully know the extent of the trails that lie hidden behind Glen Park. It’s a fantastic place to hike, and for those fearless enough to try the road less traveled, an endless opportunity to explore.
Sophia Koch is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.