Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Touring Milwaukee's Natural Areas with the Parks Dept. expert.

You’d think I would get used to it, but still I’m nearly always rattled after a peaceful walk in one of Milwaukee County’s natural areas, when I return to “civilization.” Accompanied today by Brian Russart, natural areas coordinator for the County Parks, I spent a lovely couple of hours. Brian’s expert guidance led me not only to four outstanding natural areas that I’ve never seen before, but to see wildflowers and birds I would never had noticed. As happens so often in the urban wilderness, we were alone wherever we went, from McGovern Park on Milwaukee’s north side to unmarked county land far south in Franklin. Afterwards we drove past brand new industrial parks, commercial strips, and residential developments that sprawl along Ryan Road.

When I have more time I hope to share more of our experience together. Brian is a storehouse of knowledge about the 10,000 acres of natural areas that exist within the 15,000 acre (gold medal-winning!) County Park system. And what a treasure that is! Milwaukee, do you know how lucky you are?

Below is just a sample of what we saw. It is a vernal or ephemeral pond, which means that it appears after spring snowmelt and dries up in the summer heat. These endangered ponds are essential habitat for a variety of dwindling species and therefore a welcome sight in Greenfield Park. Several species of salamander that depend on vernal ponds adjacent to wooded uplands, as they are here in the park, have existed here historically. Unfortunately, says Brian, this 40 acre woodland, which seems relatively large as we stroll through it, isn’t enough to support most of the salamanders. When it comes to wildlife habitat, less is definitely not more.

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