Roughly halfway between Madison and LaCrosse, Wisconsin, you’ll find the lush surroundings and classic midwestern charm of Richland Center. Steeped in a rich history and loaded with outdoor activities, Richland Center is a unique and fun location for your next vacation.
An ideal location among the lush rolling hills of the Driftless Area of the Upper Midwestern United States, has granted Richland Center natural surroundings that are perfect for a host of outdoor activities. The parks and public areas are beautiful and ideal for fun things to do like wildlife watching, photography, hiking, biking and more. Local lakes and rivers are perfect for fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. Fans of extreme sports will love it here as well, as you can partake in motocross, rodeo, and racing during your stay.
If you're looking for a break from the outdoors or it's simply not your thing, Richland Center is home to some great historical sites and architecture. Franklin Lloyd Wright was born here and lived near the city later in his life. His farm, named Taliesin, isn't far from town and AD Warehouse, which he designed, is a great place to take a tour after the farm. Right before the 4th of July is one of the best times to visit Richland Center because the city puts on the highly anticipated Richland Thunderfest each year.
Since its inception only four years ago, Richland Thunderfest has grown into the one of the top events in the surrounding area. Great for families, couples, friends or an afternoon of independence, this festival has something fun for everyone. The festival will have a comprehensive collection of live music acts that cover a variety of genres. The concerts are free and take place all day. The kids area is loaded with games, rides, activities and more. You can expect all the typical festival fare and all the proceeds will go to local charities and nonprofits. Last, but not least, there will be a spectacular fireworks show to enjoy at the end of the event. We got the opportunity to interview Mary Jo Fortney, Representative for Richland Thunderfest, to talk about this great summer festival.
RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.
MJF: RC Thunderfest has become an annual pre-4th of July event since 2012. Each year the event and participation grows. Added to the event in 2013 was the Pi-Tri Challenge. This event is a local triathlon that includes paddling 4.4 miles down the Pine River, peddling 12 miles through rolling rural Richland County and ends with a three-mile run back into Richland Center.
The crowd fluctuates depending on the time, bands playing and the scheduled activities. The beginning of the day starts a little slower with 1,000 to 2,000 attendees. As the event unfolds the crowd grows considerably, and by evening we estimate having a crowd of over 6,000 for the final band and fireworks.
This event draws many families with children to the early hours of the event due to the variety of kids games, bounce houses, pony rides, etc. The bean bag tournament this year is a new addition which we hope will draw in more young adults and couples. Free live bands play from noon until midnight. The music lineup is set with a variety of genres to cover everyone’s preferences, and the bands draw families, couples, and individual music enthusiasts. The evening fireworks are a big draw for families, couples and individuals alike.
RAL: Take me through what attendees can expect?
MJF: The Churning Dust Caring Karts Go Kart Racing for Charity takes place at 1:00 pm. Area businesses race for their favorite charity. Kids can enjoy pony rides, swimming, a bungee jump, a 95-foot jump house obstacle course, additional jump houses, dunk tank, kids’ games and entertainment throughout the day. Back for 2016 is WOW Balls, the clear inflatable balls that let you “Walk On Water”. New this year will be beanbag tournaments, turtle races and pony rides!
There will be great food stands featuring brats, burgers, hot dogs and refreshments. There will also be a pig roast with roast pork sandwiches, corn-on-the-cob, a vegetarian lineup, fresh fruit, chips, popcorn, snow cones, ice cream, coffee specialties, a beer tent and more. All proceeds will go to local charities or nonprofits. The evening highlight is the “Thunder from the Hills Fireworks” display at dusk. Once again, the City Parks organization is bringing an expanded fireworks display for your enjoyment with twice the normal fireworks planned.
RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?
MJF: We have some great lodging options for visitors to choose from including: Richland Ramada, The Center Lodge, Park View Motel, Starlite Motel, Alana Springs Campground, Fireside Campground, Rembrandt and Rutabagas B&B, Little Dale B&B and Candlewood Cabins.
RAL: What does the event mean to the community?
MJF: This event is a great way to draw in locals, surrounding communities and travelers. It brings business to the local economy along with awareness to the beauty of Richland County and the Driftless area. This event is also a way to honor our veterans and military service people.
RAL: Does the event support a special cause in the community?
MJF: Proceeds from this event support Richland Rejuvenates, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing local businesses, community and city leaders together to help our community grow and develop. Richland Rejuvenates works to beautify the streets (summer flower hanging baskets and Christmas lights), recognize local volunteers, support local groups, and hold other charitable events to help local causes. Other groups will benefit from the proceeds such as local FFA/4H, high school sport teams, and local church groups.
RAL: Why should people come to your event?
MJF: This one-day event is packed with plenty of fun things for individuals and families to enjoy. The day begins with the PiTri Challenge Triathlon. Participants paddle through the Pine River, bicycle throughout rural Richland County countryside, and run the city trail along the river. This event continues to grow and is advertised nationally. We have had participants from as far away as Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. Entries for this year’s race are already coming in!
Another unique feature of Thunderfest is “Thunder from the Stage”. This is an all-day free music festival starting at noon with live performers until midnight. Every 70 minutes a new band and genre of music will take the stage to entertain attendees. This year we will include the performances from bands from Madison, Illinois, Milwaukee and Southwest Wisconsin. Genres include Country, Blues, Classic Rock, Americana, Christian,Country Rock, Pop Rock and more! The music will take a short break for the fireworks and will resume until midnight with “High Mileage”, a great Classic Rock power group to rock the night away.
For more information about Richland Thunderfest, please visit their website.