Thursday, October 23, 2014

Extra Perks of Boerner Botanical Garden Membership

Have you been to the Boerner Botanical Garden yet?  It's a lovely space with something colorful to see in all seasons.  It's actually free to get in now as it's the end of the season.  But I think you should have an annual membership, and I'll tell you why.

Members actually become friends of the botanical gardens.  It will cost you $35 for an individual or $65 for a family.  You'll feel good about supporting the local gardens, and you'll get 10% off in the gift shop and cafe.  You get to attend some events for free and receive discounts on classes.  But it doesn't end there.  You get reciprocal admission benefits to more than 300 gardens around the US, including nearby Mitchell Park Domes, Chicago Botanical Gardens, and Madison.  You can check the link for a complete listing.

I decided to see the Chicago Botanical Gardens this week.  Admission is always free, but you have to pay $25 for parking, so it saved me a bundle!  The pass is like a 'park for free' card. This is a huge park so if you decide to go, allow at least a couple of hours to see it all.  There is incredible diversity- everything from Victory Gardens to Japanese bonsai collections.  With every path you start, you'll find something to look at.  It's especially colorful in fall.  I'll just post a few of the many photos I took to whet your appetite, and hope that you make it there some day.  You won't be disappointed!

An enormous collection of gourds and pumpkins

Colorful cabbages and mums were placed throughout the park

Just one fine example of the bonsai collection- there are many others

My favorite space was the Japanese garden

Loved the waterfall surrounded by fall color

Interesting lilies in the pond in a variety of unusual colors

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historic Fall Tours for Driving or Walking

It was a rainy day when I took this photo at St. Luke's Hospital

The fall color in Milwaukee is nearing 100% so you won't get much better than this week, if you're looking for some pretty trees.  A new place I've found is the top of St. Luke's Hospital on Oklahoma.  If you go through the main entrance and take the patient tower elevators to the 8th floor, you'll find access to the "Healing Garden", which is open to the public. It's a beautifully landscaped garden complete with mums and other plants.  There's a view finder you can use to see the lakefront. From the top of this garden, you can currently see a mosaic of color all the way from Miller Park to the Basilica.  On a clear day, it's quite impressive.  You may also notice Leon's Custard is just across the street so treat yourself after seeing the view.  Drinks and food are not allowed on the roof.

I've written before about the Milwaukee Parks Fall Color Tour, which is still a good idea.  You drive between parks, and then I encourage you to get out and do a little walking and exploring, if weather allows.  Lynden Sculpture Garden usually has a beautiful show of color as well.  The problem now is that we've had some rain and everything is pretty muddy.  I have a couple of historic options that are full of color, but will keep you on paved paths, and can even be pretty if you never leave the car (though I hope it doesn't come to that!).

Most people are unaware that the most diverse arboretum in the area is Forest Home Cemetery, which also happens to be listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.  With around 400 different species on 200 acres, it's pretty in all seasons.  You can download a tour map at their website.  Then you also need to print a corresponding copy of all the famous people, if you decide to seek out the graves.  The stones are quite unique and tell a story of Milwaukee's history.  Be sure to go by the bridge at the lake, which is quite scenic right now.  Normally, they allow dogs, but because there's a large geese population traveling through, it's posted that dogs are not allowed right now. Here's a complete listing of all places in Milwaukee County on the National Registry.

The other place I like to visit is the National Soldier's Home.  You can see some of the historic buildings peering out of the trees beyond Miller Park.  This is considered a National  Historic Landmark District, and they've created a walking tour you can download at the Save the Soldiers Home website.  It is also an app, which you can put on your smartphone.  The buildings placed here date back to mid 1800s, and were used as retreats for returning soldiers.  The grounds are full of mature trees, though many are across from the buildings in a park like setting.  Spend some time walking the cemetery and you'll likely learn a bit about veterans who are buried there from several wars.  You'll notice construction at several of the buildings, which is a good sign.  Take some time to read about what they are doing so you can truly appreciate this historic area.

A pair of swans 

If you want to venture further, there's the Basilica at Holy Hill at Hubertus, and the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive.  Both will take a half day to fully enjoy.  I climbed Parnell Tower on Friday and it wasn't at peak yet, but it is likely to be there today.  There are plenty of stops you can make along the way- churches, hiking spots, but only one grocery store.  Be sure to bring snacks and get a state park sticker, which is available at several places along the drive.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

View from Parnell Tower

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Milwaukee Bucket List

Last fall I wrote a book about the parks- 101 Things to do in Milwaukee Parks. It was a book that was  well received in the community, which was also fun to write.  This fall I've written another Milwaukee book, The Milwaukee Bucket List.  I spent the summer finding unique and wonderful adventures you can do here in Milwaukee both in and out of the parks.

I came up with the list of 101 Things by having a brainstorming session with my family, and then I checked a few websites where users can give reviews- yelp, tripadvisor, google, and urban spoon.  My list may end up being different than yours, but I tried to find something that will keep everyone finding something new about Milwaukee.  There are still plenty of things to do outdoors in the parks. But there are also adventures that take you into neighborhoods, public buildings, and even some tours.  I think everyone who reads it will find something new to love about Milwaukee.

So what have I been up to that is outdoors?  I went on a charter boat fishing with my son-in-law, his dad, and a friend.  This was the first time I'd ever gone fishing on Lake Michigan.  We picked Captain Andy with Ray's the Limit Charters. I chose him because he's a fireman who also has a fishing boat, he had good reviews, and he was cheaper than the rest by a good deal.  You can read his blog at the website where he talks about what's being caught and who he's been fishing with.  It's quite interesting. He made it so easy for us!  The boat was completely decked out with poles, nets, a cooler for caught fish, and a depth and fish finder.  We could see how deep the water was and if there were any fish nearby.  We ended up staying out for 5 hours and caught 7 lake trout.  I reeled one in and let me tell you, it was heavy and a struggle!
Captain Andy showing me the fish I caught (but he took it off the hook!)
My son-in-law's dad helping me with the pole.  Don't you love the belt they put on me to support it?
 I also had a pirate cruise with Milwaukee River Cruise.  It was a birthday party for my son who turned 9.  It was fun for everyone- even parents.  They hold it once a month during nicer weather.  The boat was stocked with plenty of water balloons and super soaker water guns.  Lunch was provided with the $25 per person.  It lasted 2 hours, which was just enough time to go find a barge full of fire breathing dragons and pirates who were shooting water at us.  It was quite exciting!  Even Captain Jack Sparrow was there to greet us and cheer us on in the good fight!  I loved this type of cruise and would definitely do it again.  We were in a covered boat, so weather really didn't matter. Keep that in mind if you want to book a tour.
Captain Jack

An authentic pirate barge!  How cool is that?
My son dressed like a pirate using a super soaker

Look at all those water balloons!
I tried yoga rocks the park at the base of Lake Park grand staircase.  It was so much fun with live music playing and an instructor talking you through the poses.  It was packed most weekends. I also checked out a new aerial yoga studio called zenzen yoga arts. I wasn't sure I could hang upside down, but the instructor was great about talking us through it.  I think just about any healthy person could do this.
yoga rocks the park outdoors all summer

aerial yoga is quite different from what I've tried before!

I enjoy tours and love hearing about the history of Milwaukee.  There's a Seven Seat Bike Tour that begins at Whole Foods and takes you along Lake Park and what I call Mansion Row.  It was a beautiful fall day when I went.  The bike is very cool.  You're all seated in a circle and you have to watch your feet- pedal with the tips of your shoes as the pedals are quite close.  It was a good workout, but there were plenty of stops where our guide Shlomo talked about ghosts, shipwrecks, burial mounds, and lots of other haunted topics.  We started at 4:30 and finished up at 6:30.  I thought I knew quite a lot about Lake Park, but he had information about the Nike missile station that I had not heard before, and we actually stopped at the lighthouse and prehistoric burial mound.  The bike definitely attracts attention. Many people stopped to watch us ride by.  It also takes up a lot of space, so it makes it tricky to get up and down sidewalk crossings.  Most of the time we rode on the street. You should try it!
4 of us taking a break on the 7 seat bike
There's a lot more in the book- coffee, chocolate, aerial yoga, ethnic restaurants....I could go on and on.  It's better that you pick up a copy in the local bookstores or order one via amazon.  It could motivate you to have a little more fun and meet some new friends!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oak Leaf Discovery Tour Closing Party

Did you get an Oak Leaf Discovery Tour Passport this year?  There are only a few weeks left to complete your passports and have them validated in order to participate in prize drawings at the end of season party.  All passports should be complete by October 6.  The big party will be held at Estabrook Park near the beer garden on Sunday October 12 from 1- 4.  You don't have to be present to win, but it's going to be so much fun, I'm sure you'll want to be there.

You could still opt to start now since weather is cool and nice.  Get a passport for $5 and visit 8 parks to get stamps/key words on the Oak Leaf trail before October 6.  See the Park People link for all the details.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall Fun

The air is a bit cooler and leaves are just starting to turn color.  It is fall in Milwaukee.  For some that's good news.  For others, there is sadness in knowing the summer days are long gone and snow won't be far off.  Forget that!  Focus on all the fun we can have here in fall.

Help the sturgeon population grow by releasing a baby sturgeon into the water at Lakeshore State Park this Saturday, September 27, as part of Sturgeon Fest. Go to the link for more information and to sponsor a fish for $10 suggested donation.  Once you arrive at the park, you'll stand in line to get an ice cream pail with a fish that you can help get into the water. There will also be a bouncy house and other fun activities.  Sturgeon Fest is free.  There will be shuttles from Summerfest parking lots. The festival runs from 11-3.

This Saturday we'll welcome dogs to Estabrook Park for the 3rd annual Barktoberfest!  This is a great way to get your dog fix and enjoy some cool beverages at the beer garden overlooking the river. What can you expect?  Dogs in costumes! Live music! Dog agility course! Lure course (OMG, this is so much fun to watch!)  At the beer garden you can buy a commemorative ROMP beer mug for $10.  You know you'll want one.  The salmon are also running upstream, so it's a great time to walk down to the river and see if you can see them jumping.  Weather is looking to be good.  Hope you make it there! 1-6 PM.

Live music at the Biergarten!

Expect lots of dogs- bring a leash and doggie bags if you bring your pet

It's a great time for Fall hiking.  Why not head over to Wehr Nature Center and hike around the pond?  You can do it on your own, or join the Hike for Health group that meets every Wednesday morning at 10:30. The group meeting is free, but parking at the center is $3. If you need additional hiking locations, go over to the Park People website and choose one from the list of 29 local park hikes.  I think you'll find something new and fun there.
The pond at Wehr Nature Center- you can walk to the waterfall too!
Waterfall at Whitnall Park/Wehr Nature Center

Cider Sunday is next weekend (Sunday, October 5th) at Wehr Nature Center.  This fun day will start at noon and go until 5.  You'll hear bluegrass music at the stage behind the center.  Take a fall hike with a naturalist or a volunteer.  Learn how to make apple cider or apple butter.  There will be nature crafts.  This is a great event for families.  Cost is $3 plus parking.
Apples being pressed to make cider

Do you like bats and want to see more? learn more?  Milwaukee is hosting 3 days of bats a FREE Bat Festival! October 3-5. Events are being held at different locations every day.  Friday kicks off at Schlitz Audubon Center at 6 PM where you can meet bats and see a movie about the white nose syndrome.  You need to preregister for each event, so check that at the website. Saturday from 9-5, the same program runs all day at the Riverside Urban Ecology Center.  Sunday the program moves to the Milwaukee County Zoo's Zoofari conference center.
Fruit bats will be on display along with others

From now through November 9, you can see the "Over the Rainbow" themed mum show in the Mitchell Park Show Dome.  Remember Milwaukee county residents can get in free Monday mornings. The mum exhibit is always a crowd pleaser with plenty of long lasting color.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More Bike Fun for Milwaukee

Dairyland Classic Race
Bicycling seems to be everywhere we go this summer.  We hosted some cyclists for the Dairyland Classic and that was lots of fun.  We had 4 cyclists staying with us over the course of the week.  We got to know them and learned a lot about cycling for awards.  We watched them race, and watched them nurse injuries from falls.  They became like family to us.  I'd recommend opening your home to local racers if you have the space.  There are often opportunities for cycling, or at least watching cycling, that you might not know about.

The best place to go for bike information in Milwaukee is your local bike store, or the website for the Wisconsin Bike Federation.  You can get maps, find out about local races, take classes, and get more involved in your community.  The Bike Fed is hosting their first ever fundraising ride, and it's going to be a doozy!  Called the Polish Moon Ride, the emphasis will be on FUN!  It's all happening August 22 at 8 PM.  You can learn more about it at their link, but generally it's a fun ride at night with a theme relative to the community's history where it's being held.  Local businesses will be offering food starting at 6.  Expect plenty of beverage choices and live polka music as well.  The route is 11 miles and it will cost you $35 per person if you aren't a bike fed member.  But why not join the bike fed and save a few bucks?

Nearly every bike store in Milwaukee offers some type of biking, either through a club or just weekly rides from the bike store.  You can check the one nearest you for flyers about organized rides.  Cream City Cycle Club is just one of them.  Most of them cater to all levels of riders.  It is a good way to meet like minded people and to see more of Milwaukee while getting some exercise.  Another side benefit is that if something happens to your bike enroute, you have help nearby.  Southshore Cyclery offers Wednesday night rides from their store. They have often gone through the parks on their rides, or done a bit of the Oak Leaf Discovery Tour so if you have a passport, you can get it stamped.  The end of year party for the passport tour is Sunday, October 12 at Estabrook Park from 1-4 for anyone who participated in the passport program.  This is an event where you can win great prizes- even bikes!

Did you know Milwaukee has bike polo?  You can go to Washington Park on weekends to see them play. They have a website, but the best way to keep up with them is probably to follow their Facebook page.  They had 3 courts built on old tennis courts, but one of them was just torn down, so I'm hoping that will be a temporary situation.  Here's a photo from last fall when I went to watch them play.  It's a fast action sport requiring skill riding one handed.  If you go, check out the link to Washington Park that has a map showing the location.  It's a big park.
Bike polo at Washington Park
Washington Park will also be one of the host locations for cyclocross this fall.  Have you tried cyclocross or watched it?  An action packed sport on a bike, you cycle across fields, grass, etc. while avoiding obstacles.  Events are held all over the state, but we usually get a few here in Milwaukee parks during the fall.  This can be really fun to watch.  You can follow cyclocross action at the Wisconsin Cycling website or follow the WCA Cyclocross Facebook page for more up to date activity.

Have you ever wanted to learn to unicycle?  Students from MSOE are still doing drop in sessions at Red Arrow Park this summer.  Stop in on Tuesdays from 5-7.  They provide the unicycles and the lessons.  You can earn a sticker if you're successful.  The best way to get more information about the unicycle club is at the MSOE Unicycle Club Facebook page.
Unicycle at Red Arrow Park
A new Bublr bike (photo from 88NINE Facebook page)
Maybe you remember there was a trial rack of rental bikes at Discovery World since last year?  Now there are some at Red Arrow Park as well.  They are part of Bublr Bikes, Bike Share in Milwaukee. The program just became official and will be at 10 locations throughout the city during the next few months.  You can read more about Bublr bike share system as it is unveiled.  This will be a great way to get around the city for tourists or for those who want to leave the car at home, take the bus downtown, and ride around.  They aren't meant to be used for all day use, but rather you pick up a bike to get you to another downtown location.  You do your business, then pick up another bike when you're ready to go.   Eventually the plan is to supply 300 bikes at 35 stations!  Now we have no excuses for not getting out to bike.  Spread the word!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Olmsted Parks

Grand Staircase at Lake Park 
Long ago when Milwaukee was first being planned, there were some noteworthy forefathers who felt it necessary to have public green spaces or parks where people of all income levels could come for relaxation and recreation.  At that time, work really was very hard and transportation was often by foot, carriage, and very rarely by motor car.  You will see parks named after these men throughout Milwaukee, and you can see some early photos of the parks in the lower level of Boerner Botanical Gardens.  Around 1892, they asked Frederick Law Olmsted, who was already known for his park designs, to do some work for our city.

I just came back from a trip to Louisville, one of Frederick Law Olmsted's largest projects.  He designed their entire park system, including boulevards.  You'll find the Olmsted Parks conservancy here- a group designed to promote and preserve the parks systems in Louisville.  Everywhere I travel, I try to find the gems that he designed in the late 1800s, just to see what condition they are in more than 100 years later.  Often, amazingly, they continue to thrive, though some of his plans went "rogue" and have changed immensely.  His plans often called for a series of parks which could be connected by broad parkways.  I've been lucky to see his parks in New York City, Montreal, Louisville, and Chicago.  I've included a few pictures so you can see the similarities.
A fishing pond at Central Park NY

The Dairy Barn at Central Park
Mount Royal Park at Montreal was also designed by Olmsted

The bridge to the left of this photo, from Tyler Park in Louisville, was designed by Olmsted's son, John

Olmsted even designed private gardens like this home which is now a B&B in New Hampshire

In Milwaukee he designed Lake Park, Riverside Park, and Washington Park.  Considerable changes have been made since 1900.  Washington Park used to be the local zoo, so you can imagine what has been done since then.  Olmsted always liked water features, open spaces for play, and trees.  You can see a list of his other parks and learn more about this man who designed many parks.

Lake Park is the park for which Olmsted will truly be remembered in Milwaukee.  It was his design which led to the beach being created with Lincoln Memorial Drive.  The bluffs offer a view of the lake, though much of it is obscured by overgrown trees now.  The best views are often in wintertime.  You can enjoy the lions' bridge, grand staircase, promenades (Oak Leaf trail), and tour the lighthouse on a weekend.  What started as a six hole golf course now offers Night Glow Golf and a few more holes.  There's lawn bowling and athletic fields.  You can even enjoy an outdoor concert at the stage.  East Newberry Boulevard extends 12 blocks from Lake Park to Riverside Park.  It extends the parks in a beautiful way. It's honored by being listed as one of the APA's great places in America because of its beauty, shaded canopy and landscaped median.  When it was originally built, it had 20 foot wide sidewalks with a horse lane in the median.  Times have changed.

Golf at Lake Park

North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park
Waterfall through Lake Park ravine

Lions Bridge at Lake Park
Riverside Park is the home of the Urban Ecology Center which promotes nature and offers all types of outdoor adventure for young and old alike.  Not surprising, it is also the home of the new Centennial Arboretum at the river bank.  You can play at the playground, hike up to the Urban Ecology Center to check out reptiles, slide down the secret slide, and hike over to the river to do some fishing.  Become a member of the center and you can use all of their outdoors equipment for free, which includes kayaks!  The Oak Leaf Trail comes up to the back door, so it's a bike worthy location.
Kids love the secret slides, but they are big enough for adults

Borrow a kayak if you're a member

Kids and adults can try to climb the wall at Riverside UEC
Washington Park used to be called West Park, at the time it was a zoo, and you can read more about the history at the link provided.  Now it houses another Urban Ecology Center branch that offers neighborhood adventures and outings.  You can canoe at the lagoon, ice skate there in winter, or cross country ski across the hills using their equipment if you're a member.  There's an amazing array of equipment available year round.  With water features and grassy spaces, intermingled with winding paths, there's something for everyone.  Bike Polo is played on the old tennis courts.  There are a series of pocket parks, perfect for the climbers in your family.  Near the senior center you can find horseshoe pits- a rarity in the parks any longer.  You will need to bring your own horseshoes though.  And don't overlook the outdoor concerts, called Wednesdays at the Shell, which you can follow through the Facebook link.  As you can see, Frederick Law Olmsted started something with his park designs.  They may not be exactly as he envisioned them, but I think he'd be happy that they were being used more than 100 years out, for recreation by all types of people.
Bike Polo court 
horse shoe pits at Washington Park

Washington Park Urban Ecology Center in winter

You can listen to music here during summer

Pretty lagoon with bridges