Written by Chad Dally
CORRECTION NOTICE: This story was updated 6/21/2017 to reflect the fact that the Holtz-Krause Steering Committee was not involved in construction of the curling facility at the sports complex.
While several cities around the state have turned their landfills into ski parks, here in Marathon County, a multi-year effort to remediate a former landfill led to the creation of a sports complex that generates millions of dollars in economic activity around the Wausau area.
Since it opened in May 2015, the Eastbay Sports Complex in the middle of Wausau has been the spot for soccer tournaments and league play, as well as lacrosse and other sports tournaments. It’s already brought thousands of people into the area.
The trend of hosting large-scale events at the Eastbay Sports Complex continues July 29-30, 2017, with the Hmong Wausau Festival — a kaleidoscope of singing, dancing, sports competitions, and other activities — expected to draw as many as 5,000 participants and spectators to the Wausau area.
The Wausau event is neither the first nor the only Hmong festival — cities such as Green Bay and Sheboygen also host Hmong festivals. But the size of the Asian population in Marathon County — more than 7,000 residents, according to the 2015 census — along with Wausau’s location in central Wisconsin, has local organizers optimistic about the number of spectators and participants not only for soccer, but also for volleyball, flag football, and dance competitions.
The Hmong festival comes on the heels of the Mountain Bay Cup soccer tournament, held in May 2017, which drew more than 2,000 participants on 128 teams — consuming all 15 soccer fields at the complex, plus other fields elsewhere in Wausau — along with another 4,000 friends and family who came to watch, as can be seen in the drone video footage below.
According to Dick Barrett, Executive Director of the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau:
“That one soccer tournament alone generated about $1.4 million in local spending.”
The same tournament was held at the site in 2016, hosted by MC United, a local soccer organization that also holds its league play at the field.
Ten years ago, looking across the nearly 60-acre parcel, all you’d see was a field of grass and weeds. Go further back in time — say, 40 years ago — and you’d see the fully functioning Holtz-Krause landfill.
The transformation from a landfill to a fully developed sports complex is nothing short of amazing…
The landfill ceased accepting waste in 1980 and closed for good in 1995, but a legacy of toxic chemicals remained long after it closed. For more than a decade, the site contained numerous pumps that would bring groundwater to the surface and remove contaminants such as benzene and vinyl chloride. A heavy clay cap on top of the site keeps surface water from seeping in and spreading contaminants.
In the mid-1990s, a group of residents and business owners banded together to form the Holtz-Krause Steering Committee with the goal of cleaning up the site and finding a new use for it, with soccer fields being the priority. However, the effort temporarily fizzled around 2009 over concerns about liability related to contaminants still lingering at the site.
It took a change in state law to make the sports complex a reality…
In 2011, state lawmakers representing the Wausau area — Representative Donna Seidel, Senator Pam Galloway, and former Representative (now Senator) Jerry Petrowski — introduced a bill that shifted liability for any future problems that could crop up at the site from the local to the state level. The bill was approved, lifting that potential burden off the city’s and county’s shoulders.
In addition, 15 years of cleanup efforts by the state’s Department of Natural Resources was declared in 2011 to be a success. That, in turn, freed up about $3 million raised by the Holtz-Krause Steering Committee to help pay for cleanup — money that instead was used to build the soccer fields.
The steering committee, City of Wausau, and Marathon County all chipped in to purchase the property for $272,000 in 2012.
The Eastbay Sports Complex is not the largest in the state, but Barrett said it already has a great reputation:
“A lot of people who go there and play there — we hear all the time that it’s the best grass field in all of the state.”
If you haven’t visited the complex yet, the Hmong Wausau Festival on July 29–30 would be a great time to check it out. The complex is located at 602 E. Kent Street in Wausau.
If you’re a parent whose child likes soccer, you could sign her or him up for the MC United soccer league. Or just drive out there to see this incredible sports complex — you don’t need a reason to look!
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. He’s heard chickens are smart, but the small brood he keeps at home provides evidence to the contrary. Email Chad Dally
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