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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dogs on Beaches


It's probably no surprise to you if you are a dog owner, but we made a list for the Best Cities to Have a Dog recently.  We have a lot of great spaces for dogs.  What we don't have is an official dog beach.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the public beaches, and the fine is just over $200.  I had to get clarification because some people thought it was OK to have dogs on the northern most point of Bradford Beach, but still it is considered a non-dog beach area, though they can be in the grassy area. It is kind of peculiar though that every time we visit the beaches, there will be dogs.  There are plenty of signs posted that have to be passed on the way to the beach, but apparently it's a risk people are willing to take.  The only exception would be a service dog.

Bradford Beach
So where can you take a dog in Milwaukee?  We don't have a dog, but my son loves to pet them, so our favorite place to get our doggy fix is the Oak Leaf Trail.  They are allowed in all the parks that have the trail, as long as it isn't posted, but you do need a leash at all times.  The county parks have a complete listing of all allowed dog areas.  There are few places where you'll find doggy bags, so be sure to have something with you to clean up after your dog.  The fines for not having your dog leashed and not cleaning up after your pet is also $200.50.  It can be quite expensive if you're caught violating the dog ordinances.

ROMP (Residents for Off Leash Parks) is the organization that promotes and helps provide dog runs and exercise areas.  They also have a Facebook page, which you can "like" to stay up to date with facilities and dog events. There are 6 fenced areas for dogs in Milwaukee County- at Bayview, Currie, Granville, Estabrook, Runway, and Warnimont parks.  There are plenty of rules for these areas, which help make them safer.  You need to have current registration from your municipality, current immunizations including parvo, rabies, and distemper, and the dog needs to be free of communicable diseases.  Dogs younger than 6 months are not allowed because they typically have not had their full set of immunizations yet.  You'll have to apply for a county permit, which can be purchased for the entire year at $25 or just a daily pass $5.  You'll find more information about applications and where you can purchase the pass at the county website.  Once you have all that, your dog must be with a human at all times, and it should be friendly.  Aggressive dogs are not welcome in this type of social environment.  Be sure to remove all choke chains while the dogs are in the fenced area.

A happy dog running free at Roverwest 


Doctors Park- the Northern Milwaukee Beach Park



We visited Doctors Park this week on a sunny Saturday.  This is usually the least crowded beach of the Milwaukee beaches.  There isn't a lifeguard here, no changing facilities other than a portable toilet at the beach level, and it takes quite a hike to get to the beach.  You are usually certain to find a place to spread out your towel and have access to the icy water of Lake Michigan, without seaweed.  This beach is not groomed, so you may have to do your own clean-up from things that wash ashore.

I was surprised to see someone had hauled a couple of kayaks down to the beach.  There are 3 ways to get there- one is paved so you could tow a hand trailer.  The other 2 involve stairs.  The kayaking is great once you get there, but you do have to be motivated.  There are plenty of flat stones, if you're the kind of kid who loves to skip rocks.  The sand is good for building.  It's a great beach.
Kayaking is good, but it's a chore to get the kayak down to the water

This is a park that is getting some much needed attention from the Doctors Park friends group.  They are raising money to replace trees, refurbish buildings, and plan community events.  The day we visited was the annual picnic and there were plenty of people up in the park.  The traveling Sprecher's beer garden truck was there, as well as live polka music and games for anyone willing to play.  We tried the cheesy popcorn, hot pretzel, and an ice cream float with Orange Dream Soda.  Yumm!
The Beer Garden travels through several parks this summer

Schedule for the Traveling Beer Garden
You get to keep the glass.  When you visit again, bring it and refill it for a discounted price
The playground is usually uncrowded.  There is a sand base so you can bring your pails and shovels.  The paths through the park are paved, so it's also a good place for bikes with training wheels, scooters, and skateboards, though it's a short pathway.  It helps to see a map of the park for the layout if you want to find the beach.  There aren't good signs to direct you.  The park is right next to the Schlitz Audubon property, which is accessible by beach.  Check it out when you need plenty of exercise.  It's especially beautiful in spring when filled with migrating birds, and in fall when the trees  turn color and you can find chestnuts have fallen to the ground.  There's something here for everyone.
Play area near the parking lot


These old benches used to offer a seat to a beautiful lake view, but now the trees are overgrown

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Walker's Square- Wifi, Farmer's Market and a whole lot more!


We visited Walker's Square last weekend so I could check out the summer activity during the Farmer's Market.  The market is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8-5, though if it's not busy, I've been told vendors will leave earlier.  This is a pretty good market because it features some Hmong gardening experts who tend to have some unusual greens and other produce you won't find elsewhere.  They can offer lots of cooking tips.  The produce is clean, freshly picked, and beautifully presented.  Nearly everything is bundled so it costs $1.  It's easier for them if you bring small bills, but they provide plastic bags if you don't bring your own.

The park just got wifi which is a big deal. Only 3 parks in Milwaukee county system have wifi, that I'm aware of.  A nice perk if you want to relax on a shady bench and check your email.  The park has a great playground with a squishy surface.  One of the pieces has a ladder and an elevator that brings the children back down again.  I had never seen that, and it was a big hit with all the kids.  There's a wading pool, which was packed.  The toilets are open.  There's an ice lolly vendor who sells treats for $1.50, so my son tried one.  Delicious and refreshing!  They even had volunteers at a crafts table doing activities with the local kids.  It was a great place to relax for about an hour.   We'll be back again.

Playground with lots of climbing available

wading pool


vendors set up in the park three days a week

Do try the ice pops!  This one was mango.



Monday, June 23, 2014

The Swing Park- New & Improved!

With all the rain we've had lately, I decided to stop by and see how the maintenance was coming on the Swing Park.  This is under Holton Street, and at the intersection of Water and Pearson Streets near Trocadero.  Some call it the Marsupial Bridge. I'm excited to report that a lot will be happening this week.


The marsupial bridge runs between Lakefront Brewery and Water Street near Trocadero

This is the only true all weather park we have where you can swing, hold flea markets, watch movies, and just hang out.  I've been there many times since it opened in 2012, as a project by a group called beintween.  If you've loved this park as much as I do, you can give them a shout out at their website and say thanks for their creativity.  I would imagine the concept will be copied in other cities as soon as people know about it.  The group has been moving on to other projects, including the Artery, so if you have time, check out the photo section at their website for more information about what they're up to.  It's all unique and very exciting!

The problem with the original swing park was that the chains for the tire swings used were considered unsafe long term, so the city stepped in and did some major work.  This week, the gravel is replaced with shredded tire material which is strangely soft, but does tend to get stuck in your sandals, so you may have to shake out your shoes before leaving so you don't take it all away with you.  The benches are new and have lighting features.  The city electricians are ready to put in some additional lighting now.  There is one bench swing- large enough to swing the whole family.  By the end of the week, we may see the new swings as well!!!  A very welcome addition has also been a couple of portable toilets.  
shredded tire fills the park now


Bike-in Movie Nights are held here under the bridge.  The best way to keep up with news about that series is to like the Facebook page.  They already showed Jurassic Park, but you can look forward to The Great Outdoors on July 18.  Then there are still more in the season line-up: Inglorious Bastards August 15, A double header with Pippi Longstocking and A League of Their Own September 19, and Tremors October 10. 

Don't forget that this park is accessible to the Beerline so you can easily bike, hike or walk to it.  Also just across the bridge you see in the photo above is Lakefront Brewery, where you can also see the famous Three Stooges fermenting tanks, as listed at Roadside America.  If you're this close and haven't done the brewery tour or seen the Three Stooges, it's well worth a look.  Experience some of the coolest Milwaukee has to offer.

UPDATE- THE SWINGS ARE NOW HANGING.  COME HAVE SOME FUN!  The new swings have heavy duty seat and chains.  They are fun for adults as well as kids.  Make this your next date night destination, as it is lit!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Art in the Parks


If you like art or have a budding kid artist in the family, this is a great time to get them out in the parks to work with local artists.  The Artists Working in Education van is all set to go and they have a full schedule.  They visit parks during the day and at evening concerts.  This program is best for ages 4-14 and is not designed for large groups like daycares or summer camps.  This is a free drop in program where kids make paintings, masks, sculptures, and other fun projects to take home.  There will be multiple offerings every day from Monday through Friday, 1-4.  For a complete schedule of parks the vans visit, check this link. New this year, is an opportunity to do art during the concerts at various parks from 6-8, in conjunction with Milwaukee county parks free concerts and the Layton Boulevard West summer concert series.

For older kids, there's a satellite studio making collaborative public art.  This is also a drop in program from 1-4, Monday through Friday.  The skill level is greater as they tackle drumming, poetry, photography, screen printing, and many other art projects.  We're so lucky to have this program available for our older youth.

This weekend is the Lakefront Art Festival.  You can still buy advance tickets at $10 for adults, and kids 12 and under are free.  If you wait until the event, you can buy tickets at the gate for $17 adults or $25 for a 3 day pass.  This includes admission to the art museum where the current exhibit is all about Kandinsky.  There will be tents set up with face painting, a variety of art projects to take home, and jugglers.  This is always a great time!

Lynden Sculpture Garden offers Wednesdays in the Garden for parents/caregivers and children ages 4 & 5.  Cost is $10 for an adult and child.  These outings include a little nature, stories, and art.  This is a great place to inspire yourself or kids to appreciate art.  There are sculptures all over the grounds so you can seek them out while you get some exercise.

If you enjoy photography, Wehr Nature Center has a photography group, the Wehr Nature Center Camera Club.  They meet on the second Saturday of the month at the center from 9-11:30.  Follow their Facebook page for additional outings.

The Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park has an art show program that is ongoing which includes speakers and art displays.  This is geared more for adults and is sure to inspire you.

For adults who want to sketch or create art, Havenwoods State Forest has an adult workshop, called drawing in nature, on June 28, from 10-11:30.  You'll go out with a naturalist and draw something in nature.

Alice's Garden is another outdoor space that might inspire you.  They hold walks through the herb labyrinth, host drum circles, poetry readings, and are holding a photography exhibit July 25 from 5-9 as part of the Gallery Night.  The best place to learn about their events is to follow the Facebook page.

Surely something in this list of fun art has you motivated to go to a park and find the artist in you!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

State Parks are FREE this Weekend!



All Wisconsin state parks are free this weekend.  This means you won't need a sticker to get into any park.  There will also be lots of fun events to encourage you to explore our beautiful state parks, recreation areas, trails, and forests.

You can fish for free anywhere you'd normally find fish at the state parks.  At the DNR link, you will find a list of events (and there are plenty!) to get you outdoors, even free fishing clinics.  Our own Havenwoods State Forest is hosting a pond hike from 10:30-11:30.  Dress for the weather and prepare to get messy or muddy.  Havenwoods has hiking trails, geocaching, a nature center, and even backpacks you can borrow to do some undercover nature study of your own.  It's a real gem in the Milwaukee area.  It has been a correction house, army barracks, nike missile site, county landfill, and now a spacious urban park.  For a full summer schedule of events, check out the calendar or subscribe to the newsletter, which includes events for June-August.

Lakeshore State Park doesn't have special activities for the free parks weekend, but it is free every day.  There are 2 special events coming later in June: Rock N Sole on June 14 and free kayaking on June 21.

 It's also National Trails Day.  You can find a hike anywhere in the USA as part of the National Trails Day celebration.  Near us, there is a 7.5 or 5 mile hike planned on the Ice Age Trail- Lowe Lake and Monches Segment.  You don't need to RSVP.  Check the link for details.