Little Niagara Creek: Flowing through our history

From its source in Putnam Park to where it spills into the Chippewa River over scenic, rocky falls, Little Niagara Creek has been a popular staple of the UW-Eau Claire landscape since the college was founded as the Eau Claire State Normal School.  Even before concrete plans for the school’s first building were put in place, the creek was touted as one of the attractions on the proposed site that would draw prospective students to Eau Claire.  When the normal school opened its doors in September of 1916, the natural surroundings, including “Minnie Creek” as it was sometimes known, proved an asset that generations of students would enjoy.  The wide variety of flora, from trees such as silver maple to spring ephemerals such as bellwort, provided an education in itself.

Scroll through historical images below.

As the years went on and the school grounds became more developed, Little Niagara Creek’s function within the campus setting changed along with the face of campus itself.  The creek was spanned by bridges and directed through culverts to provide access to the land closest to Putnam Park.  To make room for the construction of the first Davies Student Center in 1959, it was rerouted from its naturally winding path to a straighter, more controlled one.  While it remained a beloved part of the university’s scenery, being disrupted and overshadowed by buildings took its toll.  It became a much narrower stream than it had originally been, encroached upon by nonnative plant species and filled in with silt from erosion. 

However, with the construction of the new Davies Student Center in 2012 came a revitalization of Little Niagara Creek.  Various measures were put in place to begin the process of restoring the creek to the pristine “trout stream” it was described as in the 1916 normal school course catalogue.  It was rerouted a second time, to become a major feature at the center of campus again.  Invasive species were removed and replaced with native grasses that help stabilize the bank, preventing erosion and sediment buildup in the creek.  The installation of a bioswale—comprised of stone, mulch, and native plants—filters the runoff from parking lots and sidewalks and protects against flooding.  With the ecology restored, and in some cases improved, Little Niagara Creek will continue to provide enjoyment and education for years to come.

See a collection of more recent images below.