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Experience
the outdoors with adaptive kayaks, beach wheelchairs, accessible cabins, and sit skis.
Explore
accessible boat access and shore fishing sites.
Access
DNR properties with a permitted power-driven mobility device.
Contact information
For questions about accessing recreation opportunities contact:
Nick Zouski
DNR accessibility coordinator
608-267-7490

Open the OutdoorsAccessible fishing on Coon Creek

Accessible fishing ramp at Coon Creek...Not just another fish story

Where can you fish if you're life is tied to a wheelchair? Many people, young and old, have found some answers, and one in particular is a story of many people and organizations coming together for the good of all. Coon Creek is on land donated by a Coon Valley family and that was the beginning of a great fish story. There's a wonderfully accessible fishing stream in Coon Valley, Wisconsin and it was created by cooperation.

Fishing holes are common in the state, but only a few allow an angler in a wheelchair to get close. The original idea and energy to create the Coon Creek Accessible Fishing Area can be traced to three Vietnam Veterans and their dreams to find spots where the three could fish. Two of the men could go anywhere but the third needed a path. The three wanted to fish together.

Their idea was presented to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in the late 1980s when WisDOT announced it was necessary to replace a bridge and maybe reroute the stream through Coon Valley.

The three friends decided that the idea for an accessible site should be carried to WisDOT by one of them. They elected Dave Vetrano from their ranks since he had drive, enthusiasm, vision and a job with the Department of Natural Resources as a fish biologist. Dave Vetrano earned his degree in fish biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, spent time with the U.S. Air Force as a crew chief on a mechanic crew working on B52s and was first assigned by DNR to work the Lake Michigan area. He moved from there to Black River Falls office for two years and then came to the La Crosse office in 1980 where he has been since.

The momentum for Vetrano's call to WisDOT had come from years of fishing trips and talks of fishing trips by three buddies who belonged to a special club in La Crosse: Veterans of Vietnam. Vetrano, Larry Whitewater and Mike Morrisey got together quite a bit to either get ready for fishing trips or to once again describe fish they had caught in the past. The trio planned their expeditions around their free time and they picked only sites that would allow them to force fit Whitewater's wheelchair up or down a path on the way to a spot to fish that was close to the water.

The WisDOT representatives saw the possibilities for the Coon Creek site to become accessible, but they needed help for many aspects of the project. Within a short time, Coon Valley residents, WisDOT, DNR, the Vernon County Conservation Alliance, the Village of Coon Valley and the Coon Valley American Legion Post 116 were all on board. With this much combined energy, fishing along the Coon Creek soon became open to all who wanted to fish, whether on their feet or on their wheels.

For money, Vetrano contacted community people, trout stamp fund sources and the DNR. The local Vernon County Conservation Alliance jumped on board immediately and soon a boat, motor and trailer had been donated and a raffle soon raised $8,000. The paving of the fishing trail was assured. Soon a paved path with pullouts along the newly routed creek were planned with funds being raised for the paving of the path, for the paving of the parking lot and for the installation of accessible restrooms were under way. Pullouts would bring everyone close to the fish, even those who need to roll their chair to a fishing site.

Vetrano's planning was rolling, even though it was his veteran friend Whitewater who had been put on wheels for the rest of his life. Whitewater didn't want help to get to a fishing hole, he only wanted an opportunity. When the plan became reality, it presented an opportunity to everyone who wanted to fish. Viet Nam vets could roll or walk up, family members could bring older members back to fishing with a simple ride to the accessible fishing area, and anyone who liked to fish could use the path to arrive at a favorite spot. Ten spots were developed, some on one side of the stream and some on the other.

DNR staff surveyed and marked the trail's path to make sure it was in the best location for fish habitats and for preventing erosion. The Village of Coon Creek paved the parking area and provided accessible restrooms. The result was an 850 foot trail on both sides of the stream with a total of ten fishing pullouts. By 1990, the project in Coon Valley was ready for fishing on wheels.

Visiting the fishing area today doesn't provide much information about how much work went into creating the new stream route, the new bridge and the paved trail. There has been recent flooding of the little stream, but the problems that have resulted are nothing like those of the past. Prior to the 1980s, Coon Valley had become a deep gouge as people moved in to graze cattle on the hill sides and raise crops in the low lands. As the hills lost their grass to the feeding of cattle, rains were able to bring more of the nearby slopes into the valley. When the project to reroute the stream and build new bridges finally began, the silt from 100 years had grown in places to a depth of ten feet or more. Large amounts of land had to be moved.

Another accessible fishing ramp at Coon CreekToday flooding brings smaller amounts of silt onto the shore and volunteers on bobcats come to push it away from the path. Erosion is managed, fish are planted and people are fishing. Creative problem solving has made the Coon Valley stream planted with wild trout, a fact thought not possible according to many text book approaches. But a local fishing club agreed with Vetrano that it might be worth a try to raise and release wild trout yearlings. The nay sayers have become quiet and the fish have become plentiful. The people first made the stream accessible to people and then made is accessible to fish.

During the first few years the area was in use, the local people and Vetrano were learning what changes would make this a better site. Suggestions included the concept of installing slightly higher stops at each site so an enthusiastic angler wouldn't find his or her wheelchair tipping into the stream. They learned that the first trails weren't just right for wheelchairs, since the hills and valleys around the stream created angles too steep for chair safety. Comments from people fishing at the sites included remarks about the large space between the water and where they were 'parked' to fish. For a few of the spots, the space was covered with grass. Too many fish were flopping loose and rejoining the rapidly moving water. Those were good ideas, but it took a big windstorm in 1998 to create new opportunities for Vetrano and the community to correct the very things that had been suggested as problems.

The 1998 windstorm blew a tree onto the foot bridge. This time the Village approached WisDOT looking for a grant to beautify the trail with some small changes, to rebuild the original foot bridge and then add a second bridge. They were told that each road project has a certain amount of beautification planning and development funding and they were told the village request would become the "planned beauty" for that piece of roadway. The Coon Valley accessible fishing site became a loop and the trail from each side of the stream were joined. Ten sites are now available with a comfortable walk or roll around the beautiful park.

American Legion Post 116 has created a beautiful memorial as part of the park and the village has erected a wonderful community gazebo. People sit on the shore and dangle their feet in the cool, fast moving water. They can picnic on the grounds. And the best part of all for the three anglers is that people are fishing with friends who no longer have to sit in the car and wait to hear the answer to, "How are they biting?" Thanks to many people working willingly together, Coon Creek is accessible.

Dave Vetrano at sign for Coon Creek accessible fishing area

Contributors

  • Coon Creek Accessible Fishing Area
  • Vernon County Conservation Alliance
  • Village of Coon Valley
  • Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Project
  • American Legion Post 116
  • WisDOT
  • DNR

Directions to Coon Creek

The park is right off US Highways 14 & 61 on the west side of the Village of Coon Valley (just east of the junction of US HWYs 162 and 14 – 61).

Note

WisDOT awarded $120,000 for this project in 1998. Dave Vetrano retired from DNR in 2010.

Last revised: Tuesday February 26 2013