We like to think of ourselves as the heart of the Driftless because the topography here is much more severe than the outlying regions…valleys are deeper and the bluffs are steeper…makes for a very picturesque setting.

Eric Frydenlund

Administrator, Driftless Wisconsin

Today we have a special road trip edition of La Crosse Local, we talk with Eric Frydenlund of Driftless Wisconsin, we discuss the best ways to get out and explore the Driftless, and Eric shares his own insider tips and why he thinks there is simply no better place to explore, by car, by bike, or by boat…and we agree, the scenery is unmatched.

This podcast is sponsored by Artspire La Crosse.


Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by Artspire presented by the Pump House Regional Art Center to attract, engage, and connect artists in the community through an Art Fair and Sale on Saturday, June 12. Information is at artspire.thepumphouse.org. Today we have a special road trip edition of La Crosse Local. We talk with Eric Frydenlund of Driftless Wisconsin. We discussed the best ways to get out and explore the Driftless. And Eric shares his own insider tips, and why he thinks there is simply no better place to explore by car, by bike, or by boat. And we agree, the scenery is unmatched. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website, lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy. And I’m Brent. And this is La Crosse Local.

Eric Frydenlund 00:54
My name is Eric frydenlund. I’m the administrator for Driftless Wisconsin. I was born in Prairie du Chien, grew up here graduated from Prairie du Chien high school and then went to college in Madison, UW Madison. And then I returned to this area to run our family business. We had a motel on the north end of Prairie du Chien, that was our family business. So really, I’ve been in the tourism industry for most of my life. But you know, as far as my connections when I lived on the north end of Prairie du Chien we were only a block from the Mississippi bluffs. And I spent a good share of my childhood hiking those bluffs. You know, it was just fascinating, because you know, you’ve got those big limestone cliffs and you can kind of hike your way around those. But there there’s some caves back in those cliffs, too, that we used to go into as a kid. And then we would hike to the top of the hill, there was a grave site up there called Brisbois. grave site. Michael Brisbois was a French fur trader who settled here back in the 1800s. And there’s a interesting anecdote about him that he wanted to be buried on top of the hill to overlook in death as he did in life, his intense business rival, Joseph Verlet. So I don’t know if there’s any truth to that story or not. But we used to have fun telling that to our customers at the motel. When I was a teenager, I learned how to ski. My father was a ski jumper. He was from the Westby area. And of course Westby still has that ski jump there and has international competition the first weekend of February. But by the time I was a child, he no longer ski jumped, but he wanted to do some downhill skiing. So we went to Arnses Coulee, the north of town here and we sidestep the hill. And if you’ve ever watched this, you know a ski jumper, they pretty much go straight down the hill. So he’d go straight down the hill, and of course, then he would do that wide turn at the bottom of the valley. And I went down after, I’m going straight down with my heart in my throat, making the wide right hand turn and to be honest with you for the first year or two after I learned I learned how to ski, I couldn’t make a left hand turn I could only only make a right hand one. Eventually learned how to turn. There was a little ski hill in Gays Mills called snowball, where I really learned to downhill ski. And then later in life, when I went to college, I would come back and weekends and canoe. I would canoe in the Mississippi and I would canoe the Kickapoo. The Kickapoo is billed as the crookedest River in the world. Has lots of twists and turns in it, but its just fascinating because you know, every time you come around a turn you got a new view. Something spectacular to look at. So it’s a lot of fun canoeing, the Kickapoo. More recently, my wife and I still hike, we’re out to Laviere Park on the south end of Prairie du Chien every day. You know whether it’s snowing, whether it’s zero degrees out, we’re out there hiking. You know, I think really that’s the best way for your listeners to learn about the Driftless is just to walk it, to feel the land under your feet.

Brent Hanifl 03:45
So speaking about that, inviting people to the destination of Driftless Wisconsin, can you tell us a little bit about Driftless Wisconsin and what the group is, what the website is?

Eric Frydenlund 03:54
The organization Driftless Wisconsin was formed back in 2008. it’s a collaboration of the Crawford County Tourism Council, Vernon County Tourism Council and the Kickapoo Valley Association. So as such we represent Crawford County, Vernon County and the Kickapoo Valley. There’s about 28 communities within that area. And I’m sure your listeners understand that the Driftless area is much larger than that. It goes further into Wisconsin and it also includes parts of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. We like to think of ourselves as the heart of the Driftless because the topography here is much more severe than the outlying regions. The valleys are deeper and the bluffs are steeper. So it really makes for a very picturesque setting for you know, whatever you want to do. I understand your listeners you know, they experienced the Mississippi Valley but they can also come further inland and experience the Kickapoo Valley because that’s such a serene, such a picturesque secluded Valley.

Brent Hanifl 04:50
Myself I’ve been sticking around the area. My last couple trips are only about 90 miles away from La Crosse. Why should and you’ve kind of mentioned already you know with the hiking and biking and paddling. Why should people consider this destination? Maybe if it’s just someone from La Crosse?

Eric Frydenlund 05:06
Yeah, well, first of all, close. We’re only about 20 miles from La Crosse, so it’s easy to get to. But I guess it really comes down to two words and that’s outdoor recreation. We’re currently running a campaign called come out and play Driftless Wisconsin, your outdoor recreation playground. So there’s just so many things to do out here in terms of outdoor recreation, and you’ve got this incredible backdrop. You know, to do it in, we’ve got hiking, there’s three state parks in our region. Wildcat Mountain up in Ontario. I used to spend time there as a kid picnicking, and hiking and just got an incredible view, overlook of the Kickapoo Valley. And then also the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. My wife and I have hiked there, they’ve got some beautiful trails there. And Wyalusing State Park that’s at the confluence of Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. I’ve got some favorite trails there too. My favorite is, I think it’s called Mississippi Ridge Trail that you can hike along and its got an overlook of the Mississippi River. Also biking. I like flatland when it comes to biking. I’m not real aggressive but, you know, if you’ve got listeners who like to bike, you know, they can stay down in the valleys and then not have to climb many hills. they can stay along, you know, like some of the township roads along the Kickapoo River. Also, if they want something more aggressive. If they want a good exercise, they can hike to the top of one of those bluffs. Viroqua Blue Dog Cycles there, they maintain off road biking trails. And I know that’s been really popular. Camping. I mentioned the state parks already. But a number of the villages along both rivers you know they have their community parks where you can camp and you can imagine, you know, camping along the rivers and having a river just outside your tent flap. So that’s pretty neat. We’ve got boating, of course several boat ramps along the Mississippi. I mentioned canoeing, canoeing and kayaking, there’s some real good Outfitters up in Ontario. Great Outfitters that you know will get you started or if you’re more of a do it yourselfer, then there’s plenty of boat landings, along the Kickapoo River where you can put in. And then one of the things I wanted to mention was fly fishing. Myself, I’m not, I’m not an expert fly fisher. I have tried it. My family bought me a fly fishing package here oh few years ago and I went out with my son. And we got the package through Driftless Angler, fly fishing outfitter out of Viroqua. And myself, I’m better at catching tree limbs than I am at fish. But nonetheless, I actually caught a nice 12 inch brown trout and just had a great time that day. So point being, your listeners don’t have to be experts at fly fishing to try it, they will teach you how to do it.

Brent Hanifl 07:42
So it sounds like you have a real in depth understanding of the Driftless area. What has been something you found most interesting about the area? You know, I know you just mentioned fly fishing. And I know that’s actually got people have always mentioned the world class streams for that. But what is something that you find to be the most interesting that you know, someone may have not known who’s from around this region?

Eric Frydenlund 08:02
Well, you know, I think of the history of the region. This area is just rich in history going all the way back to the indigenous people who you know, built the indian mounds. So you can go across the river to Effigy Mounds and they have a beautiful display of Indian mounds, varied effigy mounds, in fact, when I’m out hiking, oftentimes I’ll run across a Indian mound that I never knew was there. So it’s kind of interesting to find history intertwined into the landscape. So history is a big thing. But really, you know, I’m kind of a guy that likes to get out in the, in the boonies. And, you know, I realized that, you know, it’s springtime right now. So my wife and I have been out hiking and just gettting out in the backwoods. Because, you know, all things kinds of things are happening with spring right now, the other night, I was out there, and I heard geese are returning along the migratory route. So, you know, just get out in the woods, and, you know, experience the arrival of spring, you know, from a natural perspective. And I think that’s the thing I enjoy most. I enjoy getting out on the back roads in Driftless Wisconsin, because there’s all these township roads and county roads that people might not know about. You know, I’ve lived here most of my life and I’ve literally gotten lost on some of these roads. You know, it’s it’s not a bad kind of lost. It’s not like where the heck am I, but you know, you’re seeing scenery that you’ve never seen before. And eventually you’ll find your way back, you’ll find a county road or a township road. But some of these back roads, particularly the ones I would recommend, is to take a township road or a county road that connects two valleys. You know, started in the Kickapoo Valley, or start in the Mississippi Valley and go towards the other River. So you’re going to be winding through these back coulies and into small valleys. And then all of a sudden you’ll rise to the top of the ridge between the two rivers and you’ll just get this incredible view. You know, you’ll be able to see miles in all directions, and then you’ll descend into the next River Valley and you’ll catch glimpses of the river as you descend. So those backroads, township roads and county roads are just spectacular. So that’s something that everybody can do even if you’re not wanting to, you know, get out in the woods.

Brent Hanifl 10:05
What’s coming up for the area, you know, is there anything happening this summer that you think people should check out or anything happening with you that you’re going to be doing?

Eric Frydenlund 10:13
I would recommend for your visitors, you know, to check out the vineyards in the area. We got some beautiful vineyards, we’ve got Branches Winery and Vernon Vineyards up in the Viroqua Westby area. We’ve got some terrific restaurants in the area. I’m sure many people have heard of the Driftless Cafe and the wonderful meals that they put on there. But you know, we’ve got, you know, a lot of traditional Supper Clubs in the area. So a great variety, just the small town shopping, go into some of those shops and you will experience some real small town hospitality. Some of the events are back on track in terms of either being recently rescheduled. I know the Driftless Area Art Festival is on for September 18 and 19th. That’s in Soldiers Grove. Got the Carriage Classic. Classic horse carriage, horse drawn carriages. That event is September 10 through the 12th and Prairie du Chien. The Coulee Antique Engine Show is going to be August 6 through the eighth in Westby. But you know, in the more immediate future, just get out fishing. My son was out fishing here this last weekend. And they caught some gigantic perch. I love it. And I couldn’t believe the size of the perch they’re catching. So you know, get out do some fishing. And I can’t wait to get my pontoon boat in because there’s just nothing like being out in the river and experiencing the Driftless you know from the river.

Brent Hanifl 11:30
Absolutely. So if people want to find out more, maybe plan a day trip or maybe even a couple nights, what’s the best avenue to send them to?

Eric Frydenlund 11:37
Well, I certainly recommend that you go to our website driftlesswisconsin.com. We’ve got the calendar of events, which we’re trying to fill up as events are rescheduled. We’ve got all the information on all the outdoor activities that we’ve been talking about here. Each town in our service area, I mentioned 28 communities, they all have a landing page so you can go to those landing pages to find out more about the towns and what they have to offer. Shopping that they have to offer. When you’re on our website. I’d recommend that you order a Driftless Wisconsin map. People love our map because it’s high quality and it shows all those backroads that I was talking about. It’s a great way of navigating our area. And then finally Facebook. Meg Buchner, our Facebook manager she does a great job of posting all of our events and activities on Facebook. I encourage your listeners to check that out as well.

Amy Gabay 12:28
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook @lacrosselocal. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com. And you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you’d like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it

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