Tuesday, June 16, 2015

WPCA hosts panel on Menomonee Valley

I hope you'll join me for a discussion panel and special reception in conjunction with my current exhibition at Walker's Point Center for the Arts.

Thursday, June 18, 6-8 pm.

A distinguished panel of community leaders will be on hand to ensure a lively and informative discussion focusing on the various projects that are making the Valley a healthy and vibrant place to work and play.

- Ben Gramling - Director of Environmental Health, 16th Street Community Health Center
- Corey Zetts - Executive Director, Menomonee Valley Partners
- Glenna Kate Holstein - Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, Urban Ecology Center
- Daniel Adams - Director of Planning; Harbor District, Inc.

- Eddee Daniel - Writer, Photographer, 2014 Menomonee Valley Partners Artist in Residence

The exhibition runs through July 11.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts is located at 839 S. 5th St., one block south of National Ave.

Gallery hours: Tue-Sat, 12-5 pm.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peregrine falcon banding in the Menomonee Valley

I wrote the following story approximately ten years ago when I was working on my first book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed. It has always been one of my favorites. I reprint it now because after ten years I have just returned to witness another falcon banding session at the same location. This time I also went to four additional banding sites in Milwaukee. Stay tuned for the new story--and many more photos!

Power Plant 

One hundred and twenty feet up the chimney of a coal-fired power plant, wind roars in my ears. Far below and all around are the signs of a century of enterprising development and subsequent decline. Black roofs mark the few remaining factories. Vacant parcels are littered with faintly twinkling glass. Tiny trucks pick and prod at a mountain of coal to feed the furnaces beneath my feet. They have the look of ants fussily tending an anthill. Across the canal in the city impoundment lot, carelessly arranged carcasses of abandoned automobiles lie atop the contours of a huge mound of gravel. In another direction lies their probable fate: scrap metal awaiting reclamation is being sorted into irregular piles.

This isn't the kind of setting one expects nature lovers to seek out; nevertheless, this vertiginous height is one of several area nesting sites for the once-endangered peregrine falcon. As such, it is a significant outpost in the urban wilderness—symbolic of a dramatic environmental success story—and I am witnessing as much wild fury as a pair of falcons can muster.

Tolerance of humans and adaptation to their synthetic environments has helped bring the species back from the brink of extinction, but tolerance has its limits. With no way to communicate their benign intentions, the banding team is provoking the falcons in the most distressing way possible, by raiding their nest and stealing their young. In a frenzy, the adult birds dive at us, swerving by as close as they dare. They circle around and dive again, screaming all the while in high-pitched desperation.

Greg, the naturalist in charge of the operation is getting an equally ferocious reaction from the fledglings in the nest. In what they only can perceive as a battle for existence, they simultaneously claw, peck, and struggle to evade his grasp with great feathery commotion. But it is a futile fight, as gloved hands deftly snatch each chick and transfer it to a waiting cage. All the while the parents continue the attack. Capable of speeds as high as 230 M.P.H., which makes them the fastest animals on earth—their intimidation is real. The larger female aims straight at my head, eyes blazing with passionate intensity. Just beyond reach, she stalls her headlong plunge with a wide sweep of her wings, talons writhing with frustration, and veers away.

Once in their lives these wild creatures must endure this violation because our society has decided to care whether they live or die. The look in their eyes is a clear sign that banding doesn't tame them, but it creates a platform on which we can build a case for mutual survival. In the urban wilderness, nature's indifference must be guided by humanity's care and stewardship.

Once inside, identifying bands are applied expertly to the fledglings' legs. Held as gently as possible, they nevertheless struggle continuously. Sharp beaks and talons flex and strain, eyes glare with a vehemence born of panic. The banding team's calm, scholarly attention to detail belies a genuine respect and affection for the fate of the individual birds as well as the species. They are given names. Personalities are noted along with physical traits. All is done with such alacrity that we are soon back up on the chimney, returning them to the nest. No longer attacking, the adult falcons continue to circle, eyeing us suspiciously.

When I return to solid ground I turn to look up through a lattice of steel structures toward the tiny white nest box affixed to a narrow railing on the massive vertical form of the stack. Two even tinier black specks with wings whip around like torn bits of cloth whirling in an updraft. Then each circles the stack one more time, swoops gracefully up to the nest, and disappears inside. The only sound is the wind in my ears. 

This story and the photograph of the Fledgling Falcon are from Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago. © Eddee Daniel 2008.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Warnimont Park gun club update: public hearing today!

Should the Cudahy skeet-shooters remain in Warnimont Park? Should they be allowed to destroy one of the best sites for birding in Milwaukee County?

Speak up at a public hearing Wed. June 3, 2015, at Cudahy Family Library.

The Cudahy Sportsmen’s Club, a skeet-shooting club, have met in Warnimont Park on Lake Michigan for many years, but neighbors increasingly object to the shooting noise and the debris left in the lark and in the lake. The club is requesting a new location in the park, but opponents say the new site is too close to private houses and a hospital. The Audubon Society has voiced strong opposition because of the sensitive ecology of the proposed new site.

Read much more (and see more photos) in my earlier column in Milwaukee Magazine.

        WHAT: Public hearing to discuss whether Cudahy Sportsmen’s Club may remain in Warnimont Park
        WHEN: Wednesday, June 3, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Public comments will begin at 7:15
        WHERE: Cudahy Family Library, 3500 Library Drive, Cudahy

DIRECTIONS: Take East Layton Avenue to Sweet Applewood Lane. Turn south on Sweet Applewood. Turn east on Barnard Drive and cross RR tracks. The green library building on Library Drive will be visible on your right. Park on Barnard Drive or behind library. (Directions allow for construction in area.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Kinnickinnic River and community development: A makeover

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A south-side community fills a void created by flooding

The truck that was to deliver the flowers was late but no one seemed to mind. Neighbors chatted amiably in Spanish. Staffers from the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers had set up two tents for an annual spring plant sale. The tents and the people milling around them seemed very small in the broad, vacant city block between the Kinnickinnic River and the row of houses fronting W. Harrison Ave .

Propelled by several impatient children, a few people went across the vestigial dead-end street to the adjacent city block, also largely vacant. Raised beds for community gardens had been built and fenced in a small corner of the block. Volunteers showed the kids how to pull weeds and rake the soil in preparation for planting. Incrementally, the community is reclaiming empty land that stretches four long city blocks alongside the river. 

Not long ago all of those blocks were filled with houses. The reason for their removal is as concrete as the river that bisects the neighborhood. The Kinnickinnic River has literally been lined with concrete since the 1960s. It looks more like a drainage ditch than a river. This was no accident. At the time it was believed that channelization would solve the problem of flooding.

Today the channeled river seems more like a catastrophe than a solution. While the drastic measure did reduce flooding for a time, it also degraded water quality, destroyed all semblance of wildlife habitat within and along the waterway and increased the threat of drowning. Now, ironically, even the original intent of the channel is no longer effective. The past 50 years has seen the floodplain rise dramatically. If nothing were done to alleviate the new circumstances, a major storm could inundate as many as 350 homes in the neighborhood.

Which is why the houses have been purchased and, one by one, dismantled. The removal of the houses is just part of a major flood management initiative led by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and partners have been implementing quality of life improvements from a companion plan called the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Neighborhood Plan. The most dramatic and eagerly awaited changes—the removal of the concrete channel and rehabilitation of a naturalized river—will come later. The most trying task is currently underway: asking families to move and tearing down houses.

Over 60 homes have already come down. Hence the vacant land. Last week I was able to observe the workers as they dismantled another. Although more expensive than traditional demolition, the MMSD has opted for a process called deconstruction. Forgoing the bulldozer for manual labor, everything salvageable or recyclable is painstakingly removed from the house. Usable appliances and fixtures are set aside. Plaster walls are pummeled until they reveal the lathe and studs beneath, which become recycled wood.

House demolition usually generates a huge amount of indiscriminately crushed debris that is hauled off to landfills. The more laborious deconstruction process enables materials to be separated for recycling and reduces what ends up in a landfill.

The process began here years ago. Numerous neighborhood meetings were conducted to explain the project and build community support. Initially, there was concern and hesitation about the acquisition and removal of homes. However, now that the work has progressed as far as it has the mood has shifted. According to Iris Gonzalez at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, many people have become not just supportive but excited about the project. There is even some impatience at the pace of the work.

As more houses come down and more land stands vacant, people have begun to imagine its eventual transformation. They anticipate the planned new parkland and an actual river running through the neighborhood. The project is supposed to be completed in 2022.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood has begun to fill the void. In addition to the community gardens some temporary public art has been erected on another corner of cleared land.

I wander back to the tents. The truck has arrived. A crowd gathers to help unload the plants and get them ready for sale. People are lined up to make their selections. The Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers staff is joined by young volunteers who help carry potted flowers back to cars and nearby homes. The annual event is called “Bloom and Groom.” It is subsidized by the collaborative efforts of Urban Anthropology and Sixteenth Street CHC along with grants from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation. The organizers hope that investing in flowers and improving the appearance of the neighborhood will be a visible demonstration of pride and commitment to the future.

The flowers are beautiful in the bright morning sun and the smiles on everyone’s faces, it seems to me, are a clear sign of that hope and pride.

To see more photos from the KK River and the neighborhood go to my flickr album.

If you missed my recent post about the Earth Day clean up of the KK River, click here.

Full disclosure: I am connected to the two lead organizations responsible for the KK River Flood Management Project and Neighborhood Plan. I am working with the MMSD to document the current phase of the KK River Project and until recently my daughter was employed by the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers. But if you check out my flickr photos it will be clear that I've been interested in this work long before any of that!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Year in the Menomonee Valley on exhibit at WPCA

You're invited!

Please join me for

Eddee Daniel: A Year in the Valley
Witnessing Menomonee Valley Revitalization

May 29 - July 11

Opening reception: Friday, May 29, 5-9 pm.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts
839 South 5th Street
Milwaukee, WI

The exhibition will feature photography and stories from my 2014 tenure as the Menomonee Valley Partners' inaugural Artist in Residence.

The Menomonee Valley, once blighted and shunned, is in the midst of a dramatic and well-orchestrated transformation and has become a nationally renowned model for sustainable urban redevelopment. It was an honor and a joy to have had the opportunity to observe and document part of that transformation. I hope you'll come to see the results.

In addition to the opening reception, there will be a panel discussion on Thursday, June 18, 6–9 pm. Representatives from Menomonee Valley Partners, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Urban Ecology
Center, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center and the Harbor District will join me to discuss Menomonee Valley revitalization – its history, ongoing development and future plans.

For more information about the exhibit go to WPCA.

For a lot more information about my year in the Menomonee Valley, including photographs, essays, and stories, go to the website that I created for the purpose.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Horicon Marsh: A poetic and photographic odyssey

The marsh was burning. I’ve known for some time about changing forest management practices. I knew that controlled burning is now widely accepted as a method to control invasive species as well as to prevent uncontrolled, destructive wildfires. But it hadn’t occurred to me that a wetland would burn.

I was in Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Charlie. We happened upon a crew in the midst of a controlled burn authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Traveling around the marsh we noted many areas that had been visibly burned, some quite recently, others during the past year. Evidence of burning became one of my photographic themes during our odyssey.

Charlie is a poet. We share similar values, including a reverence for nature, and we like to get away together now and then to soak up some of it. We usually choose a place within a couple of hours drive that is near a park or natural area. Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S. and less than an hour from Milwaukee, easily fits the bill. 

We dawdled for two days, walking trails in several parts of the marsh. As will become clear when you read Charlie’s poetic contribution below, I did more walking than he did. We stopped at both the federal and state visitor’s centers. Yes, there are two contiguous sanctuaries, the State Wildlife Area as well as the National Wildlife Refuge. Not that you can tell by looking at the topography (although we humans couldn’t leave well enough alone—a dike roughly coincides with the boundary.)

By the second day we had circumnavigated the entire marsh, both state-owned and federal. We even discovered Nitschke Mounds County Park filled with dozens of ancient, but un-photogenic, Indian mounds (above). Unlike the wildlife refuges, which were popular, we had the mounds to ourselves—and the thousand-year-old spirits of Late Woodland Culture effigy mound builders.

People often visit Horicon to see the birds and we certainly saw plenty, although migration was far from peak. We saw mostly the ubiquitous Canada geese and a variety of ducks. I also tallied a flock of Sandhill Cranes (above), a couple flocks of swans, a deuce each of prairie chickens and wild turkeys, bluebirds and some kind of swift. Plus numerous unidentifiable (by me) other birds.

And 16 turtles. You won’t see many birds in the photos. Gotta admit I’ve never been patient enough to be a wildlife photographer. Turtles are sitting ducks, so to speak, so I caught a few of them. Mostly I focused on my customary and oppositional themes: revealing the enchantment of nature near my urban haunts and finding traces of humanity’s presence in natural landscapes. The burns were an enthralling bonus.

Charlie wrote the following poem. I took photos. More selections below.


Goose honk and bird chirp,
the blue-brown landscape
of marsh grass and water,
a few dead trees scratch the sky.
This is a place for birding,
but I’m here for loafing.
I’m good at it, lying here
with my head on a rock.
The afternoon sun, warm
on my face and jeans,
blue bird atop the blue bird house,
turkey vulture overhead.
Times like this I realize
if you stay still and wait long enough,
nature comes to you.

Charlie Rossiter, April, 2015

To see more photos go to my flickr album.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Milwaukee County parkland threatened by gun club’s plan for shooting range

This story was first published (edited and with fewer photos) as a column for Milwaukee Magazine with the title, A Bullseye View: A Milwaukee County park on Lake Michigan may be threatened by a Cudahy gun club’s new shooting range.

A persistent, hollow rat-a-tat-tat echoed from somewhere unseen, deepening the woods. Clearly a woodpecker; seemingly a large one. Then, close by, a lighter tapping drew my eye upwards. Short bursts, like stitching, repeated at irregular intervals. A small black and white downy woodpecker flitted along the tree line next to the trail. Suddenly it was directly overhead, tapping a dead branch. In a moment it was gone. Wildlife enthusiasts live for such ephemeral moments.

I had come to Warnimont Park in early April with my friend Karen Johnson, a birder who—unlike me—can tell a downy woodpecker from a red-bellied one just by the sound it makes. We continued along the bike path, listening, looking for movement amongst the trees, bright with morning sun but still gray and leafless in the lingering Wisconsin winter. The light, lively chatter, Karen said, was mostly chickadees that have been around all winter. Their bright chirps vary from a high-pitched, serene “sweet-tee” to the occasional, more urgent “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” for which they are named.

Although it is early in the season we were hoping to hear and see a few of the migrating birds that congregate in Warnimont on their annual trek north from distant wintering areas. We have two reasons for coming to this particular park. The relative wildness of the middle section of the park along with a diversity of habitats make it one of the premier locations in Milwaukee County for birders. For my part, I wanted to see what might be lost if a controversial plan to create a shooting range in the middle of it is approved.

At its north end, next to Warnimont Golf Course, the park currently has a shooting range that is slated to close. Operated by the 83-year old Cudahy Sportsmen’s Club (CSC), the range has been used for decades by gun-owners and, occasionally, by local law-enforcement. It also has been a magnet for controversy. Its bluff-top location causes lead shot to be deposited into Lake Michigan, a serious hazard to aquatic wildlife as well as a violation of both the federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation Recovery Act. As a result, the Milwaukee County Parks Department finally terminated the CSC’s lease in November, 2014.

When it faced identical circumstances, the Milwaukee Gun Club, once located on the lakeshore at the north end of Lincoln Memorial Drive, was compelled to close in 1992. At Warnimont, the Parks Dept. granted the club a one-year extension, allowing operations to continue with the stipulation that steel be used instead of lead shot. But a new controversy looms over the club’s plan to relocate.

Karen and I continued to walk along the winding Oak Leaf Trail. She abruptly raised her binoculars to identify a small, yellowish shape that shot across our path. A golden-crowned kinglet, she tells me with relish, an early migrant. The woodland thins and opens into a broad meadow dotted with low shrubs. Joggers and cyclists swerve around us on the trail.

We head off into the meadow on a dirt path, following a stuttering call that Karen identifies as a song sparrow. Before long we are doubly rewarded. We spot the song sparrow among brambles and then farther along a dark-eyed junco perched atop a leafless bush.

Individually, the woodland and the meadow provide excellent cover and distinct habitats for a wide variety of local and migrating birds. Together, however, they create a remarkably diverse ecosystem, one that’s hard to match in Milwaukee County. The convergence of two habitats, such as the woods and the meadow, creates what naturalists call an ecotone or a point of transition. The mingling of species that occurs in an ecotone makes for a particularly rich environment for wildlife. This is what draws so many birders to Warnimont.

The Cudahy Sportsmen’s Club would like to create its new shooting range smack in the center of this county park’s exquisite and irreplaceable natural area. According to CSC president Tom Ahmad, the design of the range would include six trap and skeet machines, a tall shot curtain and an earth berm between the range and the bluff. Also, unlike the current range, a chain-link fence would surround the new one. The curtain and berm are necessary to protect off-road cyclists, hikers and dog-walkers who frequent the bluff-top path. They also would facilitate clean up of plastic shot wads and broken clay targets, which has been another point of contention at the current site. Bright, often toxic fragments of targets litter the steep, deeply eroded escarpment and plastic wads drift onto popular beaches below.

To the untrained or utilitarian eye, a meadow in a park might seem like the ideal place to develop—unruly grass in an already open space. That’s one of the reasons upland meadows and prairies are among the most endangered habitats in the country. But many bird species require precisely those conditions. Its proximity to the Lake Michigan flyway makes Warnimont Park especially attractive to seasonal migrants. The prospect of bulldozing this exceptional landscape—a jewel in Milwaukee County’s park system—has ignited passionate opposition.

Members of the local chapter of the Audubon Society are incensed. The chapter has posted a petition online opposing the proposed location of the shooting range, addressed to County Supervisor Jursik, whose jurisdiction includes Cudahy. The petition has over 500 signatures. And birders are not the only vocal opponents.

Jursik says that she has received calls from people opposed to the proposal “for all kinds of reasons.” Park neighbors are alarmed that the already disturbing noise of shooting would be moved closer to homes near S. Lake Dr. Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore Hospital on S. Lake Dr. is “very concerned” about it, Jursik says.

The gun club proposal, which has not yet been formally submitted, would clear cut a very sensitive ecological area of mixed conifers, hardwoods, and meadow—and one of the highest points on the western shore of Lake Michigan. It also would move the heavily used Oak Leaf Trail away from the rugged scenery along the bluff to a new route adjacent to S. Lake Dr. thus diminishing the recreational experience. The vast majority of those users have not heard of the proposal and therefore have not weighed in on the controversy.

Gun club members have framed their position as a gun rights issue. “This is totally false,” says Jursik. “It has nothing to do with second amendment rights.” The issue is appropriate land use in a beautiful public park.

When the plan was first announced the club mounted a highly visible public relations campaign to muster support, enlisting the aid of talk radio. After an initial flurry of calls from club supporters, says Jursik, “in the last 2-3 months, all of my calls have been in opposition.”

Milwaukee County is under no obligation to provide a place for the gun club, according to Guy Smith, chief of operations for Milwaukee County Parks. The club has other options on private land. Jursik says the Winchester Gun Club in Racine is willing to accommodate them.

Parks Director John Dargle expects a decision to be made by June, 2016, once a detailed proposal is submitted and after engineering and environmental impact studies and public hearings are completed.

Although I’ve cycled through Warnimont on the Oak Leaf Trail many times, I had never stopped to explore it until I learned of this issue. In the past month I’ve returned several times. I’ve seen the snow melt away and the first blush of spring buds begin to green the woodlands. Thanks to several members of the Audubon Society I’ve seen a wider variety of birds than I knew existed—and heard many more that went unseen. I’m looking forward to May when the buds will have opened, grasses will have greened, and a full array of migratory birds will arrive. 

For more photos (along with captions) from Warnimont Park, click here.