Thursday, June 11, 2015

African Vacation


I will be exploring Ethiopia and Kenya this summer so there won't be updates to the Milwaukee Parks blog until August.  Follow along with my other blog if you are interested in reading about our African adventures.

Just because I'm gone doesn't mean you can't find great things to do!  Check out my Not Bummer Summer List, Go to an outdoor movie or festival!  Listen to music in a park! Try yoga! Have a micro adventure!

For more information about what's going on in Milwaukee Parks this summer, check out the links to the right.  You can also do a search of the blog for a topic of interest.  Enjoy your summer!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jackson Park Love

Today a guest post from an inspirational local writer, Donald George MacDonald, about one of my favorite parks- Jackson Park. This was posted originally on his Facebook page. 


OUR HOME, OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, OUR PARK.
We cannot fully appreciate what we take for granted. Over time, we seem to take for granted what we do have and what we once treasured becomes tarnished in time. 
Such has often been the case with my possessions and even with people I have known, except when it comes to the permanence of our home and the permanence of our neighborhood and the permanence of our Jackson Park and the permanence of Michelle, my wife. 
My wife and I are extremely fortunate and thankful to live directly across the street from Jackson Park located in the southwest area of the City of Milwaukee. When I look out my front windows and see families playing across the street, I frequently, jokingly proclaim to Michelle how great it is for so many people to visit “my park,” knowing, of course, our park is for everyone to enjoy.
One of the many reasons I love our home near my park in our Jackson Park Neighborhood so much is because the first time I lived on our block across the street from Jackson Park was between 1961 and 1967, when I was 11 to 17 years young. When we first moved to our block in 1961, I lived a mere 3 doors down from our home we live in now. Our Jackson Park Neighborhood has changed some over the years, of course, but it is very similar in many ways as well. 
Most of the homes in our neighborhood are modest, single-family homes. There are a few Victorians built in the 1910s, the many Milwaukee Bungalows built in the 20s, a few Tudors built in the 30s and the many Cape Cods built in the 40s.
Michelle and I have owned our home for almost a quarter of a century now and most of my neighbors on my block have lived here for well over a decade. Michelle and I take great pride in our “Milwaukee bungalow.” Our home was built in 1924. We love the craftsmanship in the curved and coved ceilings made of plaster and the stained glass windows and the maple floors and the built-in china cabinet and the wide, oak trim around the windows, floors, ceilings and doors. 
We also love the improvements we made over the years, such as the thick, kitchen counter-tops we made from a bowling lane rescued from a warehouse, reclaimed as local history. We love our state fair special sale, 300 gallon Softub in our back yard for hot water soakings, even during snowstorms. I extremely trimmed our large, front juniper bushes to try to make them look like bonsai trees. For many years when we were younger, Michelle and I and our 2 children, Michael and Zoe, worked together in our extreme, annual flower gardens. The summer decorations of multicolored, choreographed, varied flowers felt to us like we were giving our neighborhood Christmas presents in July. But alas, now in retirement we must let perennial flowers suffice with less expense and labor required.
Another frivolous improvement we made was to attach a wood cupola and copper weather vane to the roof. The copper weather vane is in the shape of a duck with its webbed feet extended and with its flared wings pulled back to catch the wind, flying lower to a watery landing. The duck swivels to always face the wind. We liked the idea of a duck as a weather vane because there are so many ducks at my park's lagoon. The ducks do occasionally fly over the house, but their migrations are not as anticipated as those of the Canadian Geese, honking loudly as they perform low flybys in formation over the house in the fall and again in the spring.
The improvements we made were not so much motivated by materialistic, selfish comfort and pride (except for the Softub), but more as a way to express our love and gratitude we feel for our home and for our park and for our Jackson Park Neighborhood. We always believed that the improvements we made to our home over the years have benefited and enhanced and beautified our neighborhood. 
***
Jackson Park is sort of triangular in shape, located between S. 35th St. on the east, S. 43rd St. on the west, W. Forest Home Ave. on the south and railroad tracks beyond the woods on the north. Kinnickinnic River Parkway curves its way through our park which allows children to be driven directly to where they would want to play at the pool or at the lagoon or at the playing fields and at the tennis and basketball courts. 
Manitoba School adjoins the park on the west, next to an expanse of a grassy playing area. The large wall on the west side of the school is perfect for handball where players compete while people gather to watch as their children play on the adjoining, recently constructed, colorful playground. From our front porch, the children attending Manitoba School seem to have it made as I frequently hear the joyful screams of children and see them playing on the grass. The only thing I don't like about our neighborhood is when the joyful screams of children move elsewhere during summer vacation.
Within our park are 2 recently constructed, colorful playgrounds, the very large swimming pool, the “stone house” in the center of the park, the lagoon with 2 islands and a large “boathouse,” a large, open but covered wood shelter for both family picnics and large meetings and many paved walkways and meandering, forested trails to explore. There are many designated picnic areas with numerous picnic tables throughout our park and we even have a 35 foot tall (including the new pedestal) “Spirit of Commerce” statue that now stands proudly next to the lagoon. I also must add that when Michael was 9 years young in 1993, we walked on one of the trails through the dense forest area and we “discovered” the statue at a time when it was then located elsewhere, overgrown and camouflaged by the encroaching forest. Many children, other than us, probably felt they had likewise “discovered” the statue. Our statue was later rediscovered by many others and about 15 years ago was relocated to a deserving, prominent position next to the lagoon. 
There are several open, grassy playing fields in our park that are used for soccer and football. There are baseball diamonds and basketball courts and there are tennis courts. There are hundreds of towering, mature trees throughout our sunlit park. They provide high canopies of leaves for low patches of shade throughout our sunlit park.
From early morning until dusk all 7 days a week, people can be seen walking alone or walking their dogs or walking together on the ½ mile path that winds around the lagoon. About 10 years ago, massive, light-colored granite slabs were placed around the entire lagoon that now contrast between the dark grass and the dark water.
In the summer, the YMCA provides child day care in Jackson Park. Zoe was fortunate to attend day care in Jackson Park during several summers during the 1990s. The children are dropped off at the boat house where they play inside and by the lagoon. Then the children swim at the pool just up the hill from the boathouse and later move to the “stone house” to eat lunch and play until picked up.
In the summer, there are free concerts every Tuesday evening in August where music is played come rain or shine, protected by the large, open, covered wood shelter. 
Now there exists a Jackson Park Farmer's market at the lagoon boathouse from 4 to 7 pm every Thursday. 
Especially on weekends and holidays, the main streets around our park are often lined with cars carrying visitors to picnic and play in our park. 
Fireworks and special activities are enjoyed on the 4th of July. Even though I do not watch bombs bursting in air in public, I must honestly admit I watch them from my front porch. 
***
The first time I lived across the street from Jackson Park was between 1961 and 1967 when I was 11 to 17 years of age, the winters did feel colder than they are now. The lagoon would always freeze over and when the ice became 6 or 8 inches thick, county employees would open the boathouse and plow the snow to the shoreline. Soon, dozens and even hundreds of children and adults would arrive to ice skate on the enormous, smooth ice surface. Some skaters used hockey skates and some used racing skates, but most used figure skates. The boathouse was where we checked our shoes and put on our skates and where we purchased snacks and hot chocolate. The ice rink was displayed by towering lights at night and music played for some skaters to dance to and for all of us to enjoy. At that time and in my idealized memories, the frozen lagoon with the clean piles of snow pushed up to its edge, the warm glow of night lights on ice and the many colors of flowing skaters looked just like the winter ice skating scenes painted on Christmas cookie tins. 
In addition to skating, we could walk to the “stone house” where we could rent long toboggans. 2 or 3 or 4 of us would haul the heavy, wood toboggan up a high flight of stairs leading to the flat ramp where we would place the toboggan. We would place the sled on the horizontal ramp and climb on board, our legs extended over the boots of the rider ahead of us. Then the operator would release a lever to tilt the sled downward. The toboggan would slide down the ramp at a terrifying speed and keep going quickly on an ice track that would through our park. We would eventually come to a stop, then haul the sled back to the ramp again, haul the sled back up the stairs again, then slide back down the ramp again at a terrifying speed, not once, but many times.
During the summers, I spent many afternoons and evenings at the swimming pool, sometimes trying to get the lifeguards wet with cannonballs and jackknives. 
We rented row boats and rowed around the lagoon and to the 2 islands we explored. 
We fished in the lagoon, but joked that the small fish from the cloudy water were radioactive and we just threw them back. 
50 years ago, I taught myself how to play tennis alone, well enough to join my Boys Tech High School team. Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were my daily opponents, especially at match point of the 5th set at the U.S. Open. I pounded tennis balls against the large, brick wall of Manitoba School for many hours, playing against the same wall where young people now pound handballs against the wall for many hours.
***
Milwaukee County has been highly praised and honored many times during many years for the quality and location and abundance of our parks. Milwaukee residents are extremely fortunate to live where we can enjoy our very great parks system. Our parks were created and exist to provide recreation and health and happiness for our citizens. Our parks are a living testament to the vision and work and commitment of many people long before us which continues today. Their legacy of our very great parks system continues today and will continue to serve us for many more decades to come. Our very great Milwaukee County parks system is a treasure that must never become tarnished and must never be taken for granted in time.
So summer is finally here!
I hope you will soon visit and enjoy our Jackson Park! 
Enjoy a ½ mile walk around our lagoon today! 
After all, our neighborhood is only as nice as the people who live and visit here!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Rent a bike, rollerblades, kayak, standup paddle board or other fun gear

Do you ever have guests in town and it's a really nice day but you're not sure where to go or what to do? There are a variety of fun choices at Veterans Park or Bradford Beach.  Why not start there?

We were in Minneapolis a few weeks ago.  I love to check out parks when we're traveling, so we went to Minnehaha Park in the downtown area.  It's such a cool outdoor space, complete with a huge waterfall, playgrounds, hiking trails, historical places, and a concession stand.  Because I had a bunch of little kids to entertain, we decided to rent from Wheel Fun Rentals and chose a multi person bike and a go cart.  I had never been to this park, but figured it couldn't be too hard to follow a course around the park and we could easily do it in an hour.  How wrong can a person be?  We came back worn out 3 hours later because we had taken a wrong turn (trails are not marked for ease by rental bikes) and ended up riding a narrow river trail all the way to Fort Snelling before we figured out how lost we were! We found we had traveled 7 miles with me doing most of the pedaling.  Not that it wasn't an adventure...it was!  But I don't want to repeat it anytime too soon!  At one point we had to push the bike uphill and my son gave up and laid across the seat while his cousins and I pushed!

Maybe 7 miles is really too far to do on a surrey bike


So why this story?  Well, they have a Wheel Fun Rentals at that park, and we have it here in Milwaukee too.  I bought the season pass which saves me half price on every rental- whether it's a kayak or a bike or whatever!  No matter where you travel this summer, if you find a Wheel Fun Rental, you can use your season pass. If you plan to use any of this equipment, it could save you a bundle over the course of the summer. This is the first year Wheel Fun Rentals has a kiosk at Bradford Beach, which includes watercraft, fun toys, chairs and umbrellas. You can still kayak or pedal a boat at Veterans Park lagoon for a less challenging course.  Even younger kids can balance on the SUP, though you might be sure they know how to paddle before you let them loose.  The wind can take you to the end of the lagoon, and then you need some paddle power to get you back.
Even younger kids have the balance to use a SUP

Try a canoe or pedal boat

SUPs are available

The bikes like I found in Minnehaha park are available at Veterans Park near the kite shop, with Milwaukee Bike and Skate. You'll find go carts, rollerblades, and multi person bikes called surreys.  They also have hybrid mountain bikes and tandems.  You should find something for every person in your party! They have a map of the nearby trails on their website, but if you plan to bike longer than an hour, you might like to pick up a paper copy of the new county parks map.   You'll find them at the golf clubhouses in the parks, or you can get one via mail from the Park People website. You'll also find information about the new Oak Leaf Discovery Tour passport there.

You can take a segway tour, if your budget allows.  This is primarily for teens and adults.  You'll get a lesson, some practice time with an instructor after watching a movie, and a guided tour along the lakefront. My nieces even did this wearing hijab, so I know you can do it too.
Segway tours are really fun for visitors
There's a Bublr bike rack at nearby Discovery World, as well as kiosks around the city.  If you want to do some city sightseeing, that would be a good option.  You pick up a bike and return it to any other kiosk.  Use a credit card to pay.  There's a large basket on the front and a lock, just in case you need a stop where there isn't a kiosk. Download the mobile app for more information on your smartphone while you ride.
Try a bublr bike from a variety of locations

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Outdoor Movies and Festivals 2015

It's outdoor movie season- Humboldt Park
The Family Flicks Schedule is out!  This is a great way to spend a summer evening with your family or make a date night.  Bring a blanket and some snacks.  Settle down on the lawn with your friends and have a good time with these family friendly titles!  Movies begin at dusk.  You can see the complete line-up of great movies by clicking on the link.  These movies are shown at three county park locations at no charge:

Summer Nights Movies in Veteran's Park at 1010 N Lincoln Memorial Park, sponsored by Gift of Wings has its first movie Saturday, June 13 and it's Big Hero 6.  Meet at the Kite Store.  There are six movies planned for this park.
Film on the Hill at Humboldt Park, 3000 S. Howell Ave, sponsored by the Bay View Neighborhood Association will show 3 movies, the first is Cinderella on August 1 at the Bandshell.  Food trucks are available prior to the events.
Summer Movie Night at LaFollette Park, 9418 W. Washington St, sponsored by Friends of LaFollette Park, will show 2 movies and starts with Big Hero 6 Friday, June 12.

For the Bike-In Movie Series at the Swing Park under the Holton Street Bridge, you need to check the Facebook page for the event.  This is right across from Trocadero, so you can get food and drink from the local restaurants and bring it to the swing park.  Bring a blanket in case all the swings and benches are full.  The first movie will be Coming to America on June 19.   Even the projection equipment is delivered by bike- how cool is that?!

Cudahy Family Movie Night in Cudahy Park on E. Ramsey Ave, Cudahy, has had movie nights in the past but I can't find them posted yet.  Watch the Facebook page for updates.

Peck Flicks at the Marcus Center will be back with 4 movies this summer, starting in July.  This is at the outdoor stage along the river beside the Marcus Center starting at 7:15, although seating and snack sales begin at 6.

Check out the Fish Fry and a Flick website, or  follow their facebook page, for details on their line-up which starts July 10 with Beetlejuice.  They have food trucks and you can spread out blankets on the grass at the point.  These are generally considered for adults only as some of the movies are rated R.  

The Journal Sentinel Tap did such a great job compiling these and many others.  For their complete listing, check their link for movies, which also includes a few surprises like a movie in an alley! 

I don't normally have a festival listing, but I received this fantastic Summer Festival Guide link for a visual aid that not only lists the festivals and dates, but also maps them.  This will be very useful this summer!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yoga and Pilates in the Parks


It's that time of year again! Take Your Sun Salutations Outside in the Sunshine! Yoga is returning to the outdoors for the summer months.  There are a few changes since last year and I'll update if I learn about more.  

First the bad news for those of you who have been regulars at the following parks: For many years, Elite Fitness has been doing yoga at Bradford Beach, but that program will not be back this year.  This is a new link for the Bradford beach activities because they have a new overall vendor, and will be the place where events are listed. Yoga Rocks the Park has not put out a schedule for the coming year, and it looks as though they don't have a local sponsor, though it's still early.  That program generally doesn't start for at least another month.  Check back at the Facebook link later in summer. 

Milwaukee Power Yoga will return with the wildly popular Stand up paddle board (SUP) yoga at Veterans Park Tuesday evenings June 16-August.  Classes run from 6:30-7:45 and cost $22 for one or $60/3 classes.  Register at the workshop tab on their website. You can register for the entire series or just one class.  Bring a towel.

How about meeting for sunrise yoga at Atwater?  Milwaukee Power Yoga will also be having a class on Wednesdays during July at 7 am. Donations welcome for this one.  Check the event calendar if you don't see it on the main website.

The new kids on the block are Clearwater Outdoors, which will be a welcome addition to people who are missing the old Laacke & Joys outdoor store.  A full service local chain, you can join their Adventure Club and try a variety of things. They offer an outdoor YOGA AND PADDLING class Saturday mornings from 8-10. Meet at the store by 7:45, and you'll do the yoga at the Watershed greenspace across from Milwaukee Public Market. After yoga, launch on the river with either a kayak or stand up paddle board. Space is limited but the class is not full.  Fees depend on whether you become an adventure club member and/or have your own watercraft.

Last year was the first year that I'm aware of any pilates in the parks, but it was a great idea.  East Side Pilates has a studio near the Prospect Triangle, so they offer FREE pilates in the park on Sunday at 11 when weather permits. There was a recent feature about owner, Jesse Masche, in OnMilwaukee as she was named a Milwaukee All Star.

OmTownYogis bring yoga to the parks for the second year.  Find them at Klode Park in Whitefish Bay, Atwater Park in Shorewood, or Hart Park in Wauwatosa, on Saturdays July 11-August 29.  Check the link for information about times and meeting places.  Different instructors and classes every week.

Cathedral Square will have yoga at the Saturday Farmer's Markets at 9 am sponsored by the Wisconsin Athletic Club.  The market and yoga run from June 6-October 3.

Lake Park also runs an indoor yoga program indoors all year round, every Tuesday morning the in the Community Room underneath Lake Park Bistro.  The instructor is Edie Starrett.  Classes meet from 7-8:15.  Cost is $14 per session, and you can pay at the door with cash/check.
Yoga at Lake Park
Bayshore Town Center has yoga in the square every Saturday morning at 8 am, sponsored by Neroli Salon & Spa.  Classes are free and begin June 6.  No reservations are needed.  Neroli has indoor classes as well.  For more information about those, go to their yoga link. 

There's a Meetup group for outdoor yoga.  If you join the meetup group, you'll receive notifications of outdoor yoga sessions, which are held in parks around Milwaukee.  They also have social events, so you may gain a new set of friends!

Schlitz Audubon Center has an ongoing Monday evening hatha yoga class, which is held outdoors in nicer weather. The class runs from 5:30-6:45 and costs vary depending on whether you are a member, and also if you're a drop-in or a regular attending yogi.

Lynden Sculpture Gardens offers an alternating series which includes tai chi and yoga.  Check the schedule for prices and dates for each.

Alice's Garden hosts Yoga in the Garden every Tuesday evening June 16-Aug 25 from 6:30-7:30. Follow the Facebook link for more information. 

Villa Terrace Art Museum will have a yoga class in the garden every Sunday, June through August from 8:30-9:30.  A suggested donation of $10 per person is recommended to support the museum and the volunteer instructors. Check their Facebook event page for updates.  

For all classes bring a yoga mat and wear comfortable clothing.


Do you know about another yoga class in a park?  Let me know and I'll add it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Beautiful Seven Bridges Trail at Grant Park

Covered Bridge at head of Seven Bridges Trail
This trail in Grant Park is one of my favorite places to come, no matter what the season.  It's a lovely place to see spring wildflowers, deer, fall color, and get to the beach without walking too far, if I have my son along. Someone told me when they were younger, there were actually seven bridges, but now there are 10.  I suppose it's not worth it to change the name over a bridge count.  If you watch Around the Corner with John McGivern, you'll know that John Gurda is the area historian.  He did an hour long program about his favorite historical places and he included the history of this park and how the original bridges were built.  You can find it on youtube. Grant Park Clubhouse is a victorian home (with some updates) which was originally purchased from the homeowner, Horace Fowle, so the entire area used to be part of that farm.
The clubhouse near the golf course

wild flowers are plentiful in spring
Fall at the park

The bridges have had some work done in the past few years, but you'll still notice trees lying down in the area.  It's best to stick to the marked paths so you don't add to the erosion or damage the wildflowers. Some say the area is haunted, but I never saw anything to indicate that.
Newest bridge replaced
This trail has lots of steps

This 2 mile trail is listed as a National Recreational Trail, one of many in Wisconsin.  Most of the trails on the list are just a couple of miles in length, and doable in a day.  I might mention that this website is a good place to get a listing, but it has a lot of information missing on most trails, so you'll want to check the county parks link or other organization if you need more information.  You'll find a variety of organizations built these trails, and in fact, some are still being developed.  We owe a lot to the volunteers who maintain them.  Usually they are 'friends groups' for the trail or park location who organize work parties.    The details for Seven Bridges Trail, however, is quite detailed and accurate, so I'll include that National Recreation Trail link here.

I had about an hour today to do some hiking, so I traveled through the covered bridge near where you park, and walked to the lake, following the bluff and parts of the paved Oak Leaf Trail south past the golf course, until I came to the beach access.  You can take the driveway to the parking lot at the beach house.  From the beach house, I walked back along the lake.  The sun was shining today, so by doing this, the sun was at my back when I followed the lakefront until I saw the access to Seven Bridges Trail.  This way I had plenty of bird chatter on the way south and the sound of waves heading north.  There were plenty of robins, red winged black birds, and I even heard a woodpecker.
Oak Leaf Trail is paved

Beach View

The Oak Leaf trail portion of Grant Park is a particularly nice place to take a stroller or wheelchair because you can actually go for quite a long way through the woods and experience nature on a paved path.  Of course, you can't take a stroller through the ravines of Seven Bridges. I was surprised by a pair of deer at the restrooms near the covered bridge.  They were eating quietly and didn't seem to be bothered by me.

If you have small children, and you don't want to do the rugged trail, I'd recommend you park at Wil-O-Way Grant Park.  Here you'll find a picnic area, sand box, playground, bathrooms, and a small pond which had a pair of geese on it today.  There's also access to the Oak Leaf Trail here, so you could take a stroller from the parking lot and go as far as you like in either direction.  The Oak Leaf Trail connects all the lakefront trails, although there are some on-street connections.  Grant Park also has a nice large playground with lots of climbing structures.
Wil-O-Way play area
Play area at Grant Park

If you're participating in the Oak Leaf Discovery Tour and need a passport, you can get one at Grant Park golf clubhouse for $5.  This tour includes passport stamps and code words.  If you participate you can win prizes and attend the end of summer party.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Great Outdoor Spots for Photos

McKinley Beach
I wrote about photo shoot sites a few years ago, and it turned out to be the most "googled" entry on the blog so I know there are people out there interested in photographing Milwaukee.  I have learned about many more places while writing my Milwaukee books, so I thought this was worth a rewrite.  I also learned that people are looking for spots year round, not just in summer, so I've expanded to include some fall and winter photos here.

There are locations where you have to pay admission, but will simply have so many choices that I'm sure you'll find something to make the admission worth it.  Try the Grohmann Museum roof top gardenVilla Terrace, Lynden Sculpture Gardens, Mitchell Park Domes and Boerner Botanical Gardens.  The Milwaukee Zoo has some great spots too.
The rose garden at Boerner Botanical Garden

Lynden Sculpture Garden has a pond and a variety of trees

Villa Terrace has blooming flowers, an arbor, staircase, nice patio and fantastic fall color
Then there's Lake Michigan. The sun rises over Lake Michigan all year round.  If you're interested in shooting the beach at sunrise, you can go to any of the lake front beaches very early in the morning.  The sun rises at a different place along the lakefront every month, so don't count on the same sunrise in summer as fall. In winter, the lake freezes and can create all kinds of magic.  Some have old concrete breakwaters still in the water and those can be useful if you want to set up something further out in the water.  You can access them from dry land and walk out to the end. The pier next to McKinley beach is  also a good place to get out into the water and if weather is a bit windy, you'll see wave action there too.  With the right angle, you can get a view of the lighthouses.

Big Bay Park
Bradford Beach in January at sunrise
If you want the sun behind you, shoot early in the day and you can use the bluff as the back drop at Atwater Beach, Klode ParkGrant Park, and Doctor's Park.  If you walk through Seven Bridges trail to the lake at Grant Park, there is sometimes amazing lighting with reflections in the creek and the clouds tend to gather over the lake, though you'll need something to take care of sunspots if you choose to shoot into the sun.  You'll find lots of small rocks at Big Bay, Klode, and Grant Park, so if you need shots of bare feet or younger children, it adds texture and interest.
Lake Michigan at Grant Park
The stairs at Atwater Beach are nice because you can set up a larger group of people and because there aren't any trees, you won't get shade on the faces.  Atwater also has some colorful playground equipment at beach level that will make any shot jump out.  It's also large enough that adults can sit in the dish swing, even 2 people at a time.  There's a structure there that will also accommodate a group that kind of looks like a Christmas tree, and another that is tilted and circular.

Atwater Beach

Atwater Beach

If you like the huge white rocks, Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay is great.  McKinley Beach has some pretty rocks off shore that add to the interest in a lake photo.  You can actually climb on them at McKinley to get both the rocks and the lake.  My favorite park for rocks, water, bridges, and beautiful flowers, grass, etc is Lakeshore State Park.  It has everything you need for outdoor shots.  If you come late in the day, the lighting is awesome as the setting sun reflects on the water side of the park.
Put your model on top of the rocks at McKinley Beach

Rocks at Big Bay 


Lakeshore State Park

View of the lake at Lakeshore State Park

When you want to use the city as a back drop, there are 2 possible locations just off North Ave near Holton- Kadish Park with the pavilion, and on the other side and up higher is Kilbourn Reservoir.  If there are puffy white clouds with a blue sky, this makes it even better.  Lakeshore State Park also has a bit of the city, but you get the Summerfest grounds in the photos.  These parks are probably the best places to see a sunset also, but don't expect spectacular.  Sunrises are much better in Milwaukee.  You can also go to the rooftop of St. Luke's Hospital, at 2900 W. Oklahoma, where there's a place called the Healing Garden.  It has indoor and outdoor space, with plenty of plants and a panorama of the entire Menomonee Valley.  South Shore Park has a nice view of the skyline with boats in it. The bath house is pretty there too, and you can usually get inside if you want indoor photos too.

View from Kilbourn Reservoir Park
View from the Healing Garden at St. Luke's Hospital
South Shore Park
If you want those shots with a shady waterfall or large trees, go to Lake Park.  The waterfall is south of the parking lot at Lake Park bistro.  The lions bridge or the light house are also great locations to set up a shoot.  Large trees are available with the oldest and largest at the northern end of Lake Park.  You'll find large wooded areas in Sheridan Park and Greenfield Park too.   Those are big enough there that you can put a body up against a tree and get lots of interesting texture in the background.  There are groves of trees in the parks if you want fall leaves for a shot.  They are indicated on the county park maps with wording "exceptional native plant community" and you can see examples on both links above for Sheridan and Greenfield Parks.  With the right weather and timing, you can get spectacular color.
Larger trees are fun to use
Greenfield Park
Whitnall Park has the largest waterfall that I'm aware of, though there's another good size waterfall at the south end of Grant Park near the mill pond. You just can't get down into it like you can at Whitnall.  Park at the smaller lot near the golf course where you can see the lake.  Walk down the hill to the lake and waterfall.  You can hear the water from the parking lot, so you'll know you're at the right place.  Estabrook and Kletzsch parks also have the river and somewhat of a waterfall as it passes by.


For bridges, well, you can probably guess that I'm going to recommend Seven Bridges trail in Grant Park.  I also love the covered bridge over the ravine at the trail head.  The bridge over the river between the Holton Street swing park and Lakefront Brewery is interesting and you can get views through it as well as river shots.
Trailhead at Seven Bridges Trail in Grant Park

Stone bridge near the waterfall at the Mill Pond at the south end of Grant Park


Holton Street Bridge
For quirky art and color, my pick would be Cass street park with the boys and girls club mural just across the street too.  If you like what you see at Cass Street Park, the same artist has work at Snails Crossing in Riverwest. For more murals, check out Milwaukee Mural Map.  It's interactive and gives you street locations for lots of colorful places.
Dragon at Cass St. Park

Mural at Boys & Girls Club near Cass St. Park
For all around interest along the river, go to the river walk.  You can get water, buildings, structures, color...no matter what season.  Don't forget the Bronz Fonz is there too.  If you really want to be adventurous, take a boat tour or rent a kayak and take your camera.
River Walk has interesting structures and water

My favorite photo of my youngest son was actually taken at Holton Bridge Swing Park.  That's a good place even if the sun isn't shining because it's covered.  There are a variety of swings and the textures of the bridge overhead make it interesting.
Holton Swing Park
Alice's Garden is mainly a place with garden plots people can rent for vegetables and flowers, but they have a labyrinth of herbs that might be something for you to check out.  Probably the best time to go here is late June through late August when there's something blooming. You may find sunflowers, colorful cabbage, and dahlias in the garden plots.
Labyrinth at Alice's Garden
Trimborn Farm has nine buildings that could be used as a real old time rustic Wisconsin landscape, and Whitnall Park has a bright red barn.
Whitnall Park

Trimborn Farm

Lastly, don't over look the website, Shot Hot Spot.  It uses photos on Flickr to determine the most photographed places all over the world.  Put in Milwaukee county, or anywhere you might travel.  It will list the places and show points on a map.  In many cases, there are sample photos from those points.  This is a lot of fun to use if you're new to an area. In Milwaukee, it includes graffiti, abandoned buildings and railroad tracks.

There are likely many more spots.  Add your great finds in the comments!