Friday, March 9, 2018

Photo essay: Ice Age Trail at Loew Lake

I recently went for a short hike along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail where it runs through the Loew Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Caught a few shots to share.

The Ice Age Trail, of course, runs for 1,000 miles, looping through Wisconsin along the terminal edge of the historic glaciers. I’ve never walked more than a few miles of it at a time, but I love the idea of it.

The Loew Lake segment of the State Forest is located at Highway K and County Line Road in Washington County. There is a parking lot for the trail there. The park is 1,090 acres of glacial topography and wetlands along the Oconomowoc River. The trail connects with the Holy Hill segment on the north and the Monches segment on the south, in case you want to hike farther than the 4.8 miles in the Loew Lake segment. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hartland Marsh Preserve

Located off Highway 83 in the Village of Hartland, Hartland Marsh Preserve spreads across 180 acres protected by the Waukesha County Land Conservancy in partnership with the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Village of Hartland. The Bark River meanders through the preserve. Ranked as a Class 1 Wildlife Habitat by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the preserve protects ancient bur oaks and a vital habitat for birds and various woodland animals, including mink and turtles.

I discovered the preserve recently in my efforts to explore new wild lands in Southeastern Wisconsin as part of the project, A Wealth of Nature, that I'm working on with Preserve Our Parks. The goal of the project is to bring awareness to the wealth of opportunities there are in our vicinity for the enjoyment of nature. Stay tuned for the launch of a new website and much more.

The day I went to Hartland Marsh was warm, almost spring-like except for the overcast and still-thawing ice. I saw no one else the whole time I walked in an around the looping trail, but then said trail was sheer ice and extremely treacherous, so it wasn't too surprising. I managed to get a few nice shots of the wintry but snow-less scenery.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jackson Marsh: A Wildlife Area for all seasons

Jackson Swamp, photo by Noah Froh

If you are looking for a place to get away from it all one of the many DNR wildlife areas in Southeast Wisconsin might be just the thing. Let me introduce you to Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area, which is located just east of the Village of Jackson in Washington County, a mere 25 miles from Milwaukee.

At 2,312 acres, the property is large enough to support a variety of terrains and habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, woodlots, streams and small ponds. Cedar Creek, a 32-mile long tributary of the Milwaukee River, runs the length of the property. In wet weather—including winter thaws like those we’ve had recently—the main creek and its feeder streams may spill over their banks and pool in the surrounding wetlands. Some trails, which are generally found atop dikes that crisscross the wetlands, can be inundated at these times.

The core of the Wildlife Area is 1,571-acre Jackson Swamp, which is designated as a State Natural Area. This section features wet silver maple forest and white cedar and tamarack swamp, habitats that are more typical of northern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program has been called “the nation’s largest and most successful statewide
nature preserve system.” * The program’s mission is to protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin's native landscape, including natural habitats, geological formations and archeological sites, and to provide refuge for rare plants and animals.

This story was published in my column at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to continue reading

Cedar Creek, Photo by Noah Froh

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Photo essay: Winter fun in area parks!

Minooka County Park, Waukesha

Did you get out to enjoy the snow over the weekend? Lots of folks did. Everywhere I went I found people out sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, jogging, walking dogs and even cycling in the snow. After our repeated freeze-thaw cycles of January it seemed as though there was finally enough snow to enjoy winter for a change. Here are some photos.

Hundreds of people of all ages were snowboarding and sledding on the long slope down to the lake behind the  Whitnall Park clubhouse. 

Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Family snowshoeing at Retzer Nature Center, Waukesha
Hiking the Pike River trail at Petrifying Springs Park, Kenosha
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Fox River Parkway, Waukesha
Groomed cross-country trail at Whitnall Park, Franklin
Skiers looking for a trail, Retzer Nature Center
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Minooka Park, Waukesha
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Retzer Nature Center, Waukesha

Monday, February 5, 2018

Photo Essay: Urban Candlelight Hike 2018

Excitement had been building for weeks for the second annual Urban Candlelight, which was held last Saturday, Feb. 3. After last year’s surprisingly successful inaugural event drew an estimated 2,500 people on an especially frigid night, expectations were high among the organizers. And those expectations were exceeded.

People began appearing on the Hank Aaron State Trail in Three Bridges Park before dark and the official start time of 5:30 pm. Light snow during the day had frosted the trail with a fresh white sheen. Before long the few early birds were joined by dozens and then hundreds. And they kept coming all evening. I don’t think I’ve seen the trail as crowded at any time of the year.

Almost as if planned, snow began to fall again as the event got underway. The falling snow coated hats, softened the landscape and made everything feel magical. The overcast sky glowed from city lights surrounding the park. It never got truly dark!

The event attracted people of all stripes. There were many families pushing strollers, as well as a few wheelchairs. I even saw a few bicycles in the snow.  Lots of dogs on leashes. Children ran up the hills and slid down the steep slopes on their snow pants. Marshmallows were roasted over bonfires. Selfies were taken everywhere along the trails.

Many of the hikers were visiting Three Bridges Park for the first time. They learned, among other things, that the park stretches from the Mitchell Park Domes on the east to the Menomonee Valley branch of the Urban Ecology Center on the west. 

I haven’t yet heard an official estimate but those I spoke to were certain, as I was, that it would prove higher and likely substantially higher than last year. We do know that 1,100 adults pre-registered online even though registration was not required. And that number did not include all the children--or dogs!

Thanks to the sponsoring organizations, Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail, Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center, for the effort involved in making this event so successful.

The conditions made photographing the event challenging, especially the blowing snow and so many of my images may seem a bit more impressionistic than usual. The lighting was particularly strange and not only because it was dark. The color of the overcast sky kept changing with whatever lights were nearby.

The crowds were so thick, as well as the falling snow, that I had no hope of running into anyone I knew. But I did. Several times. It was great to see y'all there!
This year's hike became a family affair when my wife, Lynn, brought our granddaughter, also named Lynn. 

Full disclosure: I am on the board of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Urban Candlelight Hike in Three Bridges Park Feb. 3

I hope you'll join me this Saturday for the second annual Urban Candlelight Hike in the Menomonee Valley. Last year, despite frigid temperatures, we had an overwhelming response when thousands turned out for the inaugural event. Click here to read all about that. This year should be even better!

Here, and below, is the pertinent information:

Where: Three Bridges Park, the Hank Aaron State Trail and the Urban Ecology Center in the Menomonee Valley

When: Saturday, February 3, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm

The Hank Aaron State Trail in 3 Bridges Park, Urban Candlelight Hike 2017

Bundle up and experience an exciting winter adventure!

For the second year in a row, hardy northerners will cure their cabin fever at this winter Urban Candlelight Hike in Three Bridges Park.
Hosted by:

Free for everyone: 

  • Two miles of candlelit trails on the Hank Aaron State Trail - this event will take place with or without snow!
  • Roaring campfires - we’ve added a new campfire along the trail this year!
  • 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm:
    • REI gourmet s'mores (while supplies last)
    • This is your chance to get on a fat tire or e-bike! Wheel & Sprocket will have FREE fat tire bike and e-bike demos on site to try and test. All ages and abilities are welcome to stop by and check one out. See why fat tire cyclists have more fun all year round!  
  • 7-10pm: NEWaukee After Party at Third Space Brewing

Get extras with a “Fun Pass!":

  • Hot chocolate and pastries at the Urban Ecology Center (while supplies last)! Bring your thermos to save on waste and to take your cocoa on your hike.
  • Marshmallow roasting at the FOHAST Fireside Plaza
  • Entry for great door prizes! Including $100 gift card from Wheel & Sprocket, $25 gift card to Twisted Fisherman, Rishi Tea prize pack, and REI prize pack (REI Flash 22 pack with a REI Nalgene bottle, REI Camp Mug, and REI Day Hiker First-Aid Kit)
  • One free beer at the Third Space Brewing After Party (for those over 21)*
Fun Pass is $10 in advance and includes one adult and all kids under 12 attending with the adult
*= only available for fun passes purchased on or before February 2.

This and additional information can be found at the Urban Candlelight Hike website.

Marshmallow roasting, Urban Candlelight Hike 2017

Posing in Three Bridges Park, Urban Candlelight Hike 2017

 Additional images from Urban Candlelight Hike 2017 can be found in my previous blog post

Full disclosure: I am a board member of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail, which is among the partner organizations responsible for this event.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Please oppose Pay-to-park plan for County Parks

County plan would charge $3.50 per hour to park in 76 parks and parkways.

Whitnall Park
The following op ed by Preserve Our Parks president, Jim Goulee was posted in Urban Milwaukee and is reprinted here with permission:

Imagine having to pay to park your car each time you go to a dog park, play golf, take your children swimming, play a game of tennis, soccer or baseball, take your kids to a tot lot, attend a picnic, enjoy a beer garden, or simply sit and observe nature.  These are only some of the occasions when you would be required to pay a fee to park your vehicle in one of Milwaukee County’s beautiful parks.
The 2018 adopted budget for Milwaukee County Parks System includes $1.7 million to be derived from new parking fees that would be incorporated in numerous parks and parkways. The County Board will soon be considering the proposed installation of metering and payment devices in as many as 76 parks and parkways for up to $3.50 per hour.

When this unfortunate idea was presented by County Executive Chris Abele in his version of the 2018 budget, many thought there was no way the County Board would go along with it. Sadly, they did.  To make matters worse, the budget did not include any working capital to accomplish this task. A small Pay-to-Park Workgroup was commissioned through the budget to study the paid-parking issue and make recommendations to the County Board. An informational report by that entity will be presented at the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee meeting on January 23rd. This group includes predominantly County employees, with very little representation by citizens.

Based on meeting notes acquired through the Budget Division of the Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services, the Pay-to-Park Workgroup will recommend that the County award a contract to an outside parking vendor willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure and provide ongoing management, collection, and enforcement. It will also recommend that the contractor pay a base fee and a percentage of parking revenue to the Parks Department.

The City of Chicago did something similar a number of years ago for their city-wide parking. Chicago now receives only 10 percent of all revenue derived from parking. The other 90 percent stays with the contractor. There have been countless reports about how much both citizens and government officials loathe this onerous privatized contract.

It is interesting to note that during their deliberations, the workgroup has identified as many as 2,500 potential parking spaces that could gross as much as $3.1 million dollars at $3.50 per hour. It was not apparent from the workgroup notes how they calculated the gross revenue figure. Did they factor in any firm number regarding parking-space occupancy rates? Did they consider that many park goers would find alternative free parking in neighborhoods adjacent to parks and parkways? Have they determined the effects this might have on other revenue-producing entities such as beer gardens, the Domes and Boerner Botanical Gardens; athletics such as soccer and Little League; or the impacts on the health and well-being of many who will find themselves priced out of visiting parks they have long loved? Did they factor in the inevitable parking problems and bad will within adjacent neighborhoods when streets become inundated with cars of park users? These are questions that must be answered before the County Board can make a decision whether to allow the Parks Department to actively seek bids from parking contractors.

Let’s assume that the nebulous $3.1 million in gross revenue from parking fees in parks is attainable. A contract similar to Chicago’s would net the County a 10 percent return which would be $310,000. Even if the County could negotiate a contract that doubles Chicago’s return, or 20 percent, the revenue would still be over a million dollars short of the budgeted $1.7 million dollars needed for the Parks to attain their revenue target.

To date, this bad idea has been discussed and planned behind closed doors without much in the way of public input. Preserve Our Parks, a local parks advocacy group, feels that it is time for all citizens to have their say in this paradigm change in the way our parks are managed and funded. The public will have two opportunities to speak on this issue. The Parks Energy and Environment Committee of the County Board will hear comments at their meeting on January 23rd at 9 a.m. in Room 210 at the County Courthouse. There will also be a meeting for the public on the issue at the Domes Annex on February 6th at 6 p.m.

Since the founding of our once-envied park system, citizens have enjoyed unfettered access to our parks whether by foot, bicycle, or motorized vehicle. Now the politicians who represent us are attempting to reverse that course. They need to consider very carefully that how they proceed on this poorly conceived issue will resonate loudly with their constituency.

Jim Goulee, President of Preserve Our Parks

Full disclosure: I am on the board of Preserve Our Parks.