Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hank Aaron and Oak Leaf Trails to be extended

Good news for the urban wilderness! Major extensions to both the Hank Aaron State Trail and the Oak Leaf Trail received federal funding to move forward. Read more about it here.

The new Valley Passage bridge across the Menomonee River is nearing completion. It will connect the existing Hank Aaron Trail to the new extension, which will run west to the County Line and connect to the Oak Leaf Trail and beyond!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anna Lappé headlines sustainability conference in Brookfield

Maybe you’ve heard of Anna Lappé, or maybe, like it did when I first heard it, her name rang a bell and you couldn’t quite remember why. Her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, wrote “Diet for a Small Planet” in 1971. My softcover copy of that bestseller—my first recipe book, with torn, dog-eared, and yellowed pages—is still handy in my recipe book cupboard.

Anna Lappé now has a new bestselling book of her own called “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.”

Anna Lappé will be the featured speaker at a conference this Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield. The conference, called “Nourishing Community, Creating Sustainability” is an all day affair that includes workshops, a special dinner, and movies for adults and children.

All are invited.
I’m looking forward to dinner and a great event. I hope you’ll consider joining me. You do not have to be there all day to find something rewarding.

For details, a schedule of events, and directions, click here.

Prevention magazine names Milwaukee one of best walking cities

I personally think Milwaukee deserves to be higher than number 15 on a list of 25 "best walking cities," but it's a good list to be on in any case. They cite the Milwaukee River Greenway and the 3-mile river walk there (above) as the reason for their choice. I certainly could have led them on many other beautiful walks along urban rivers - not to mention our wonderful lakefront!

To see the article go to Prevention.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mowing the zone at the Milwaukee County Grounds

It seemed like such a small request. Now one can only hope it isn’t an omen.

For the past few weeks hundreds of people have been coming every day to witness the phenomenon of the monarch migration at the County Grounds in Wauwatosa. It’s been a very good year. The monarchs have chosen this particular spot for their unfathomable reasons – as unfathomable as the notion of generations of fragile butterflies making their way by instinct alone from Canada to Mexico. But there’s no mystery as to what they need to survive here in this place. They need the right combination of geographic features—water, trees, shelter—and hospitable vegetation. All of it happens to exist, in some small measure, on the hilltop surrounding the decaying Eschweiler buildings right here.

When UWM applied to the City of Wauwatosa to rezone the 89 acres Milwaukee County agreed to sell to them they laid out a compromise development plan that designated 11 critical acres around the Eschweiler complex as wildlife habitat. Their plan was approved by the Common Council amid much discussion of the value of the monarch migration to the community. UWM assured everyone that they would be good stewards and members of the Common Council proudly maintained that this would be a “win-win” for all parties: developers, conservationists, taxpayers, etc.

The 11 acres has remained untouched and suitably wild for the wildlife to gather in great numbers. However, since the butterflies recognize only actual conditions on the ground and not zoning boundaries, they have wandered freely over the entire 89 acre development zone, which had gone unmowed since earlier in the season and therefore contained attractive wild flowers.

And so the small request: Barb Agnew, the director of the Monarch Trail asked the contractor responsible for mowing to hold off until after the bulk of the migration had passed on through in October. The supervisor in charge, understanding the issue, consented eagerly. Despite this agreement in principle, a county worker who was “just doing his job” went ahead and mowed anyway. The supervisor noticed the accident before he was finished and put a halt to it but he’d already obliterated significant areas. Much of it was a swath immediately surrounding the habitat area (as can be seen in these images.)

And for what? Why mow at all? The tall grasses that grace the protected habitat and the new county parkland to the east are so much more beautiful, so much richer in color and texture, so much more attractive to wildlife. Mowing lawns is an anachronistic legacy of our colonial past, derived from the traditions of the English manor house. We mow to tame the landscape. It is a metaphor for our relationship to the earth. We don’t want an unruly landscape, just as Imperial Britain didn’t want unruly colonies. We fought to attain our freedom from England only after internalizing her values. We need some wild places—some urban wilderness—in which to roam, to daydream, to watch the butterflies.

What good are the assurances of good stewardship if an hour’s labor can, by accident, ruin those intentions? Good intentions cannot prevail over a culture that does not prize stewardship, a culture that hasn’t adopted Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. At all levels, corporate and governmental on down to every individual citizen and county laborer, we need to understand that we have paved enough, we have mowed enough.

There are places we should leave for the wildflowers and the butterflies. Those places are for us, too. Let us break the cycle wherein the default action is to mow rather than to let it be.

A prairie sunrise on the County Grounds

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Green Rivers

Do you know what color your river is today?

I had read that the the sewers were being tested, but it still came as a shock when I happened upon the acid green waters in a neighborhood creek that carries run off into the Menomonee River. I imagine that anyone who didn’t know what was happening would be more than shocked. In fact, I’ve gotten emails from folks that were disturbed as well as curious. (I guess I’m ready-reference now for the rivers! I’m flattered. But, for anyone who doesn’t already know this, the person who really knows all about this stuff is our Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Cheryl Nenn.) The obnoxiously bright green is harmless dye deliberately introduced into drains by the City of Wauwatosa to detect what is called infiltration and inflow, which is supposed to help them track down where actual pollution is coming from. I hope it works!

To read a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about the testing and the flooding that precipitated it, go to "Tosa sewer test finds big leaks in home laterals."

For more information contact Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

County Grounds attracts media attention

As Urban Wilderness readers know, the County Grounds is a common subject for me. Well, the good news about this magnificent place in our midst is spreading. Fox 6 News did a piece on it recently. Here is a link to their story: The Migration Season.

In addition, the September issue of Birds and Blooms magazine includes a spread about the Monarch Trail and migration. Go to Lend a Hand to Monarchs.

Guest photo by LuAnn Washburn

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who wants to sell this view from O'Donnell Park?

It's bad enough that the county cares so little about the public interest that they sold some of the best views on the county grounds in Wauwatosa to a private real estate developer who plans to put condos and apartments there. (Scroll back for many previous posts on this subject.) Now we have a proposal to sell this view from O'Donnell park for the same purpose! In other words, instead of preserving this view - which, as we all know, has become an icon for the city of Milwaukee - for the entire public to enjoy, the county is considering its sale to a private developer so that only a few condo owners would have that opportunity.

Please read Dan Cody's blog on this for more details:
"Sup. Lynne DeBruin’s Misguided Proposal to Privatize Public Park Land at O’Donnell Park"

And then contact your county supervisor and share your views.

Wauwatosa Council to vote on TIF for County Grounds Tuesday

Last week the Wauwatosa Plan Commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the proposed TIF district to help UWM develop the Milwaukee County Grounds. (See previous post for more details and my position on this controversial proposal.)

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 21, the full Common Council will be meeting for the final vote on the TIF proposal. Although this will not be a public hearing and the public will not be able to speak, it would be wonderful to see a strong public presence in the audience to witness the discussion. If you can go, please do.

The meeting starts at 7:30 but the vote on the TIF is late on the agenda.

The meeting is in the Common Council chamber at the Wauwatosa City Hall, 76th and North. 

A recent sunset from the Monarch Trail on the County Grounds

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wauwatosa moves closer to development on the County Grounds

The Plan Commission, a committee of the Wauwatosa Common Council, voted 5-2 last night to recommend approval of a $12 million TIF (tax incremental financing) district for UWM to create its planned Innovation Park on the County Grounds. The proposal will go next to the full council for a final vote on approval.

Read the full story by Mke Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Daykin at "Land and Space."

Here is the letter I sent to the members of the Common Council before the Plan Commission meeting:

More people than ever have been visiting the Monarch Trail this season. Thanks to Barb Agnew and the Friends of the Monarch Trail, Wauwatosa and the County Grounds have become the kind of attraction that we have been envisioning. You all have affirmed your commitment to maintaining the habitat that makes this phenomenon possible. I thank you for that.

I urge you to tread carefully as you deliberate whether to pass the request for a $12 million TIF. I am not alone in thinking that this is being rushed and that the amount being requested is unduly large. In fact, some council members have raised these same questions.

I believe that if UWM is serious about building a campus on the County Grounds that the necessary funding will be found. I don't believe it has to be done now, in October, or this year. A TIF may be required - I understand that - but should not be rushed.

The people who have been flocking to the Monarch Trail are mostly new to the County Grounds. They are always amazed at what they are finding there - even when the butterflies are not present! They are almost universally concerned to learn about the development plans. It is clear to me that the majority of Wauwatosans have not been made aware of these plans, let alone the request for a TIF using their tax dollars as a guarantee.

A few of the many people watching and photographing the monarchs on Monday evening.

Dear Urban Wilderness readers, there is an alternative to the current development plans that allows for UWM to have its research campus and protects the integrity of both the historic Eschweiler buildings and the irreplaceable monarch habitat. This alternative is the work of the County Grounds Preservation Coalition, which is comprised of a growing number of non-profit organizations devoted to historic preservation and conservation. They include the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, just to name two.

Support for UWM's research campus is not incompatible with the goals of preservation and conservation, but the premature establishment of a TIF could promote overdevelopment of the site and diminish those goals. Such a large and risky tax-payer guaranteed TIF would create tremendous pressure to reap a return on development. The cost of renovation of the historic buildings would make it even harder. All the parties know this. The coalition has a solution: separate the Eschweiler complex from the rest of the development plans.

Please call or write the members of the Common Council and ask them about this. Tell them how you feel about these plans. Common Council contact info is available on the City of Wauwatosa website.

To see more photos from the County Grounds and the Monarch Trail, click here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The public is discovering the Milwaukee County Grounds

Until recently, the only people I ever met out on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa were dog walkers. Then word began to get out about the butterflies. (I’m happy to have helped do that, but, of course, the most credit goes to Butterfly Barb Agnew and her stalwart Friends of the Monarch Trail.) Now on any given night there will be dozens of people out along the trail in addition to the usual dog walkers. Tonight was balmy, mild and calm. Tonight there must have been over a hundred people there.

The monarchs, who don’t always appear, did not disappoint tonight. Large clusters formed in several places where copses of trees remain in isolated patches on the land that is slated to be developed as part of UWM’s planned Innovation Park. Large clusters of people formed underneath these clusters of colorful insects, many of them pointing cameras and fingers; some merely watching in awe. Some of the branches seemed to be dripping with hundreds of butterflies.

Many of these people are newcomers to the Monarch Trail and the County Grounds. They often express their amazement at the open land, the views, and the peacefulness of the place. Of course, these feelings are dear to me, but it is wonderful to see so many folks discovering it for themselves. They invariably express other feelings--of concern; sometimes stronger feelings--for what development plans might do to this exceptional place.

Wauwatosa has a treasure here and it draws people to the community once they know about it.

I’m not delighted with my own photos this time. I’m sure there were others there tonight who got better shots of the butterflies. (People who see me there always ask if I got good ones and I always reply “we’ll see later” or something equally noncommittal. I’ve learned not to count these chickens before they appear on the computer screen.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

UWM insists Innovation Park will require $12 Million from Wauwatosa

The notion that UWM needs the Wauwatosa taxpayers to support their bid to develop the county grounds is not news to those who have been following the issue. It's been controversial all along. It still is. However, the Wauwatosa Common Council, which seemed to be conceding everything UWM wanted, has begun to take a harder look at the proposal, according to this report in WauwatosaNOW.

Pressure is being applied in the form of threats that the plans will fall through, but some are skeptical even of that. The debate is healthy. Wauwatosa needs to tread carefully on this. Much is at stake and the public is still woefully ill informed.

Read the story at WauwatosaNOW.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Menomonee Valley loses its iconic chimneys

I was there before they came down (above) and I was there again to see the pile of bricks and debris today (below). But my friend Richard was there for the crash. Check his photo essay of the Menomonee Valley chimneys at "The Art of Fine Photography."

The good news, on the other hand, was at the south end of the viaduct, where construction of the new valley passage and Hank Aaron State Trail bridge continues.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rainbow graces the Milwaukee County Grounds and Eschweiler buildings

photo courtesy LuAnn Washburn
Everyone knows the famous maxim of real estate: location, location, location. Well, similarly, the first three rules of photography are “be there, be there, and be there.” I wasn’t there last Friday and so I didn’t see or shoot this magnificent rainbow. LuAnn Washburn, Friend of the Monarch Trail, was there and did. She also saw the largest gathering of butterflies yet this season that same evening. Thank you for sharing these images, LuAnn! One can hope that that rainbow is an auspicious omen and that the Eschweiler buildings it arches over will be saved along with the butterfly habitats necessary to the sustainability of the Wauwatosa stopover.

photo courtesy LuAnn Washburn

I went out this evening to see if the catch would be repeatable. Of course, it wasn't the same, but the County Grounds rarely disappoints.

The sunset was suitably flaming and I found yet another praying mantis who wanted to pose for me - a brown variety this time. Without moving any other part of its body, it kept swiveling its head to follow my movements as I set up my tripod and framed several shots. I was fortunate that it held so still. I needed a two second shutter speed. Here’s another rule of photography: bring extra batteries for your flash. I didn’t get butterfly shots this evening because mine were dead. The butterflies were there, along with many Friends of the Monarch Trail. Once again I saw friends there, some who were making return visits and some who were there for the first time. If you haven't been, please come out. You too will become a friend of the monarchs.

Just how many legs does this guy have anyway?

For more info about the Monarch Trail go to http://www.monarchtrail.com/

If you missed my last post, click here (or simply scroll down!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Monarch Trail: a photo essay at TosaNOW

Check out this photo essay. I especially like the shot that shows all the people hiking along the trail because these are the tip of the iceberg and it's clearly a LOT! And a nice, diverse range of ages.

Click here: Wauwatosa's butterfly park

Scroll down for a few of my own photos.