Monday, July 11, 2016

North Bank Trail nears completion in Menomonee Valley


I discovered the new North Bank Trail by chance last week. Clearly I haven’t been spending as much time in the Menomonee Valley as I did when I was artist in residence there. Although slated to be completed in the fall, the project appears to be pretty far along already.

Formerly one of the “wildest” sections of river in the Menomonee Valley, the riverbank had been severely eroded and the river’s edge virtually inaccessible. The most striking feature of the new North Bank is the re-contoured slope and burlap-encased terraces.

Situated across the river from Three Bridges Park, the new trail begins at the 33rd Court bridge and connects the existing park bike trail with the Hank Aaron State Trail in Stormwater Park.

The North Bank is not officially part of a named park. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee owns the land (as well as Three Bridges Park). In addition to providing the trail link, the project serves two other purposes: bank stabilization is intended to limit erosion and keep soil from sloughing into the river.

It also provides public access to the water via two stone staircases that anchor each end of the trail.

Previously, cyclists who crossed the bridge from the park onto 33rd Court were forced to continue past Rexnord, Palermo’s, and Ahern and to share the roads with semis and thousands of those companies’ employees. The new trail enables riders to stay off the streets and along the river—a much more enjoyable ride. 

The $1.4 million project is funded by grants from an alphabet soup of agencies, including WisDOT, CMAQ, EPA, GLRI, MMSD, and the Fund for Lake Michigan, as well as some matching funds from the City of Milwaukee. I was surprised to find that the pavement terminates in Stormwater Park where it meets the existing gravel of the Hank Aaron Trail. I learned that some of the grant funds require the asphalt and that the existing trail is not part of this project. The pavement may be extended in the future when additional funds are available.

Of course the newly stabilized bank looks unnatural—I’ve already heard that comment after posting an image on Facebook. It is one of the great paradoxes of our time (which has been dubbed the Anthropocene era because of human influence on the earth’s “natural” processes) that natural areas require human intervention in order to provide a satisfying experience of nature. This is particularly true in urban areas where there is the need is greatest.

If you need proof of the healing effect of time on such a managed landscape just go across the bridge to the park. When it opened three years ago it looked just as unnatural—and five years ago it looked far worse!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Menomonee River reconstruction nears completion

The limestone rip rap gleams in the hard mid-day sun, a beautiful sight to see. And, yes, I think it will look even better after a few years, when vegetation grows through and over it, softening its hard edges and obscuring the gleam of the white stone. But this corrective measure has been years in the making and it's good to see it nearing completion.

This one short section, right next to the Wisconsin Avenue viaduct, is all that remains of the concrete channel that was installed in the Menomonee River between the stadium and Miller Brewing in the 1060s as an ill-conceived and ultimately ineffective flood mitigation strategy. To read more about the project go to the MMSD website. To see my previous post, a photo essay showing the beginnings of this phase of the project in 2015, click here.

Meanwhile, the Kinnickinnic River project, which will remove even more concrete from that much more maligned waterway, is underway and projected to be completed in 2022. If you haven't seen it yet, my exhibit, Concrete River: Memorial and promise on the Kinnickinnic, is still on display at the Alfons Gallery through July 31. For more information, click here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review of springtime in Milwaukee (Yes!)

Great blue heron, Greenfield Park
Okay, Memorial Day is over and it actually feels like summer here in Milwaukee, after what felt like an interminable and frustratingly frigid spring. Well, for the most part. We did have a few nice days now and then, however fleetingly. I managed to take advantage of those nice days by visiting as many Milwaukee County Parks and natural areas as possible.

Greenfield Park
I made it to more than I usually do, some of them familiar and others for the first time.

Greenfield Park
I've selected a few shots from each, which I offer in no particular order.

Greenfield Park
Wild strawberry blossoms, Lincoln Creek detention basin
Julia Robson, Mke Co Parks Dept.
I even tagged along with a team of scientists, including Julia, who works for the Parks Department as assistant natural areas coordinator. Here she is using a loudspeaker to call a lesser bittern (if I remember correctly) in the hopes that a real one will call back. None did. But we did successfully call other species that evening.

We visited the Lincoln Creek site, above, and this unnamed (and as yet unprotected) wetland where, although there were no bitterns, we discovered other creatures, including rails and a killdeer that had hatched a brood in the middle of a gravel parking lot.

Woodland trillium patches, McGovern Park
McGovern Park
Kletsch Park
Kletsch Park
(Sadly, that luxuriant ground cover is all garlic mustard. Pretty in spring. Soon to be very ugly.)

Doyne Park
Flowering crab, Doyne Park
Jacobus Park
May apple, Jacobus Park
Falk Park
It was earlier in the spring and I'd never been to Falk before. What looks a bit like lingering snow are a carpet of tiny flowers called spring beauties.

Falk Park
Here's a close up of them. They are beautiful enough up close, but it was the sheer numbers that filled the forest floor in many parts of the park that I found astonishing. Such tiny flowers!

Ephemeral pond, Falk Park
Falk Park
Marsh marigolds, Falk Park
Violets, Falk Park
Falk Park
Most of these were brief excursions. Three of my adventures, however, merited blog posts of their own. Click on the links to go to them:
Cudahy Nature Preserve
Riveredge Nature Center (World Fish Migration Day!)
Mangan Woods

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mangan Woods blossoms with spring: A photo essay

Mangan Woods is located between Whitnall Park and the Root River Parkway in Greendale. This lovely park is worth visiting any time of the year due to the healthy stands of mature hardwoods, like this giant maple.

But spring is a particularly lovely time because of the remarkable wealth of wildflowers. Stay on the (well-trodden) paths because a stray step is likely to crush a beautiful flower.

Along with the common white trillium, Mangan boasts the rarer and more delicate red trillium, here nestled among sedge.

There were some patches of enormous may apples...

the blossoms of which are usually hard to see without groveling on the ground--although I found my iPhone a handy way to capture a ground-level view.

There is a lot of scurrying through the underbrush. The creatures mostly stayed out of sight, but this toad held still just long enough.

I hadn't been to Mangan for at least a few years. Since then, sadly, garlic mustard has taken over large swaths of the more open areas. I also found it popping up here and there in the deeper sections of the forest.

Here a Virginia waterlily is entwined in garlic mustard.

This is a lovely-looking specimen of Dame's rocket...

until you look around and see that it, too, is aggressively invasive.

I also happened upon a more unusual alien species the day I was there. Nonbox, a Milwaukee ad agency, was filming a commercial for Shield, a huge outdoor sporting goods company.

I came knowing that I was likely to find Jack in the pulpit blossoming this time of year, having seen them before...

but I was completely caught by surprise at the sheer number of them, in open, sun-drenched places...

and also in the shadowy parts of the deep forest.

Not only did I see more Jacks in the pulpit than in any other place I can recall, but also the largest ones, which reached nearly to knee-level.

Mangan Woods, a dramatic and subtle place. I hope to return more often in the future.