Onalaska Great River Landing Master Plan and Design


The City’s Comprehensive Plan Update, conducted by SEH, made clear the high value that Onalaska community members placed on its waterfront along the Mississippi River. Yet, routine flooding at the waterfront hampered people’s ability to access the river and impacted existing City storage facilities. The waterfront also lacked accessible trails and a defined path to a popular fishing area, resulting in unsafe railroad track crossings.

The City needed a way to invite the public to walk along the river while controlling access to restricted locations. The Comprehensive Plan Update envisioned the waterfront as a place where multigenerational and cultural communities could come together for shared activities.

Other priorities were to link this area to the broader riverfront trail and wayside system, and to create a catalyst for economic development for Highway 35 and the downtown business area, inviting neighbors and visitors alike to spend time and dollars in Onalaska.


SEH teamed with the City to develop a long-term master plan stemming from a community-based conceptual design process. Detailed probable costs were estimated for each potential improvement to allow the City to acquire project funding and create phasing strategies.

The first phase of the project included a downtown trailhead facility with parking and restrooms, outdoor seating areas and plazas, scenic overlooks, natural trail enhancements, and the reconstruction of a portion of the Great River State Trail. Flexibility throughout design and construction helped the team address the surrounding environment, effect on the public, construction schedules and future development.

In 2020, the SEH team reconvened for the second phase of the master plan, designing a new riverfront boardwalk trail. Proposed facilities include a railroad crossing, new park shelter, boardwalk, water access, scenic overlooks and ornamental native vegetation. This process included robust virtual public engagement using with fly-through animation, a project website and survey to explain the project and generate feedback. SEH is currently working with the City to help identify next steps to fund the boardwalk and move into construction drawings.


2015 Plan Document Award | American Planning Association - Wisconsin Chapter

Project Name
Onalaska Great River Landing Master Plan and Design

Onalaska, Wisconsin

City of Onalaska


  • Planning
  • Natural resources
  • Funding
  • Landscape architecture
  • Community engagement
  • 3D rendering and modeling
  • Civil engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Highway design
  • Construction services
  • Architectural design


  • Master planning included three-day design charrette between design team and City staff and stakeholders
  • Site analysis included review of ecological, hydraulic, cultural and historic documents better understand the site’s characteristics and potential for brownfield development
  • Waterfront recreational area with shelter, public restrooms, boardwalk, scenic overlooks, music playground and native plantings
  • New riverfront trail with connections to regional trail
  • 3D modeling and rendering included fly-through animation with narration
  • Project phasing support
  • Wayfinding and signage
  • Water and watershed engineering, wetland services, sustainable design