EAU CLAIRE — A new addition to the popular Seven Bumps Hill is intended to promote sharing, community and outdoor recreation.

The Little Free Sled Library, launched Saturday with six new sleds, is a wintertime spinoff of the popular Little Free Library concept, enabling anyone to borrow a sled at no cost and take a run — or 10 — down the hill next to Forest Hill Cemetery on Eau Claire’s East Side Hill.

The sled library is the creation of Chad Rowekamp and his 9-year-old son, Owen. The rules are simple and painted on the wooden structure: “Borrow a sled and return when done.”

“We just try to work to make the East Hill even better than it is,” said Rowekamp, president of the Eastside Hill Neighborhood Association.

Rowekamp got the idea after seeing a social media post about a similar sled stand in the Twin Cities.

The father-son duo decided to bring the concept to Eau Claire, with Owen completing all the measuring, cutting and screwing of boards and Rowekamp handling the painting and supervising duties.

On Tuesday afternoon, Myles Hayes, 11, and Alden Piper, 12, both of Eau Claire, were happy to enjoy the fruits of the Rowekamps’ labor. 

“I like it because whenever you want to sled, you can just go there and borrow one,” Myles said.

The arrangement worked particularly well Tuesday when Myles called his mother, Kim Prock, to say he wanted to go sledding but was locked out of the house.

Prock told him about the new sled library. Problem solved.

“I think it’s spectacular, especially because some kids don’t have sleds,” she said. “It’s just awesome for the kids in the neighborhood.”

Prock said the shed sled is already well on its way to accomplishing a key goal of the creators — promoting family fun — as she heard from a friend who noticed the structure while on a walk with her daughter and spontaneously took a couple of runs.

For Rowekamp, the concept is a good fit for a friendly neighborhood that already has 14 Little Free Libraries (about 10 of which he built) and a free garden stand where neighbors drop off excess produce in the summer.

Little Free Library, started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson and Rick Brooks of Madison, has grown to more than 100,000 outlets worldwide, proving the concept of free exchanges is appealing to many people. After building the Little Free Sled Library and seeing posts about a few others around the country, the Rowekamps would be happy to see the concept become a slippery slope toward people spending more time outside.   

It also complements an online group Rowekamp follows called 1,000 Hours Outside, which challenges people to match the estimated 1,000 hours a year children devote to screen time with 1,000 hours outdoors. 

As a result, Rowekamp, who built a skating rink in his front yard, said, “I try to promote being outside for my kids. I’m also the kind of dad who’s going down the hill with them.”

He’s hoping the sled library will prompt more parents to whiz down the hill alongside their kids instead of just watching from the bottom and enable more children to spontaneously go sledding or stop for a few runs on the way home from school.

On the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rowekamp added, perhaps building the sled library is a modest example of the kind of act the civil rights leader was referring to when he said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

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