Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Menomonee River gets its annual makeover

We weren’t there to pick up wildlife, but seeing this tiny turtle did put the day’s primary purpose in perspective. After we clean up their habitat the animals will go on living in it.

On Saturday hundreds of volunteers flocked to Milwaukee’s three rivers for the annual clean up. For nineteen years in a row Milwaukee Riverkeeper has sponsored the event, which is a combination spring-cleaning and Earth Day celebration. After our particularly brutal winter there was a lot of trash to collect.

Covering a small segment of my Menomonee Valley beat, I spent most of my time between Miller Park and 3 Bridges Park, which is also the route of the Hank Aaron State Trail. I met a lot of folks and managed to make photographs of a few of them. Let me introduce them to you. 

A large crowd gathered near the Sausage Haus at Miller Park for a brief orientation before heading for the river.

The irony was not lost on Jeff K. He chuckled as he lifted the bruised baseball he found half buried in the ground.

Nicholas and Carol work their way up the steep slope next to the stadium parking lot.

Todd H. was among a group with the Gilbane building company.

Marc S., a member of Trout Unlimited, came prepared to wade in the water. When I asked if he'd fished here in the Menomonee, he said no. But he quickly added that he planned to do so.

Larry K. crawled into the snarl of this large deadfall to retrieve some trash.

Members of Marquette University's Alpha Omega Epsilon sorority take a break to pose in the field along the Hank Aaron State Trail.

Little Lennon, with her parents, Tighe and Nicole, was the youngest river cleaner I met. She proudly brandished her grabber like a sword.

Accenture is a business technology company with offices in Chicago and Milwaukee. Here are a few of them sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the company logo. I was told that some Accenture volunteers had come all the way from Chicago to clean up the Menomonee River.

Glen and Mike, here hamming for the camera, are also members of Trout Unlimited. Mike teaches a workshop on fly fishing for the Urban Ecology Center.

They made good use of their waders, pulling up some heavy items submerged in the river.

John Paul and Bennett were the perfect size to scout for trash caught underneath the Valley Passage Bridge.

I intercepted Patrick, Braden and Julian on their way to the Urban Ecology Center to deliver this animal skull they had found.

This group from Anderson Pest Solutions is heading down the Hank Aaron Trail with their bags of trash.

At Stormwater Park I found site captains Anne and Lauryn commanding the day's haul.  Anne and Lauryn work with Menomonee Valley Partners.

Like these newborn animals we hold the earth in our very human hands. We have the power and the agency to trash the entire planet; but it is springtime and we have chosen another path today. The turtle and the snake were set free to slip away through the bent grass. They will find their home a little cleaner.

This post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency. For more information about the residency and links to previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.

Full disclosure: I am a former board member of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, a current board member of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail and Menomonee Valley Partners sponsors my Artist in Residency. I find my work as an artist and my life in the community to be integrally related; were I to tease them apart I would feel like a turtle placed in an aquarium. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Burning Washington Park: a photo essay

It was a beautiful day to burn the park. Not only that, it was Earth Day. How appropriate to celebrate Earth Day by using fire to manage invasive species!

I've been hoping to catch a burn for a number of years. The Urban Ecology Center has instituted a policy of controlled burning in the parks that it oversees, including Riverside and Washington Parks. I missed last year's burn, but thanks to Jamie, the UEC Riverside branch manager who alerted me, I made it to Washington Park on April 22 to witness the event this year.

Here are a selection of the photos I made that day. To see additional images from the burn, go to my flickr page.

The burn was conducted by a team of specialists from Dare Ecosystem Management. Here is the first drip of fuel. A three-acre section of the park was burned. Portions of the site were wooded; others open meadow. Some of it is visible in the background.

The flames mostly clung to the matted grasses on the ground, but there was an occasional flare up. These were suppressed as needed with water sprays.

Members of the Milwaukee Fire Dept. came to observe.

 To see additional images from the burn, go to my flickr page.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zimmerman is open for gallery night

You're invited!

Menomonee Valley Artist Residency
Open House

Along with my hosts at Zimmerman Architectural Studios I invite you to visit with me this Friday. Come see what I’ve been doing so far this year.

Zimmerman Architectural Studios
2122 W. Mount Vernon St.

Friday, April 25
5:00 - 8:00 p.m.

New work and works in progress will be on display.
If you have never been to the historic gas building that Zimmerman remodeled for their offices, it's worth a visit in itself!

Refreshments will be served.

Zimmerman is easy to see but hard to find. It is the large brick structure behind the tall octagonal tower near 25th Street between St. Paul and Canal Streets. Access is from 25th Street.

To learn more about the Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency and for links to blog posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Butterflies return to County Grounds - etched in concrete

If you live anywhere near the intersection of I-94 and I-894/Hwy 45 you probably received the latest edition of the Zoo Interchange Newsletter, as did I. It is full of maps and handy information about the progress of this massive--and massively disruptive--construction project. In addition the practical information about which ramps and roads are currently closed or under construction, you can learn about carpooling options and how much recycling the WisDOT is doing.

Did you know, for example, that the DOT "anticipates recycling the equivalent of 4,000 dump trucks full of concrete" in 2015? (What you won't learn from the newsletter is the good news that, as of yet at least, the concrete crushing that precedes all this recycling is not being done in the middle of the County Grounds.)

But what caught my eye right away was the small photograph in the lower right corner of the front page of the newsletter. It depicts "the butterfly wall" that recently has been completed under the Swan Boulevard bridge crossing Hwy 45. The concrete wall has been deeply etched with flowers and butterflies. It will be visible to motorists on Hwy 45 as they flash by. And also to anyone who uses the yet-to-be-completed underpass trail that will connect the new trail system in Innovation Park with the existing one in Wil-O-Way Woods on the north side of Swan.

The caption under the photo reads, "The 2013 Swan Boulevard project includes the construction of 'the butterfly wall' along US 45. The wall celebrates the migratory path of monarch butterflies."

Other recently rebuilt bridges sport similar designs. The airport spur has airplanes etched into the bridge abutments. The most interesting one, I think, is the I-43 bridge over Fon du Lac Avenue. In raised relief it commemorates the underground railroad and the struggle for civil rights.

I think it's great that the DOT is decorating the highways. They could go further, it seems to me. There are all those sound barriers being erected along the freeways to protect adjacent neighborhoods from the incessant noise. Why not liven them up with graphic designs?

But instead of cheering me up the butterfly wall saddens me. Last fall the migration that the wall celebrates was disappointing. It may have been temporary. It certainly was part of a larger problem that extended throughout the historic monarch migration routes and was most noticeable in the wintering grounds of Michoacan, Mexico.

Loss of habitat is the most often cited reason for the decline, as is the case with so many other animal species. At the County Grounds an 11-acre segment of the Innovation Park campus has been set aside as protected monarch habitat. With proper and persistent care and maintenance, perhaps it will enable the butterflies to return in future years. That is the hope.

For now we have concrete freeway walls etched with commemorative butterflies. I had to go see them for myself. With construction suspended for Easter Sunday I was able to do so. Here is what I saw.

The small sign in the center, erected by the Friends of the Monarch Trail, reads, "Butterfly habitat restoration project."

There is a second "butterfly wall" under construction along the unfinished cloverleaf ramp for the new Watertown Plank Road interchange.

A small wetland habitat next to the Eschweiler complex is staked with protective flags.

The boarded engineering building, part of the Eschweiler complex, awaits its fate: restoration if all goes well; demolition if not.

ABB is the first business to be located in the Innovation Park campus. The building is expected to open sometime this spring.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Denis Sullivan leaves winter harbor, heads for Lake Michigan

"Wisconsin's official flagship," the Denis Sullivan left its winter berth on the Menomonee River yesterday. Owned and operated by Discovery World, the Denis Sullivan is "the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner," according to the Discovery World website. It's mission is "To provide programming that is an introduction to field science with an emphasis on environmental issues, Great Lakes concerns and stewardship of our natural world."

Preparation for the short voyage from the Menomonee Valley to its active berth on the Discovery World pier has been going on all week. The ship has been shrouded all winter in a motley collection of tarps recycled from discarded canvas billboards. These were removed and carefully folded for future reuse. Crew members and volunteers worked diligently to prepare the vessel for sailing. 

The passage downriver was made without raising the sails, using the ships engines. An inflatable dingy helped turn and guide the big ship. The crew was joined by eager Discovery World staff. Everyone was bundled up against a biting east wind that brought cold temperatures off Lake Michigan.

Here's my photo essay of the event.

Crew member Kristian folding tarps
Crew member Johnny bearing tatoos of tall ships
A volunteer scrapes paint
A ship shape deck

Debris in the water
Staffers waiting to sail
Johhny on deck
Casting off
The bow
Captain Tiffany Krihwan at the helm
Underway in reverse
Menomonee River
Making the turn
Passing the post office
Enjoying the ride
Bridge up at the confluence with Milwaukee River

This post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency. For more information about the residency and links to previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.