Saturday, January 31, 2015

Get Your Skis On!

It's official now.  Milwaukee is a cross country ski destination!  USA Today included us in their top 10 list for best urban cross country ski places in the USA. Madison was included too.  You wouldn't know it this year because we haven't had much snow yet...but the weather man says it's coming tomorrow and there will be plenty for some nice skiing around town.  You don't even need to own any equipment.

Whitnall Park has a small sledding hill that some use for skiing

So where to go?  You can go anywhere in the parks if you have your own equipment, but there are two parks listed on the county website which have groomed trails: Brown Deer and Whitnall.  The advantage to using them is that you'll have access to warmth when you need it and restrooms. Whitnall has rental equipment available at the clubhouse on the weekend for about $25 per session, or you can check it out for a week at $100.  If there is adequate snow, the concession may be open additional days/hours.  You can call to get the official scoop at (414)257-PARK.

You might think the Oak Leaf Trail would be a good place, but those paved trails are generally kept clean for biking commuters during winter, so you won't find good coverage there.

The Urban Ecology Center has XC skis in the lending closets at all three branches, but you need to join to be able to use them.  An annual membership is a bargain when you consider all the cool equipment and classes they offer.  If you're a novice and want a little help, sign up for one of their XC skiing trips around town.  You'll meet some new people and get tips on how to put on the skis gracefully and get moving.  I didn't grow up with skis on my feet and found it to be a bit challenging the first couple times.  It always looked much easier in the James Bond films.  They'll have you skiing like a movie stunt man in no time!  For future events, look at the calendar.

If you have skis, Lynden Sculpture Garden has plenty of outdoor artwork and space for XC skiing, but you'll need to go during open hours and pay admission. Next weekend is their Winter Carnival which is always fun.

There's a Nordic Ski Club of Milwaukee that plans group events year round.  They have a weekly event at Lapham Peak where there is an artificial snow made loop. You can drive out to Delafield and meet them.  Winter hiking is always nice there too.   You'll need a state parks sticker to park a car there.  You can find a drop box at the parking lot where you can purchase a sticker.

Schlitz Audubon has groomed trails and plenty of them.  You need to pay admission inside the visitor's center and bring your own equipment.  You can also head out to Hawthorn Glen, or Havenwoods State Forest.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Weekend of Winter Festivals

Igloo at Washington Park Urban Ecology Center built last year.  This year, they will try again.
This is a great weekend to get outdoors!  It's a weekend chock full of winter events.  Lots of activities are planned and most won't cost you anything.  The downside is that you may be playing in mud instead of snow.  Unfortunately the outdoor ice rinks are melting and at this time, there isn't enough snow for snowshoeing, sledding, or dog sledding.  Boo hoo.... but take heart and be hopeful.  There is snow forecasted for Sunday.  Lets see how it turns out.  At any rate, there will still be something to do at any one of these places, with or without snow.

Winterfest at the Urban Ecology Center- Over at Washington Park from 12-4 on Saturday, they may be building an igloo.  If ice is still frozen, there will be skating.  The Door County Sled Dogs are scheduled to make an appearance. Free.

Schlitz Audubon Winter Carnival- on Sunday from 12-4, look for the Door County Sled Dogs, horse drawn sleigh rides, and ice cano walks.  Indoors will be birds and a family friendly show.  Bring your skates if it does get colder.  The Gouda Girls food truck will be there too.  Free.

Boerner Botanical Garden Winterfest- Sunday from 10-2 you can go for a hike through the grounds.  Indoors will be crafts and snacks. $4 members/$6 general public.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Take a Class this Winter

Winters can be really long here in Wisconsin if you don't get out and find something to do.  If you need help finding a new hobby, making friends, or just finding inspiration, look no further than our fabulous parks and nature centers.

For anything going on in the County Parks, the best source is the website or Facebook page.  Connect to find out what's happening today and see great photos and articles coming from media outlets. There are two indoor county pools where you can find lessons, winter water exercise or aquazumba. Or maybe ice skating lessons is more your thing?

The Urban Ecology Centers are a great deal.  Become a member (starting at just $30 for an entire year!!!) and you'll have access to equipment, classes and discounts for all three centers.  Follow their Facebook page to get last minute ideas. There's even a link to sign up for e-mail notifications.  You can take lessons in snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and a whole lot more.  Just ask for the latest newsletter to see what's up.  Miltown Moms blog is a great place to learn about family friendly activities.  She mentions in her 2015 Winter Must-dos that you can sign up for last minute deals at the Urban ecology center.  If you're not aware of the centers, here are the locations with hours.

The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center has recently updated their website, so be sure to take a look at the latest in family programs, adult classes, and camps. Expect classes and fun with yoga, birdwatching, snowshoeing, and environmental lectures.  You can go to the calendar to find what's happening this month.  Most classes require registration and fees so book in advance.  Membership starts at $50 if you'd like to support the nature center, get discounts at the gift shop and save on classes.  If you have a membership here, it gets you in at 180 other nature centers across the nation, which is a bargain, even if you only use it within Wisconsin, where there are five additional centers within a short driving distance.

Wehr Nature Center is constantly evolving and continues to impress me.  New this year is the DIY series where you can learn some new skills taught by experts.  Already on the calendar is a spa day and maple syrup tapping.  This is sponsored by Friends of Wehr which also keeps a calendar of events on the website.  This is a beautiful outdoor location for winter hiking and snowshoeing too.  Follow Wehr Nature Center at Facebook for up to date information.

Havenwoods State Forest has a nature center where classes and story times are offered.  Check the website calendar for details.  You can also sign up there to get the e-mailed newsletter that includes lots of useful information about the forest and the animals you may find there.  They offer free snowshoe rental for all ages.

Lynden Sculpture Garden is a lovely winter outdoor space, which also happens to have some interesting lectures, art related classes, and naturalist programs.  Connect with the garden on their Facebook page for up to date information.

Milwaukee County Zoo is a place for much more than animals.  They are already offering registration for family classes that begin in February.  You have to go to the website for the zoo society to search events and classes.

This will definitely help you keep away the winter blues or cabin fever.  Hope to see you in the parks this winter!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Outdoor Ice Rinks

Brrrr...... We all know it's been cold enough for ice to form, and this week the ice rinks are being placed at the parks that needed 6" of frost in the ground before the ice could be made.  In the photo above, you can see a hose spraying the rink at Lake Park.  So where can you ice skate outdoors?  There are a number of places and some of them are new this year. There's a somewhat complete listing at the county parks website, and there you can get additional information about opening dates.  They don't include the Urban Ecology Center or the village rinks.

At Hales Corners, there's a land rink that is being named after local Olympian Alyson Dudek.  I was there last year and it was quite small and full of snow, but I understand they continue to request donations, and should it happen that they get all they want, a structure with rental skates will be constructed. For now, you'll need to bring your own skates.  It is free and is open 9 am-9 pm daily.

The Friends of Center Street Park have a new rink this year at Center Street Park funded in part by Waterstone Bank. If you've lived in Wauwatosa for a good long while, you might remember this used to be an ice rink 25 years ago.  Bravo to them for finding the desire and funding to add another fine outdoor recreation area for Wauwatosa area residents.  This rink is also free.  Skates may be provided by the Pettit Center, but details haven't been released yet. They will be forming the ice this week.

LaFollette Park in West Allis had a nice rink last year and will reopen this weekend with their land rink.  The building will be open on weekends and evenings, provided there is someone there to supervise.  The rink is lit until 9 pm. This is another fine example of how a friends group has been able to provide recreation in conjunction with the Milwaukee Parks Department.

Whitefish Bay just formed a rink at Klode Park yesterday.  Bring your own skates. There are restrooms and warmth in the building near the tennis courts which is open as a warming house.

Parks that have lagoons will open rinks as the ice allows.  My favorite outdoor space is at Washington Park Urban Ecology Center.  There you can borrow ice skates and walk just outside the door to the ice.  You may have to help with shoveling if there's been a recent snowfall.  If you tire of skating, they also have sleds, snowshoes, and skis available to members.  This is a bargain for anyone not wanting to purchase and store lots of cold weather gear.  Annual membership begins at just $30!

The Washington Park Urban Ecology Center has chairs and skate rental for first time skaters

You may find the rinks covered in snow so it's a good idea to bring a shovel if we've had a recent snow
If you prefer groomed ice, you can always check out indoor Wilson Ice Arena.  A calendar of open skating times is available.  You can rent skates and skate for a fee of $4-6 depending on age.   The Glow Skate sessions are always lots of fun.  An outdoor alternative is Slice of Ice at Red Arrow Park.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift a Tree or Park Bench

Looking for a unique gift for the person who has everything?  How about having a tree planted or a bench placed in a park in their honor?  It's easy to do and makes a gift that will last a long time and be enjoyed by many people during all seasons.  

Trees are available through the Park People website.  Costs run from $400 through $550, depending on the type of tree you choose.  There are a variety of trees- crabapple, japanese lilac, redbud, evergreens, maple, oak, birch, etc.  The trees are planted during spring and fall.  You get a brass hang tag that will be placed on a branch after planting and can usually choose the site in the park of your choice.  Wouldn't it be great to have a tree you can enjoy with your friends and family for many years to come?

Commemorative benches are also available through the Park People Website.  Prices start at $1900 for a steel bench.  Wooden benches made of fir are available for a couple hundred dollars more.  A brass tag will be placed on the bench. You decide what to write on the tag, and can also choose the park location.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do the Domes for the Holidays

The Domes are always a welcome retreat, but even more so when the temps get colder.  You'll warm right up as you step inside!  Be sure to go for the Hawaiian holiday display inside the Show Dome to see a sea of poinsettias and feel the tropical inspiration.  The other domes are decorated with ornaments, so be sure to visit all three while you are there.

Admission is free to Milwaukee residents on Mondays from 9-12.  Otherwise, you'll pay $7 for the general public adult ticket and $5 for students.  They are open 9-5 on weekdays and 9-4 on the weekend.

There are a few vending machines with cold drinks and ice cream, but if you want coffee, you'll have to bring your own thermos.

You may have noticed that the new green houses have plants in them now.  This has been a huge improvement for Mitchell Park, because the plants you see on display can be grown in the green houses on site.  That hasn't always been the case.  WUWM did a great piece about the new green houses.  Check it out if you want to know more about them.  You'll also find out where the plants end up outside of the domes and who makes the magic!

On Saturdays, you can shop the Indoor Winter Farmer's Market at the Domes from 9-1.  This is a fun atmosphere where you can buy local goods.  Of course, the wares are somewhat different than what you'd find during a summer market.  Everything is local/regional, which means it's artisan breads, meats, honey, and other preserved goods.

This is a good time to become a Friend of the Domes.  By joining, you'll receive admission free all year long, as well as lots of other discounts, like 10% off in the gift shop.  Be sure to stop in the gift shop for local gifts.  There's such a great selection and it's jam packed with some very nice products and a wide range of books.  You can also become a Friend of Boerner Botanical Garden which has reciprocal membership to more than 300 gardens, including the Domes.  If you buy now, you can attend the indoor concerts every Thursday evening, called Music Under Glass, which run January through March and have something fun to look forward to every week this winter.

I'll leave you with a few more holiday shots.  Hope you get over to the Domes before January 4 when the display will change in the Show Dome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ice Skating in Milwaukee

Strap on some skates and enjoy the ice rinks
We've had some warmer weather so far this month which means the only game in town for skating currently is Red Arrow Park's Slice of Ice.  That's not a bad thing.  It's a large rink complete with skate sharpening services, lockers, snacks, and even warm beverages.  Rink access is FREE.  You can rent skates there or bring your own.  Unfortunately parking is always kind of a drag.  You have to pay no matter where you park, unless you're already working at a nearby downtown business and looking for a noon hour exercise session.

Here's the scoop on Slice of Ice, which was voted as Milwaukee's best place for skating.  It's a refrigerated rink, so even if temps are warmer, they can make ice.  It can be open through early March if weather holds out.  The ice is groomed regularly so the potential for falling in ruts is lower than on other outdoor rinks.  Cost to rent skates is $8 for adults and $7 for kids.  Skate sharpening is $6 per pair.
Skating is fun for all ages.  There are smaller barrels to help the youngest who are learning balance.

Get a warm beverage from Starbucks, whether you're skating or just watching.

Some of the decorated trees on display through early January

S'Mores Week  (December 26-Jan4) is a fun time to visit.  When you're done skating, buy a kit to make your very own s'mores over a small fire.  $3 will get you a single serving or $10 will serve 4 people.  Hours for this treat are 2-10 PM.

When the weather gets colder, there will be a number of additional rinks at local parks.  If it's on a lagoon, there has to be 6 inches of ice.  If it's a manmade rink, it just needs to stay cold enough to hold the ice frozen.  For a complete list of county park rinks, check out this link.