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|Mile Marker 1
||N 43° 51.569' W 91° 16.689'||LaCrosse
Lacrosse Rest Area 31
The rest area at Lacrosse is unique in two ways. As far as I know, it is the only Wisconsin rest area on an island, and it is the only Wisconsin rest area in a location where there is housing. It is sited upon French Island, within the city limits of the city of Lacrosse.
A nearby housing development can be seen just over the fence of the rest area. This would appear to make it an unlikely spot to need a rest area, but cities and suburban areas can be just as daunting for travelers seeking a break, as the open road. Additionally, this is a state border. Just across the river is the state of Minnesota. This rest stop doubles as a welcome center, providing tourist information
This is a large rest area designed to showcase the state, welcome visitors, and provide tourist information. It has a staffed tourist information counter, as well as the traditional Welcome to Wisconsin sign, and a Welcome to Wisconsin metal sculpture. In addition to the usual picnic area, historical markers, pet area, and gardens, there is a children's play area, and a river walk.
For most visitors from the west, this will be their first view of Wisconsin. For many, it will be their first stop. In acknowledgement of this, the DOT made an effort to make this particular stop stand out. All Wisconsin rest stops have well groomed grounds, natural plantings of native grasses and flowers, and well tended buildings, but for the stops at state borders, the DOT wants something just a bit special. The pavilion is large, features a welcome center that is staffed, and has a high atrium with skylights.
The grounds feature a river walk where the Mississippi may be viewed. The site of this rest area, across from the bluffs on the Minnesota side, gives ti the potential to be particularly scenic. As of this writing, this is one of the newer update rest areas.
The large pavilion has several sheltered entryways, and number planters and wild area located along the paths. Multiple recycle stations and a pet walking area make it easy to keep the area and picnic grounds clean and litter free. The area and pathways are well lit at night, reflecting the 24 hour nature of all rest areas.
Unlike the rest areas of many other states, there is no real commercial activity here. Wisconsin rest stops offer no gasoline, fast food, or convenience stores. Such services are usually located not too far down the road, and their inclusion does not reflect the purpose of the rest area system, or provide stops for weary travelers, and welcome for travelers from other states.
The location,near a metro area, allows for the facility to be easily staffed, and to partake of city utilities. This location also puts this area within an hour's drive from prairie, rolling glacial hills, and river valley bluffs, an area of rapidly changing geography.
Places like this are a wonderful escape from rigors of the road, even for those who love road trips.
If you can't park, then you can't rest. Parking here is easy and generous. As in all Wisconsin rest areas, parking is segregated between regular passenger cars and trucks, including trailers and motor-homes.
Both parking areas ire well lit clean and regularly patrolled. Stays are limited in duration, and camping is not allowed, but reasonable accommodation is made. Nobody wants tired drivers out on the road.
Passenger car parking is standard angle parking. Parking for trucks and larger vehicles is pull in pull out. All traffic is one way.
PICNIC AND GROUNDS
In common with the other Wisconsin rest areas, the Lacrosse area features extensive picnic grounds. The tables and benches are mounted on concrete skits to prevent insect infestation, and also to prevent theft or movement out to traffic areas. Gone are old fashioned wooden picnic benches, to be replaced with metal framed polymer units.
Some of the units are roofed over, while others are open to the sky. A picnic by eh roadside, particularly if there are hiking trails nearby, can help turn a trip into a vacation. Recycle containers are conveniently located, and the nearby pavilion has water and rest room facilities.
The DOT in acknowledgement of the tourist potential of Wisconsin, is making an attempt to transform these areas into something more than a place to stop, use the rest room, and maybe take a short snooze.There are playground areas, historic and cultural markers, pet friendly areas, and walking trails. There is an effort to plant every rest area with native grasses and plants. Above si a small playground to help frazzled parents tire out bored children.
Probably the most impressive special feature of this rest area is its location. It is sited on an island in the Mississippi River. This puts it between the towering bluffs of the Minnesota side, and the glacial hills of the Wisconsin side. This is an area rich in history, geography, and the life plants and animals of the river. There is a path for those who wish to visit with the river. Its entry is shown in the photo to the left. For the rest, we read the markers, look at the maps, and then go our ways.
A pet exercise and walking area is adjacent to the playground. After all, pets have to rest too. A pet waste station is also provided to help keep the playground and picnic area sanitary. The grounds are well tended and regularly groomed but a large number of people travel through here and it does not take much to make a mess of things.
Signs indicate that this is part of the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Highway, and also indicate the historic and geographic importance of the area. French trappers inhabited this area long before the United States came to be,and native Americans were here long before that. This also happens to be one of the world's great river systems.
The centerpiece of the rest area is the building containing the rest rooms, vending machines, potable water, and highway information. I have always called these sometimes substantial buildings, pavilions. The DOT calls them huts, probably as a throwback to the days when they were much smaller and more primitive.
In this instance, the building is large, as befits a welcome center, and is cruciform shaped. The main section has a two story atrium, with the welcome center, rest rooms,and service areas off to the sides.
The sides of the building show how the areas off of the main hallway have sloping roofs. As can be seen, this is built like all government projects - massively. It is brick faced with steel and concrete construction and will long outlive its builders. Because it is adjacent to a city, it has no need of special power or plumbing and can be connected right to standard city services.
These places are always open and constantly patrolled. They are also regularly maintained with dedicated service crews. The buildings are well heated and air conditioned, and have complete alarm, fire, and communications systems. This particular area is fenced off and separated from the nearby housing development. It is more a part of the Interstate than a part of the local community/.
Parking, picnic areas, playgrounds, pet areas, and walking trails are nice, but what really brings people to these places are the main buildings. This is where the rest rooms, vending machines, tourist information, maps, and potable water are located.
Vending areas are usually pretty simple, particularly this close to a town. Food and drink on the road are not cheap, but it is an effort and expense to get products out to these stops.
Usually the vending is filled by whatever non profit the states contracts with to clean and maintain the facilities.
These places never close, no matter the weather, time, or season.
This particular rest area, because it is at the state line, functions as a welcome center. During the day it is staffed. It has all of the old papers, magazines, brochures, maps, and advertisements for an assortment of tourist traps, roadside attractions, small towns along the road, and larger town trying to get the tourist dollar.
This banquet of tourist literature was once a common feature at highway rest areas. I recall vacations decades ago when a stop at a rest area harvested a bag full of maps, pictures, advertisements, and guidebooks.
These days, much of this is now on the Internet to be access on the pervasive tablet or smart phone that accompanies most travelers thee days. Yet you will still see tourist bureaus at state lines,and near tourist hot spots. They tend to be staffed during business hours and on weekends with extended hours during peak tourist and travel seasons.
Wisconsin, like much of the Midwest, is known for its lakes, including the Great Lakes, river systems, as well as the glacial areas and abundant wild life. We also have quite a long history, staring with native settlements,and then going on the the French trappers and the eventual movement west of the United States.
Native people are well represented here, and though they old fashioned stereotypes of places like the Dells have made way for Indian casinos, and tribal recreational lands, the tribes seek the tourist dollar as much as anyone else.
Racks of literature line the walls, sit out in the hall, and are sequestered under the counters. For those entering the state from the West, this is a great first stop to see what lies ahead,and maybe get a little local insight.
The staff that work these areas are proud of their state and like to brag just a bit. Sheaves of paper, as in the old days, make good reading material for the winder months, or to give restless children in the back seat something to read.
This particular rest area is of a unique design. Most follow one of several different patterns, but as a welcome center, this one was designed specially to fit into the landscape and represent the state to visitors. It is larger than most, and feature more extensive windows, as well as the large ceiling in the central atrium, The flags hanging from the ceiling represent various county fairs and other special events throughout the state.One of the designers was inspired to paint a line representing the Mississippi River down the center of the main atrium hallway. The interior is designed for hard wear, easy cleaning, and resistance to vandalism. It is kept cool in the summer and warm in the winder, and well lit year around. These tend to be places for travelers, truckers, and law enforcement to congregate and have gone far beyond their original purpose. On a recent trip toe the area, during a period of heat, we spent a fair amount of time relaxing in the air conditioned atrium.
This is why we stop. back in the old days you could pull over and go off into the woods, but not now. As is the standard in all Wisconsin rest areas, each gender has a pair of rest rooms so that one will always be open during cleaning.
Both men and women's rooms have changing stations for babies. Hand towels have made a reappearance since the Covid scare ended, but air driers are still available. Mirrors are of glass, unlike the metal mirrors of the rest areas out on some stretches of highway.
Windows are set high and are for ventilation only. All surfaces are easy clean, and there are drains in the floor for proper sanitation. A drinking fountain (bubbler to locals) is between the doors, and has a spigot for filling containers.