Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Milwaukee Magazine questions County Parks policy

In the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine Kurt Chandler's column, "Endgame," observes an inequality in the Milwaukee County Park system and raises important issues concerning policy, privatization, and fairness.

I agree with his point of view and I am happy to pass on a link to the article:
The Death of Green.

For my recent post about the groundbreaking for the new Hoyt Pool, click here.

Hoyt Pool as it looks today.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Winona LaDuke on living on the earth

“How can something as immortal and huge as a mountain be named after something as small as a man?” Winona LaDuke’s dry delivery of that question provoked laughter in an audience willing to be challenged. LaDuke, speaking at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Minneapolis, challenged her audience several times with similar and even more provocative comments. Naming is an assertion of power and the renaming of the landscape an act of conquest. The original names for mountains and rivers in indigenous languages have a different kind of power—spiritual power. LaDuke also questioned “this whole discovery thing” as a myth. “The last time I checked, we already knew we were here,” she said, referring to her people and the other Native American tribes. Her knack for humor made palatable a series of pronouncements—mostly about our relationship with the environment—that could easily make an audience like hers uncomfortable.

If you want a clear and incisive perspective on an American culture that is rapidly becoming a global world culture, just spend some time listening to an Indian.

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota where she runs a Native Harvest organic food cooperative. She is also the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization that works to build a just, green economy in Native America. She has an impressive biography, which you can read on her website.

Here are some of my notes from her talk.

We’re all very good at “talking about talking about” things, she said, referring both to her audience and her Indian people. “At some point you have to get something done!”

There is no such thing as “clean coal.” We have to stop destructive practices such as mountaintop removal and begin to substitute clean alternatives to coal such as wind turbines. “It turns out that Indian lands are among the windiest places around.” But power companies have been reluctant to extend the infrastructure needed to connect Indian lands to the grid.

We need to wean ourselves from food grown in distant places. “Why do we in Minnesota need those kiwis anyway?” Not only should we “buy local” but better yet, everyone should grow their own food. All those lawns—a holdover from the British Empire—what good are they? “Grow something.”

Don’t “reboot the nuclear industry.” This one drew a more tepid response than most of her exhortations. I wonder if the house was divided on it. The global warming argument has given nuclear proponents new hope.

And, of course, there’s oil. The dominant culture—the American Empire—is “addicted to oil.” And “you all know about addicts … they will do bad shit and hang around with dealers.” There was no need to evoke images of the gulf oil spill, so ubiquitous in the media. Instead she described in some detail a less familiar example of deliberate (not accidental) destruction on a similar scale: the tar sands of Canada, where vast boreal forests are being leveled and entire ecosystems contaminated with toxic chemicals. “Eighty percent of Minnesota’s oil comes from the tar sands. This has to stop.”

The bottom line, she insisted, is to think not in terms of quarterly profits, and not only of your grandchildren’s future, but your grandchildren’s grandchildren. A woman of modest physical stature, she spoke with a powerful presence. The audience responded with a standing ovation and waited in long lines to purchase signed copies of her books with titles like Last Standing Woman, Make a Beautiful Way, and Recovering the Sacred.

Winona LaDuke's unedited lecture can be seen and heard on the UUA website.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Good news today for the urban wilderness - Greenseams!

If you've never heard of Greenseams check it out on the MMSD website. Briefly, it's a program to help reduce flooding by protecting natural areas from being developed. For several years MMSD has been buying thousands of acres of land, mostly in the outlying areas of the Milwaukee watersheds in the MMSD service area.

It was in the news today because another property was purchased, this time along the Little Menomonee River in Mequon. Read the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This image is from an earlier Greenseams purchase
and was included in

Coal is a dirty word except when jobs are at stake

In the US jobs usually trump care for the environment. Therefore, it's no surprise that Wisconsin incumbants across the political spectrum have joined a chorus criticizing the Obama administration for its decision to deny loan guarantees for a coal-fired plant being built in India.

Nevermind that there are long-term benefits to cutting the use of coal as an energy source and long term prospects for job creation in the green energy sector. Environmentalists agree that there is no such thing as "clean coal." Obama has guts to take a position that seems to pit him against jobs, but he is to be applauded for taking the moral stand. It has to begin somewhere.

Bucyrus and other contractors that will lose jobs if coal production and use declines will need to change sooner or later to adapt to greener technologies. Sooner would be better. It's in their best interests.

Read the article from Sunday's Journal Sentinel: U.S. agency puts up to 1,000 jobs at risk.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hoyt Pool groundbreaking took place Saturday

If you didn't know that there was going to be a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday for the new pool at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa, I'm not surprised. I live across the street and stumbled upon it by chance when I went for a walk. (Why wasn't it better publicized? I'm not exactly oblivious to things going on in the parks!)

What I stumbled upon was a large assembly of political and parks officials and other dignitaries from the City of Tosa, Milwaukee County, all the way up to State Senator Jim Sullivan, many of whom are pictured above with shovels. Mayor Didier was there, County Exec. Walker, Parks Director Sue Black. The children were invited to join in the groundbreaking, as you can see. Denise Lindberg, lead instigator with the Friends of Hoyt Pool, thanked the kids for getting the fundrasing off to a start. She also thanked John and Tashia Morgridge, who were present, and their Tosa Foundation for the crucial $4 million challenge grant that made it all happen.

The old pool was the largest in the state (some say the country; some claim the world) when it was built in 1939. It had been leaking for years when it was closed in 2003. In Walker's speech he said the new pool will be "updated for the twenty first century," and - as several speakers pointed out emphatically - will be heated. That remark resonated with anyone, including me, who had spent time in the always frigid water of the old pool. While it won't be the biggest anymore, it will combine some of the features of modern water parks with traditional pool lap lanes. The renovated bathhouse is to include a restaurant, among other amenities.

In his speech, John Morgridge said that one of his motivations for the donation was to give children a reason to get outside and away from the computers and TVs. Yes! Here at Urban Wilderness I am especially grateful for that sentiment - and commitment.

Presumably, the pool opening, scheduled for Memorial Day 2011, will be more prominently publicized. If it's a nice day, I predict a mob scene. I'll be there!

To learn more, go to Friends of Hoyt Park & Pool.
To see a photo essay click on Wauwatosa NOW.

A tree bursts through the fence, a metaphor to represent new life for the pool.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Concrete Channel Removal on the Menomonee River - Hooray!

Shortly after I posted my last post about concrete removal on the KK river (see below) I read very similar news this morning about the Menomonee River. (Read it at Menomonee River concrete removal....) I've been hoping for this ever since 1997, which is when the "drop structure," a.k.a. dam, at 45th street was removed, along with a long stretch of concrete channel. I wrote about this in my book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, in a chapter I called "Concrete Creeks." I'm delighted that it now needs updating. Here are just three selections of photographs from that book.

This image shows the concrete removal underway. The entire flow of the Menomonee River had to be contained in the pipe for the duration of the project, which was done in February because that is a time of low flow.

This image (right) shows what the channel looked like following the removal of the channel. It looks pretty much the same today, with a bit more vegetation grown in. As stated in the Journal Sentinel article, the rocks allow for shelter where fish can rest in their swim upstream against the current.

The image below shows salmon struggling vainly to make headway against the current in the concrete channel. This is the problem and removal of this last steep stretch of concrete is supposed to enable fish to swim more freely from Lake Michigan upstream into Wauwatosa. Perhaps, one day, the few remaining drop structures in Wauwatosa will be removed as well, which would further improve migration.

Milwaukee's Kinnickinnic River gets a well-deserved makeover

Not long ago the KK River, as it is called locally, was designated one of the ten most endangered rivers in the country. Not long after that federal money became available allowing for the beginning of was is hoped will be long-term improvements, which was the main point of the designation.

There was a nice story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week about a major improvement project that is underway by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Check it out at "Kinnickinnic River Reclaims Banks."

If you want another analysis of the project, including a map, go to Great Lakes Water Institute.

For more of my images of the KK, go to my flickr page.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moby Dick sheds light on Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf

I just love the way they write in the New York Times! And the way they think. The piece in last Sunday's Week in Review relates the Deepwater Horizon disaster with Herman Melville's classis tale of hubris and the dying industry of whale oil extraction. It's an environmental story and, for me, it is another example of how "arts without borders" could be renamed "life without borders. "

The story in the Times ends without a moralistic conclusion. I guess a good journalist is trained to do that. But I for one admit my guilt. I drove today, and yesterday, . . . and I will drive tomorrow. We will not end the destruction of which the current catastrophe in the gulf is but one manifestation until we acknowledge that we are all responsible. And do better.

Check it out. Click on 'The Ahab Parallax.'

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gathering Waters Festival at Lakeshore State Park

The lakefront was crowded Saturday, despite a somewhat gloomy overcast. One good reason to be there was the "Urban Outdoor Experiences" provided by the Gathering Waters Festival that took place on the Lakeshore State Park island. These are a few of the shots I caught.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Do you have scrap metal that could be recycled?

Recycling Fact:
Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours

Scrap Metal Recycling Drive
Saturday, June 12th*
8:00 am – 12 noon

Unitarian Universalist Church West
13001 West North Avenue, Brookfield
(Just west of 124th Street on the south side of North Ave.)

Let’s do our part to keep recyclable metals out of the landfill. Bring your recyclable scrap metal to the UU Church West parking lot - it will be sorted and taken away by Action Recycling.

Tell your neighbors and friends – the community is welcome to participate!

Here are just a few of the items we will accept:
Aluminum: buckets, downspouts, pots, pans, lawnmowers
Stainless Steel: hub caps, ovens, pipes, sinks
Brass: bed frames, doorknobs, hinges, faucets, doorknockers, light fixtures
Cast Iron: frying pans, sinks, tubs, auto rotors/drums, radiators
Sheet Iron: appliances, bicycles, snow blowers, shovels, rakes
Copper: holiday lights, plumbing pipe, cords, wires, cable
PLUS: Auto batteries, computers, monitors, laptops, keys, padlocks

For a complete list of acceptable and prohibited items visit

* If you can’t make it on June 12th, you may take your metals to Action Recyclers, 5329 W. State Street, Milwaukee - HOURS: M-F, 8am-4pm & Sat., 8am-12noon. Phone: 414-671-5777.

Mark your Calendar:
Scrap Metal Fund Drive - Saturday, June 12th
8:00am – 12noon in the UUCW parking lot

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A "final solution" to pollution from the Onion

I haven't done this on urban wilderness before, but here's something from the lighter side. I loved it and just needed to share.

Sometimes I find that the stories in the Onion have hilarious headlines only to devolve into maudlin inanities as the story progresses. But not this one. I laughed all the way through. I hope you do, too.

"Funny," isn't it, how humor can shine light on a potentially disturbing truth while simultaneously disarming it?

The headline in the Onion is "New Eco-Friendly Cigarettes Kill Destructive Human Beings Over Time."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Two environmental events to choose from tonight in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee River Work Group has been working (hence the name!) to pass proposed Milwaukee River Greenway Overlay District legislation, which will protect over 8 miles of river, floodplain, and riverfront habitat from the former North Avenue Dam to Silver Spring Road. Last week the Milwaukee Common Council passed important three measures. There will be an open house to show the public the plans from 5 to 7 p.m. June 8 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture.

This is important stuff! One of the goals is to limit development to maintain natural views within the river corridor. This would restrict highrise structures near the river such as the one above. Check it out.

Read more at Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

And after you check that out you can stop by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. At 7 pm I will be giving a presentation for their series The Spiritual World of Nature. I will, of course, be sharing my experiences and pictures of the urban wilderness. (The Nature Center does charge an admission fee.)

For details go to Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

Here is a shot from my book:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mass Transit at 150 and Gurda blasts Walker

I always look forward to John Gurda's column, which appears in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel every first Sunday of the month. As Milwaukee's historian, he is consistently insightful and entertaining. And although he writes from a historian's perspective, he manages to keep an eye on how history informs the present.

Today's column, about the 150th anniversary of mass transit in Milwaukee, is a particularly outstanding one:

150 years and transit's condition is 'guarded'

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Tale from the Chicago Wilderness

Lost! What a peculiar sensation; one made more than a little surreal because I can hear traffic from...some direction. And I could set my watch by the planes that rumble low over me as they throttle down to land at nearby O’Hare airport. How can I be lost in the woods and still be so obviously surrounded by civilization?

I dropped Lynn off at the airport around 7:30. Then, not wanting to drive in rush hour traffic anywhere near Chicago, I picked the nearest green spot on the map to explore for a while. Cook County has a marvelous series of forest preserves along the Des Plaines River. I pulled into one with a rather aristocratic-sounding name: Catherine Chevalier Woods. Three cars were parked in the long, curved lot carved out of the trees. Their occupants sat inside them. I headed into the woods.

A wide gravel path led towards the river. A thunderstorm had left standing water that mirrored the foliage. I disturbed a flock of mallards waddling in the puddles. Just me and the ducks out here in the wet woods today. Oh, and the deer. Every couple hundred yards heads pop up from browsing to stare as I pass. The only thing more regular than the deer are the jets flying overhead.

The river is high and the water gray-brown. It moves silently, massively, inexorably. The water tugs at the lower tree branches dipping into it. Sodden logs and buoyant plastic bottles sweep swiftly past. Trees that normally anchor the bank now stand in the river. When the gravel path veers away into the woods, I leave it for a narrower riparian track. The earth, though wet, is still hard. The night’s downpour did not last long enough to soften and melt the cracks in the mud—or the innumerable animal tracks.

So, I’m walking farther and farther, wondering when I’ll get to the bend in the river I’d seen on the map, thinking maybe I should turn around. But I prefer completing a loop to backtracking, so I venture on into ever wilder surroundings. Finally, just as I reach the expected bend, the sun bursts through lingering clouds. Its rays dapple the forest floor, highlighting fresh irises, and surprisingly colorful mosses. Another of the endless cast of deer stands in a spotlight. An enormous blue airbus, visible in snatches through the tree canopy, shrieks and shudders as it slowly descends.

The faint trail that I’ve been following peters out entirely as I reach a flood engorged slough that curves away from the river back in the direction I know the car must be. Trusting my intuition, sense of direction, and memory of the map that I neglected to bring along, I plunge forward. Tangles of driftwood deposited by greater floods than today’s create an obstacle course. Here, finally, is my wilderness: hot, humid, muddy, choked with obstructions, and throwing a cloud of mosquitoes in my face.

I begin to doubt. The traffic I’ve been ignoring seems louder, but directionless, all around, like the mosquitoes. So predictable until now, the planes are flying the wrong way, too. Have they switched to taking off? I misjudged the distance; what else? Suddenly I realize, I’m lost. Later, when I’m not tired, sweaty, and swatting mosquitoes furiously, I will laugh at my predicament. Me, lover of the urban wilderness, lost in one. It’s fitting, really—and strangely satisfying; even beautiful. I try to savor the feeling, for I know it won’t last. I will find the river and the parking lot and the city that surrounds me. As I drive home I will also try to preserve this dizzying sensation of wonder, this uncommon experience—a gift of Chicago’s wilderness.

Every city needs its wildernesses.

To see more photos go to my flickr page.
To learn more about Chicago area parks go to Chicago Wilderness, where you'll find that June is Leave No Child Inside month. Nice.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

In Memoriam: Lorrie Otto, defender of nature

Lorrie Otto died last Saturday. If the name isn't familiar it's because she never achieved the fame of her compatriot, Rachel Carson. Founder of the Wild Ones, she had a tremendous influence, locally and nationally, in the fight for native landscaping. Read her obit in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hank Aaron State Trail and Harley Davidson host Health Jam on Saturday

None other than Hank Aaron himself has stated the motivation for what promises to be a fun family outing: "We need to do everything we can to get kids outside and out from behind a TV screen".

"Walk, Roll, and Ride" is the theme on Saturday. The 7-mile Hank Aaron State Trail that runs through the Menomonee Valley is the location. And Harley Davidson has teamed up with the Friends of the Trail to help promote healthy living in Milwaukee.

For a schedule of events, directions, and other information, click on Summer Health Jam.