Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Milwaukee county parks: Mangan Woods

I was in Brookfield around 4 pm on Friday afternoon. Usually I would go home, but the weather had finally turned warm, the light was beautiful. I’d wanted to revisit Mangan Woods ever since Brian Russart, Milwaukee County Parks Natural Areas Coordinator had introduced it to me. (See previous post.) Red trillium—new to me—had just been budding out and I’ve been afraid I’d miss them. I headed south. Traffic was crawling on the Freeway so I took side streets. They were only slightly faster. After bumper to bumper traffic on Hwy 100, I drove through Whitnall Park and finally reached Mangan Woods at 4:30. I didn’t have much time.

As soon as I got out of the car I felt my body relax. After all that noise and congestion, there was no one around. Walking through magnificent, tall trees—some of the oldest in the county—I felt both humble and at peace. I wandered slowly down the trail, looking for flowers. I spotted a few Jack in the Pulpits and then a few more. A quartet of them finally impelled me to lie on the dirt of the trail take a group portrait.

I finally spotted a few isolated plants with the three variegated leaves I could identify as the trillium, but none with a bloom. I wandered along a trail that divided two distinct zones of the woods. On one side the old growth oaks, maples, and ash towered overhead. There were large patches of May Apples, also in bloom. Again I managed a worm’s eye view of them without crushing any. There was very little understory above the ground hugging flowers.

The other side of the trail had a dramatically different character. The trees were mostly all the same size and weedy varieties like box elder. Below that was a dense understory of brush and invasive species like buckthorn. Brian had explained that the 300 acre core of Mangan Woods, which is wedged between Whitnall Park and the Root River Parkway, had survived the logging that occurred throughout Milwaukee County following European settlement. This trail ran along the edge of that relatively pristine wilderness. The brushy side was second growth.

It was getting late. I turned down a new trail towards the parking lot. Finally, just as I was leaving, I spotted trillium—not just one but a whole patch of them. The flowers still seemed new but they were a deep, burgundy red and pricked up like a candle flame.

That would be a nice end to my story: a successful hunt and a peaceful stroll. Sadly, as I turned to leave I found the patch of native trillium surrounded by masses of garlic mustard. After that, more bumper to bumper traffic getting home. But I was grateful, as always, for the blessing of urban wilderness, however short the stay.


  1. Nice picture and story. Mangan Woods is named after my great great grandparents who homesteaded there in the mid-1800s. I'm glad to see that part of the woods is old growth. (:

  2. I'm Sura's cousin. On Father's Day 1983, my Dad and my two older brothers visited the then unoccupied home of my great great grandfather, who died as a captive at Andersonville prison in 1864. We walked into the woods behind the house, which was purchased and renovated in 1985. (And I believe still occupied.)Beautiful area. My widowed 2-G grandmother raised her son Joseph there without assistance. Well-written story. Thank you.

  3. Did you know that the developer of the Rock sports complex is proposing a development to take down 1,000 trees in this area and 10 acres of wetlands ? So a total of 23.08 acres of protected natural resources will be cleared for go-karts, and a 4,000 person stadium. Planning Commission tonight for Franklin to review this amendment to PDD and TID and request natural resource exemptions. Meeting is 7 pm at Franklin Public Library. Would be sad to be this beautiful retreat of quiet nature disrupted. And they plan on putting the retention pond from the landfill this development is being built on nearly touching the Root River.

    1. I am aware. I plan to attend the public meeting.

  4. Eddee, have there been environmental impact statements? Doesn't part of Mangan Woods have the oldest and largest trees in southeast Wis?