Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pleasant Valley: Milwaukee’s secret park

A once-bustling lake resort has returned to nature along the undammed Milwaukee River Greenway

An inviting but unmarked gravel path leads you downward toward the river. Descending into the forest canopy, dense foliage closes in around you. With each step the light grows dimmer, the sultry air cooler. At the end of the gravel a muddy trail parallels the riverbank. It vanishes in both directions into the dark forest. Standing here now, you would never guess that this once was the site of a popular resort that drew thousands of people on a warm summer weekend like this one.

Even the name might surprise you, if you were to consider a name at all. There are no signs identifying Pleasant Valley Park. There isn’t even much of a valley; just an overgrown ravine crossed by a mysterious and apparently purposeless pedestrian causeway. (It's an aqueduct, but I like the notion that you can't tell when you see it.) What there is—in abundance—is a wide variety of plant life of all shapes and sizes. On a hot day after a storm, it is more like a steamy and vaguely forbidding jungle than one of Milwaukee’s premier attractions.

That’s what it was for about 80 years beginning in the late 1840s. On the shore of the lake impounded by the North Avenue dam, the resort included a pier, bandshell, restaurant, rentable cottages, extensive landscaping and a grand beer garden. Torn down a century ago, no sign of it remains save a concrete curb along parts of the gravel path. Referring to the resort, a Milwaukee Journal article dated June 8, 1928 quoted a real estate broker as saying, “Few of the younger generation in the city realize that there is a spot in the heart of the city that has such beauty.”

What an intriguing statement that is after nearly 90 years! Who today knows anything about Pleasant Valley Park? And yet many of those who do—including significant numbers of the current younger generation—recognize the beauty that is here, hidden in plain sight. 

This story was published at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to continue reading

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