The bluffs of western Wisconsin are a captivating backdrop to the town of Alma in Buffalo County. But the beauty of these bluffs serves a purpose. This terrain is prime real estate for some of nature's most majestic creatures.
"I'm very proud of this place" Larry Balk told Newsline 9.
Balk is one of Alma's 781 residents. He's also a founding member of "Wings Over Alma."
That's a non-profit organization promoting the town's history of attracting scores of large birds. The region's hilly landscape, climate, and proximity to a dam on the Mississippi River play vital roles.
Each year Balk says thousands of eagles, swans, geese and ducks flock to the area on yearly migration routes.
"Everybody loves the eagles" Balk said.
As winter approaches and the river begins to freeze the dam in the river near Alma keeps a small section unfrozen. And in just a few weeks that is expected to turn this quiet stretch of river into an all-day buffet for bald eagles.
"Right outside our windows is where the eagles are usually feeding on the fish" Balk said from the "Wings Over Alma" observation center.
Glaciers didn't impact the topography of western Wisconsin to a large degree. That means the bluffs on both the Wisconsin and Minnesota side of the river have been able to survive the test of time. Birds love them. They help to funnel wind currents along the river, which acts as an excellent food source.
"Some people are just totally blown away by it" Jack Martin of "Wings Over Alma" said.
Martin works with visitors at the organization's storefront in downtown Alma.
"I remember the first time I came in here. There were over 100 eagles out there" Martin said.
Excitement like that won't stay a secret for long. And that is taking the allure of Alma to new heights.
There are several excellent viewing opportunities in the town. Those featured in Newsline 9's story include:
Rieck's Lake: http://almaswanwatch.org/index.asp. From Eau Claire, Wis. take Highway 37 southbound, and then turn onto Highway 34. Travel north approximately .25 miles. The lake with parking and viewing platforms will be on the right.
Wings Over Alma Visitors Center: http://wingsoveralma.org/. From Eau Claire, Wis. take Highway 37 southbound, and then turn onto Highway 34. Turn left on to Highway 34. Driving into the town of Alma, Wis. The visitors center will be on the right. Parking is available behind the building.