Thursday, August 5, 2010

Milwaukee County Grounds Coalition for Environmental and Historic Preservation

The Monarch Trail and the Eschweiler Campus

If you’ve been following the Urban Wilderness for long, you probably know that things have been happening that will affect the fate of the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa. In 2009, Milwaukee County voted to sell 89 acres to UWM for its proposed Innovation Park. That deal is still pending and has been delayed while UWM pursues funding. The City of Wauwatosa rezoned the 89 acre parcel for business development last May to accommodate UWM and is currently considering the creation of a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district to (literally) help pave the way for it. The $12 million of taxpayer money being asked for to create the TIF is a stretch and controversial, but likely to pass the Common Council anyway. (See The Political Environment’s comment on this.)

There is a public hearing on the matter on Monday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Wauwatosa City Hall, 7725 W. North Avenue. I would be there except I’ll be out of town. I hope you, dear reader, will go.

Meanwhile, under the indefatigable and effervescent leadership of Barbara Agnew, a Coalition of Environmental and Preservation groups has been forming to preserve the ecological and historical significance of the Milwaukee County Grounds. Barb has long had a presence on the grounds as the founder of The Monarch Trail. (Click here for a calendar of butterfly events coming soon!)

The mission of the new Coalition is to preserve and maintain the ecological integrity of a uniquely significant wildlife habitat and to renovate and maintain the character of the historic Eschweiler buildings located there. This effort has the backing of significant local environmental organizations, such as the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and some high profile regional ones, including the Aldo Leopold Foundation. The effort recently got a major boost when Barb and I met with several leaders of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation. They are as excited as we are about the prospects for a mutually beneficial collaboration amongst conservation and historic preservation groups that this situation provides.

Despite recent concessions, the County Grounds continue to be open and inviting. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plans to create a forestry education center on the north side of Swan Blvd. and Milwaukee County has just established its newest county park on 55 acres north of Swan. UWM’s plan for Innovation Park includes a conservation plan for the Monarch butterfly habitat. It is the presence of the historic known by the name of their architect, Alexander C. Eschweiler, that makes this site uniquely suited for a collaboration of the type that is now coming together.

It is exhilarating to see the breadth of interest that is coalescing around this remarkable landscape. Wauwatosa is lucky to have such a place. Milwaukee County is lucky to have such a place. Wisconsin is lucky to have such a place. Together we can maintain its unique character so that our grandchildren can be as lucky as we are.

For more about the County Grounds, go to my website or to my flickr page. (They’re different, so you can go to both!)

When I went out last weekend to visit I discovered this new graffiti on the bricked up front door of the main building in the Eschweiler campus, which has been deteriorating for years. Some call it "demolition by neglect." Perhaps the artist sees new life for the historic structure.

To get a better idea of the condition these buildings are in, see more images on my flickr page.

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