Recollections: From Mount McMillan to Medical Hill
By Thom Gerretsen
If you’ve walked or run for any distance in Marshfield, you know what many people don’t realize. This is a deceivingly hilly city!
Yes, Marshfield Clinic and Security Health Plan tower over this community. But other parts of town look flat until you start to explore them on foot, pedals and skates.
In my early years in the city – roughly about 1980 – I rode a bicycle across town. But that only lasted a few weeks. I put too much pressure on the pedals, and I recall breaking both of them. I couldn’t keep my tires inflated, either. Of course, I blamed the shoddy quality of my bike. In reality, I should have blamed all the hills – some of which go up and down for blocks on end. I did weigh a little more back then; 275 was my heaviest in the late 1980s. But, who’s counting, right?
There’s a reason I don’t often see bicycles on Central Avenue. From Arnold Street north, the 18 blocks to WDLB/WOSQ Radio are virtually nothing but a slight and steady uphill climb that can really get annoying if you’re not in shape. Parts of South Central can also be challenging. The same is true west of the UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield campus on West 5th Street, and a number of other places.
If Washington, D.C. has “Capitol Hill” then Marshfield has “Medical Hill.” That’s what I’ve always called it, anyway. It’s the steep stretch of West Upham Street between Oak and St. Joseph avenues, east of the clinic and the Laird research center. If you really want to breathe heavily, you can walk the entire half-mile stretch from North Central Avenue to St. Joe’s. It’s uphill all the way, and it starts slowly before it gets steeper close to Grant Elementary School.
I was talking about this recently with Harold Werth, a retired Marshfield Clinic urology assistant who has bicycled for thousands of miles across our area. He pointed to another north side street that’s even more treacherous than Upham.
Werth noted that West McMillan Street from Central to St. Joe’s is much tougher, because it has two sizable uphill stretches. The first big hill goes from near the Dental Clinic to the YMCA. After a dip and a short flat stretch, the second goes from past Oak Avenue and the Marshfield Utilities’ electric substation to Security Health Plan at St. Joseph’s.
So what would you call that? “Mount McMillan, Parts 1 & 2?” The elevation is quite high between those hills. From McMillan close to Fig Ave., you can almost see the roof of Grant Elementary School a couple blocks to the south. And the naked eye aligns with the third floor of the clinic’s reddish East Wing which houses its Ambulatory Surgery Center.
The clinic area also has steep walks on North Oak Avenue from Upham to McMillan; North Balsam Street next to the Laird Center; and Western Street from St. Joe’s to Oak. These walks not only strengthen your legs, they give the lungs a workout in ways that flatter walks just can’t do. It’s no wonder that when I go around there, I always see more walkers than in other parts of town. It’s great exercise for Clinic and Security Health employees, patients, residents and others.
This is also a great time to explore the city. The fall colors are only a few weeks away. Autumn is also when several charities hold fund-raising walks and runs. And prep football and soccer fans can enjoy a slightly angled stretch of Becker Road west of the new Kenneth & Ardyce Heiting Community Stadium at Marshfield High School.
Marshfield has 143 miles of streets, and I’m getting to know them pretty well. I’ve walked every street in the city at least four times since March 2018, as I try to improve my health and be the best I can be during my retirement.
It’s a beautiful community to see from the sidewalks – and all of its hills.