Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tell DNR not to privatize State Parks

Kohler Andrae State Park
Sweeping changes to public lands in Wisconsin may come from a request before the Natural Resources Board to change its rules and allow State Parks Master Plans to be ignored. This would open the door to private development within parks and public lands. Please read my letter below and feel free to use it as a model for your own. Letters should be sent to the two officials listed below. To read more about the issue read James Rowen’s article in Urban Milwaukee.

Dear Ms. Laurie J Ross, Natural Resources Board Liaison,

I am writing in opposition to the request for a rule change that would allow State Parks Master Plans written before 1996 to be dismissed.

As you know, this request is on the agenda for the January 24 meeting of the Natural Resources Board. Please register my opposition to the request.

Furthermore, I understand that there is an effort to close public commentary after January 19. I also oppose the rule change that would allow this to happen. Decisions like this one must remain transparent and open to public debate and input. The public has a right to a hearing on this rule change and a right to have enough time to learn the issues and to prepare responses.

The rule change that would allow a park’s master plan to be ignored would enable a private company to use State Park land. The request seems to specifically target the Kohler Andre State Park’s Master Plan, written in 1989, in order to permit a controversial golf course proposed by the Kohler Company to encroach on public park land. No part of this beautiful, ecologically important and popular park should be sacrificed to any private development.

However, a rule change as sweeping as this one would have consequences far beyond Kohler Andre State Park. It would open the door to further loss to private interests of treasured public state lands.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board ought to be the guardians of Wisconsin’s parks and public lands, protectors of the both the public interest and the natural environment. I urge you to reject this and any other request that would diminish or degrade public lands.

Send your emails promptly to Laurie Ross and Daniel Meyer. Time is of the essence.

Laurie J Ross, Natural Resources Board Liaison

Daniel Meyer, DNR Secretary

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sierra Club plans to bring Nearby Nature to Milwaukee’s inner city

A program to generate interest in the outdoors dovetails with 30th Street Industrial Corridor redevelopment

When two members of the Great Waters Group, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, offered to take me on a hike along Lincoln Creek near 35th Street I didn’t quite know what to expect. But I never would have expected to see a great blue heron. It is December 23, officially winter. The heron would have been a surprise even in summer here in Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial Corridor. It certainly doesn’t belong here now! I watch it rise, circle slowly over the neighborhood like a protective spirit, then slide silently off to the northeast, following the watercourse.

The appearance of the heron, although surprising in itself, represents something truly revelatory: sufficient natural habitat to sustain it in this unlikely setting. West of 35th Street the formerly channelized Lincoln Creek runs straight and narrow between rows of neighborhood houses. It’s easy to imagine the concrete that once controlled the flow of water. But we walk east—and north, where the creek bends and the greenway, now decked in wintry shades of ochre and rust, widens.

The land slopes into a shallow valley. We thread our way through tall thickets of Japanese knotweed, beautiful but invasive. Stands of trees rise on either side of the stream. When they leaf out again in spring they might even hide from view the line of black tank cars that frames the eastern horizon. The ever-present railroad still defines the industrial corridor, even as the factories have disappeared, leaving behind brownfields and blight. 

This story was published in my column at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to read further.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Paradise Valley?

Photo by Noah Froh

Did you know there is a place called Paradise Valley in Waukesha County? Hard to imagine the origin of the name. It’s about as flat a landscape as I’ve seen anywhere in Wisconsin.

Someone tried to farm the wet soil here for a while until it proved unfruitful. The Wisconsin DNR purchased the land in 2012 and began a management plan that has been encouraging it to revert to wetland. The Bark River channel once flowed through the “valley” but the farmers diked the property and diverted the river. Now, with the dike breached, the river simply floods into the marsh.

I was introduced to the place recently by DNR wildlife biologist Dianne Robinson. She hosts regular tours of wildlife areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. The theme this time was tracking. We walked along the snow-covered roads that divide the marsh, watching for tracks along the way. There were plenty.

Larger animals, like weasels and coyotes tended to follow a straight line, taking advantage of the road just like we do. The smaller tracks of field mice, voles and the like tended to wander across from side to side. We learned to distinguish between dogs and coyotes and that the “thumb” of a mink is on the outside of its paw where our pinky is.

Robinson showed us how to measure the size of the print. People often overestimate, she said, because the impression in the snow can be quite a bit larger than the actual footprint.

We also saw sled tracks that veered off into the marsh grass. Paradise Valley is a popular spot for hunting and trapping, Robinson told us.

We saw the most tracks when we ventured out onto the frozen Bark River. However, with the thermometer reading a neat 0° Fahrenheit and wind chills approaching -15, we didn’t linger long.

The most surprising find was a cache of fish carcasses in amongst the cattails. Robinson speculated that they might have been hauled up by some predator before the water in a nearby pond froze over. More likely, she thought, the wetland dried up under them, leaving them high and dry to be picked apart by birds and passing animals.

The DNR website provides a long list of recreational opportunities for the Paradise Valley Wildlife Area. In addition to hunting and trapping they include birding, canoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, wild edibles gathering and wildlife viewing. There is even an accessible blind for hunters with disabilities. The sight lines are totally unimpeded under a sky as broad as the horizon.

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce Noah Froh, who is a student at Bennington College in Vermont. Noah, whose home is in Milwaukee, is interning with me during the winter interim period. This was our first outing together. Noah contributed the photo featured at the top of the post.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Polar Bear Plunge: A New Year's Day tradition at Bradford Beach

The deceptively brilliant sunshine was beautiful, but no match for the frigid air. The thermometer was at a near record cold, around 2°, with a wind chill reported at -22°. That did not stop the many dozens of would-be polar bears from plunging, nor the hundreds of spectators who lined the frozen shore.

Actual polar bears, of course, are well adapted to their natural arctic habitat and superbly insulated with a double layer of dense fur. The nearly naked human bodies that made the plunge into Lake Michigan’s approximately 33° water were clearly not so well adapted. While those who chose to partake entered the water bravely enough, a quick plunge left many gasping in shock.

Steam rose eerily from the warm bodies as they climbed from the water and dried off before dressing.

The spectators, by and large, were suitably prepared for the conditions. We do live in Wisconsin, after all.

The geese that were loitering out on the lake were unperturbed by the cold or the commotion.

To see more photos of the polar bear plunge go to my Flickr album

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A year in the urban wilderness

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area

2017 was a very active year in the urban wilderness of Milwaukee and beyond. As is my custom, I bring you a recap of the year, although it was harder than usual to narrow down the selections. In part, this was because I made a decision early in the year to limit my blogging activities to this, my Urban Wilderness blog, and to discontinue Arts Without Borders. In a very real sense I am sorry to see it go, as I continue to value the arts and find great pleasure in my outings. However, the more singular focus has enabled me to expand on the themes of this blog.

Lobster Claw, Mitchell Park Domes
Another reason for the growth of this blog is the project I began in 2017 with Preserve Our Parks, of which I am a board member. We’re calling it A Wealth of Nature. The intent is to celebrate and promote parks and wild places in Milwaukee and vicinity. Yeah, I know: it sounds a lot like what I’ve been doing for years. And it is! But the project has given me new enthusiasm and gotten me out intentionally to discover many places I had yet to explore for myself. Stay tuned. The project is just beginning. A new website is under construction.

And so, the (edited) year in review. Follow the links in each blurb to read the whole story and see the photo essays. (Note: I am including columns written for Milwaukee Magazine as well as my own blog.)

Autumn in Noyes Park, Milwaukee
Or just check out the year in pictures as you scroll down.

Sanctuary Woods and Medical Complex from Co Grounds Pk

2017 began with a bang as the City of Wauwatosa, where I live, unveiled a master plan that included roads and dense, high-rise developments in the last remaining parcel of green space on the Milwaukee County Grounds. “Sanctuary Woods” became a rallying cry for both sides in a contentious (and on-going) debate that I revisited many times over the course of the year:

Candle-light hike at Three Bridges Park
February brought out the best in people as Three Bridges Park held its first ever candle light hike and winter celebration. It was a smashing success, despite frigid temperatures.

March found me revisiting a favorite spot. My largely monochromatic photo essay:

Oak savanna at Indian Community School, Franklin
April brought spring and another, more colorful seasonal photo essay:

In May I took a tour of oak savannas, a rare and endangered ecosystem:

Things got real busy in June.
I visited four Milwaukee County parks and one Ozaukee County park to highlight “hidden gems:”

Showy lady slippers at Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area
I returned to Ozaukee County for a tour of the “Treasures of OZ:”

Beulah Bog State Natural Area
Then out to Walworth County for a first look at:

In July I revisited the Rotary Centennial Arboretum in Riverside Park for a special tour highlighting edible and medicinal herbs:

In August I reported on what I learned and experienced at my first ever City Parks Alliance national conference, in Saint Paul, Minnesota:

Kayak tour of Milwaukee's inner harbor
I served as Artist in Residence for the Harbor District, Inc. from January to September. In August I took one of two kayak tours of the inner harbor and filed this photo essay in September:

Another seasonal photo essay:

September found me learning even more about edible plants, this time at Theresa Marsh in Dodge County:

Prairie clover, Lakeshore State Park
Did you catch Milwaukee’s first ever boat parade and decorating contest? Here’s a photo essay:

Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
In October I went to Kenosha County for a photo essay of two parks:

In November I filed my final seasonal photo essay from five parks in Southeastern Wisconsin:

I also took advantage of a road trip to a family Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh to stop off at Cuyahoga National Park near Cleveland, OH:

Kratzsch Conservancy, Washington County
December took me to Washington County where I joined in another tour:

Kenosha County Sustainable Living Educational Park

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Photo essay: Milwaukee River Greenway in white

Riverside Park
Another gloomy winter day made lovely by gently falling snow. The landscapes of the Greenway look faded, like sepia-toned etchings discovered in a disused trunk. The starkness of the season, paradoxically, increases the sense of wildness while simultaneously making it hard to ignore the urban in the urban wilderness.

Shelter 1, Riverside Park
Winter tapestry, Rotary Centennial Arboretum
Renegade cyclist, Riverside Park
Shelter 2, Riverside Park
Gordon and Riverside Parks from Locust Street Bridge
Riverside Pumping Station
Shelter 3, Cambridge Woods
Tunnel to nowhere, Cambridge Woods
Bluff trail, Cambridge Woods
Grafitti, Cambridge Woods
The river, Cambridge Woods
Red sandstone cairn, Riverside Park

Sunday, December 10, 2017

First snow in Menomonee River Parkway: A photo essay

But for the snow it would have been a gloomy day. But the first snowfall is almost always joyous—especially if it falls on a Friday night or Saturday morning, as it did yesterday. Fortunately, I didn’t have to venture far from home to enjoy it. I headed for one of my favorite haunts along the Menomonee River Parkway.