Monday, May 28, 2018

Welcome to summer: A lakefront photo essay

Bradford Beach

Milwaukee’s magnificent and unmatchable lakefront—where else do you go on Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer? Especially if the inland temperatures rise above 90° as they did this weekend. Although I tend to avoid crowds, I decided to check it out this year. It was definitely crowded. Lincoln Memorial Drive was a slow crawl from end to end all afternoon. But it was in fact noticeably “cooler near the lake” and a perfect opportunity to observe how much we Milwaukeeans love our lakefront.

Bradford Beach
Bradford Beach, epicenter of the action, was pretty much wall-to-wall people. A surprising number even ventured into the frigid waters of the lake.

Beach volleyball on Bradford Beach
Defending the sand fort
Not wanting to be intrusive, I tend not to train my camera on individuals at the beach. But these young people saw my camera and invited me to take their picture.

Those who desired a less congested beach experience chose McKinley Beach, the semi-circular sandy inlet just north of McKinley Marina.

Kayakers setting off from McKinley Beach

The Veteran’s Park lagoon was hopping with activity, kayaks, paddleboats and paddleboards aplenty.

There was a kite festival going on at Veteran’s Park. I didn’t get out that far but it was easy to see the striking display of kite design and flying ability from Lincoln Memorial Drive. I did find a couple of boys having their own personal kite festival on the wide-open stretch between McKinley and Bradford Beaches.

The Oak Leaf Trail running between the lagoon and Lincoln Memorial Drive saw a steady stream of people walking, biking, rollerblading, and running.

I found this amazing and aromatic panorama of lilac bushes at the corner of E. Lafayette Hill Road, across from Colectivo. 


Monday, May 21, 2018

Hiking Hartland Marsh and the Ice Age Trail

The Bark River

Spring was still trying to catch up from our unseasonably cold April last week. But this day dawned brightly and suddenly turned unseasonably hot. Shedding jackets, a dozen or so of us gathered at the Cottonwood Wayside for a hike into Hartland Marsh led by Jeff Romagna, a volunteer with the Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Hartland Marsh Preserve is nestled between the Lake Country Industrial Park and the Gleason Commerce Center in Hartland. Its 180 acres is protected by the Waukesha County Land Conservancy in partnership with the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Village of Hartland. The Bark River meanders through the middle of it, somewhere out where we couldn’t see it from the Wayside.

Our tour began on a mulched path, known as the John Muir Overlook, through a hardwood forest featuring ancient bur oaks. The trail narrowed, then led to a boardwalk across the marsh and over a small wooded island. 

Birds were plentiful, it being migration season. This is a rose-breasted grosbeak.

Another boardwalk looped through last year’s cattails and back to the forest. Here the trail was hemmed in with thickets of buckthorn. 

Most of the preserve has a far more open understory and the difference was striking. Jeff, our guide, introduced us to Paul Mozina, known as The Buckthorn Man, whose volunteer efforts have been largely responsible for removing this particularly obnoxious invasive species. Along with being more aesthetically pleasing to hike through, the cleared portions enable a more robust diversity of native species to flourish.

Across an open field we watched as a pair of sandhill cranes shepherded two chicks away from us towards a pond.

A side trail led us through a beautiful glade, over a hill and across the Bark River on a footbridge to another small island. Paul pointed out the many natural springs around the two hills that had led to its being a homestead, now vanished.

Four more sandhill cranes watched us warily from the marsh, their colors a nearly perfect match with the dead cattails. Can you spot all four?

According to the Ice Age Trail Alliance, wetland preserves like this are becoming more and more important as land is developed and urbanized. Wetlands serve critical ecological functions that help maintain environmental health as well as sustaining wildlife habitats.

Hickory sapling in bloom
By absorbing rainwater and nutrients, a marsh helps reduce flooding, prevents shoreline erosion along waterways, recharges groundwater, and enhances water quality.

Preserves like this one also provide opportunities for recreation, research and education, serving as both a laboratory and outdoor classroom for students and teachers.

The John Muir Overlook is a 1¼-mile loop linked (across Cottonwood Avenue) to the Hartland segment of the National Ice Age Scenic Trail. We hiked east along a portion of the trail until we reached the Aldo Leopold Overlook. The 45-foot tall glacial hill—which could be an esker or a moraine, according to Jeff—gave us views of the surrounding marsh. As we turned to go, a pair of brilliant white egrets sailed in to land on an open pond.

Tree huggers! It took three to reach around this enormous oak.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Jane's Walking in the Milwaukee River Greenway

Vince Bushell and I would like to thank the ten hardy souls who showed up despite the rain and gloom to take a Jane's Walk as part of the month-long celebration of the life and legacy of Jane Jacobs. Vince is Project Manager for the River Revitalization Foundation and our walk began at their headquarters on the bend in the river between Humboldt and North. 

The blustery conditions did not keep the small group from paying rapt attention as several of us provided information about the history of the Milwaukee River and development of the Greenway, the wildlife, the Arboretum, Urban Ecology Center and other sights along the way. Vince and I were helped along by Virginia Small, who is one of the Jane's Walk organizers, and Dennis Grzezinski, a board member of the Urban Ecology Center.

Our walk took us up the East Bank Trail to Riverside Park, where we discovered this spectacular display of wild bluebells. Then we crossed the Locust Street Bridge to Gordon Park and returned via the Beer Line Trail. By the time we finished the sun had finally peeked out, though it was a good thing everyone came prepared for the rain.

We had 32 registrations and it's clear from the flurry of emails and text messages I got this morning that the conditions kept most away. Understandable. Virginia, Vince and I discussed the possibility of scheduling another walk for those who couldn't make it. Stay tuned for that.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Photo essay: A spring bouquet for Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to my mother (in remembrance), to the mother of my children, to the mother of my grandchildren, and all the other mothers out there. After a disappointing April that included a blizzard, May finally has given us spring flowers. Here is a bouquet of wildflowers (except for those at Boerner Botanical Gardens) to brighten up your Mother's Day.

Crown imperial (fritillaria) nestled among bluebells at Boerner Botanical Gardens, Hales Corners.
Hepatica, Genesee Oak Opening and Fen State Natural Area, Genesee.
Marsh marigold patch, Greenfield Park, West Allis Forsythia and South Ravine Bridge, Lake Park, Milwaukee
Skunk cabbage, Zinn Preserve, Town of Erin, Washington Co. Hawthorn budding, Zinn Preserve, Town of Erin, Washington Co. White trout lilies, Niagara Escarpment, Town of Leroy, Dodge Co. Trout lily patch, Niagara Escarpment, Town of Leroy, Dodge Co. Yellow trout lilies, Sanctuary Woods, Milwaukee County Grounds, Wauwatosa White trilliums, Jacobus Park, Wauwatosa Tulips, Boerner Botanical Gardens, Hales Corners. Redbud, Boerner Botanical Gardens, Hales Corners Bloodroot, Retzer Nature Center, Waukesha Co.
Flowering fruit tree, Underwood Parkwy, Milwaukee County Grounds, Wauwatosa

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Jane’s Walk — The Milwaukee River Greenway: our premier urban wilderness

Picture yourself in a canoe, floating silently on a wide river in a valley flanked by tall wooded bluffs. You pass the occasional fisherman. Through the trees a lone jogger runs by on a riverside trail. A great blue heron starts up at your passing, rises on thermals, circles and soars away upstream. An idyllic vision.

View south from Locust Street
Now imagine being just minutes away from the towers of downtown. Welcome to the Milwaukee River Greenway, which, at over 840 acres, is larger than Central Park in New York. How many cities can you name where you might have an experience like this? One that approximates wilderness in the heart of a densely populated urban area.

I have been writing about Milwaukee’s “urban wilderness” for many years and I have numerous favorite places to go when I want to rejuvenate a spirit that longs for nature. But the Milwaukee River Greenway is among the jewels in the crown of an exemplary park system. It is our premier urban wilderness.

Rotary Centennial Arboretum
When I was invited to lead a walk for Jane’s Walk Milwaukee I immediately thought of sharing my love of this place. And so, I invite you to come experience the heart of the Milwaukee River Greenway, one of the greatest urban natural areas in the country.

If, like me, you are new to Jane’s Walk, I encourage you to check out the website and read up on Jane Jacobs, the author of The Death & Life of Great American Cities and the inspiration for this month-long citywide series of events.

I have recently embarked on a new project with Preserve Our Parks that will promote parks and encourage people to get out and explore them. We are calling it A Wealth of Nature to emphasize how fortunate we are to have an abundance of places to enjoy. I will introduce the group to the project and explain how you might use its features, which will include a new website that will help you find places to experience nature nearby.

For this tour I will be teaming up with Vince Bushell, who is Project Manager for the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF), Milwaukee's urban land trust. Vince knows a lot more than I do about the plants and animals we might see on our walk as well as the historic efforts by RRF and others to protect the Greenway.

Riverside Park
The details:

View north from North Avenue
Sunday, May 20 at 10 – 12 am.

The 2-mile tour will begin at the River Revitalization Foundation, 2134 N. Riverboat Rd., the former site of the North Ave. dam, and will end at the same location. There is street parking available.

From the Caesar's Park pedestrian bridge we will hike along the East Bank Trail north to Locust Street. This section of the tour is hard gravel and wheelchair accessible. After crossing the Locust Street Bridge we will walk back along the West Bank Trail, which is not accessible and may be muddy, depending on conditions. Points of interest include the Rotary Centennial Arboretum, Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park and Gordon Park, with ruins from the period when it was a resort on the lake behind North Avenue dam. The views from Locust Street Bridge are a special highlight.

For more information and to register for the walk, go to our Facebook page. The tickets are free but there is a limit of 30 participants.

The ruins at Gordon Park

The walk is co-sponsored by Preserve Our Parks and River Revitalization Foundation.

View north from Locust Street
 To see more photos from the Milwaukee River Greenway go to my Flickr album.