- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) - For many people, the Wausau Downtown Airport is a relatively unknown - and almost mysterious - center.

But there’s a lot more happening at the city-owned airport than just the departure and arrival of aircraft. In fact, there’s a whole area of recreation unbeknownst to the public, including tours of the airport, festivals and even wedding receptions.

The airport staff members also give tours of the hangars and the buildings from time to time for interested groups, like local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, said John Chmiel, manager of the airport. The city airport is open for the public’s entertainment and enjoyment.

People can stop by to find out more about the airport’s history, and children are welcome to swing by and find out more about aviation, the Wausau Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/1LhzjwH ) reported.

“As long as children are accompanied by an adult, we can have them come out and look at the airplanes at the airport at any time,” Chmiel said.

And during the summer months, the venue hosts several community events - including the hot air balloons during the popular Balloon and Rib Fest - and other aviation-oriented happenings open to the public.

“We wanted the airport to be a social scene - not just for the aviation (community) - but for the neighborhood and the community,” said Chmiel, who is also a flight instructor and president of Wausau Flying Service.

And when there aren’t tours or festivals, the center also acts as a meeting grounds of sorts for local organizations and groups. Within the airport’s facility, there is a room that can be rented out by the public for events.

“We’ve had birthdays, wedding receptions, business meetings, club meetings and classes, and even a church group used that area for a while,” Chmiel said.

Sue Nowak of Wausau - who has family members who are pilots - grew up blocks away from the Wausau Downtown Airport and watched the airplanes depart as a child. Today, she essentially lives in the municipal airport’s backyard, as her home runs up with the airport’s landing strip. And, like when she was young, Nowak’s daughter grew up watching the passing airplanes, too.

The aviation hub is a hidden gem, lost in the Wausau social scene, she said.

“People don’t know that it’s an activity - that you can visit this airport find out about the history, but also find about events,” Nowak said.

Nowak said she always sees teenagers down at the aviation center, watching the planes take off. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be flying an aircraft of their own, one day, she said.

“I think a few of the pilots said that they got their start, by going (to the local airport) and hanging over the fence watching airplanes,” Nowak said.

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Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

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