I discovered the new North Bank Trail by chance last week. Clearly I haven’t been spending as much time in the Menomonee Valley as I did when I was artist in residence there. Although slated to be completed in the fall, the project appears to be pretty far along already.
Formerly one of the “wildest” sections of river in the Menomonee Valley, the riverbank had been severely eroded and the river’s edge virtually inaccessible. The most striking feature of the new North Bank is the re-contoured slope and burlap-encased terraces.
Situated across the river from Three Bridges Park, the new trail begins at the 33rd Court bridge and connects the existing park bike trail with the Hank Aaron State Trail in Stormwater Park.
The North Bank is not officially part of a named park. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee owns the land (as well as Three Bridges Park). In addition to providing the trail link, the project serves two other purposes: bank stabilization is intended to limit erosion and keep soil from sloughing into the river.
It also provides public access to the water via two stone staircases that anchor each end of the trail.
Previously, cyclists who crossed the bridge from the park onto 33rd Court were forced to continue past Rexnord, Palermo’s, and Ahern and to share the roads with semis and thousands of those companies’ employees. The new trail enables riders to stay off the streets and along the river—a much more enjoyable ride.
The $1.4 million project is funded by grants from an alphabet soup of agencies, including WisDOT, CMAQ, EPA, GLRI, MMSD, and the Fund for Lake Michigan, as well as some matching funds from the City of Milwaukee. I was surprised to find that the pavement terminates in Stormwater Park where it meets the existing gravel of the Hank Aaron Trail. I learned that some of the grant funds require the asphalt and that the existing trail is not part of this project. The pavement may be extended in the future when additional funds are available.
Of course the newly stabilized bank looks unnatural—I’ve already heard that comment after posting an image on Facebook. It is one of the great paradoxes of our time (which has been dubbed the Anthropocene era because of human influence on the earth’s “natural” processes) that natural areas require human intervention in order to provide a satisfying experience of nature. This is particularly true in urban areas where there is the need is greatest.
If you need proof of the healing effect of time on such a managed landscape just go across the bridge to the park. When it opened three years ago it looked just as unnatural—and five years ago it looked far worse!