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.


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