Friday, May 22, 2015

Adventure Biking at the Rock Sports Complex

Most of us know how to ride a bike.  We learned as a kid and used it for recreation and transportation.  Things have changed in recent years to kick the sport up a notch, and we're lucky to have one of the most premier locations for adventure bike sports in the nation right here in the Milwaukee county.

The Rock Sports Complex opened its bike park in 2013 and they keep expanding it to include new trails and jumps.  Here's a map from the website to give you an idea of the terrain and the kind of trails.  This is a ski hill during colder months.  You can see from the map that this system connects to the county parks trails.  Be sure to go to the website and watch the video which gives you a great overview of what they can offer.

You need to know how to ride a bike, but they will teach you the rest.  They even offer family packages where you can get a lesson and all the gear for $60 per person.  This is available on the weekends by reservation only.  Summer camp five week sessions at the Dirt Farm are available for beginners too. Instructors are brought in for special sessions on the weekends.  

If you're already familiar with gravity biking, you can rent gear or bring your own bike.  You take the chairlift to the top and ride down on one of the trails, chosen by your ability.  The Rock Sports Complex is the place to try out a variety of unique biking.  Their overall theme is to be "bigger, badder, and better" than any other facilities in the nation, and offer a variety of extreme sports as well as team sports.  Go watch a BMX race to see our local talent compete with others from around the US. 

If you need a drink, check out the umbrella bar where you can find a variety of cool brews and even live music every Saturday evening all summer long.  To stay current on activities planned, like The Rock's Facebook page

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Run for Fun

Training with a group keeps you going
First let me say, I am not a runner.  The only real running I ever did was when I was forced to do it at Officer's Training School or some other form of military training.  I've had so many people ask me about where to run or how to find running buddies in the area, that I decided to ask some locals and share it with you.  I hope you will 'run with it!'

I wrote a book called, The Milwaukee Bucket List.  In it, I encourage people to try something new and one of the items could be running.  I suggested you could contact Performance Running Outfitters (PRO) to get started because that's the place my husband went when he wanted to get back into running.  They put him on a treadmill in a variety of shoes and supplied him with some cool tools to help him get out there again. They always seem in the know about which parks have good running courses and you can sign up for training groups depending on your level of ability. You can check their store bulletin board for the latest events.

PRO hosted a book event last night at the Brookfield location for the book Another Mother Runner, featuring one of the main authors, Dimity McDowell, as well as some of the ladies who submitted stories for the book.  Heather DuRocher is a friend of a friend and she was reading her essay out loud.  She traveled on the Lake Ferry (at her own expense) to be there and help motivate our local lady runners.  I must say...she was loaded with inspiration.  She shares her stories through a blog Michigan Runner Girl. There were about 200 women at this event.  Many were long time runners and had done some local runs.  Others had been to the Boston Marathon.  What encouraged me was that so many were just starting out, and not everyone was young and buff.  Finding a support system like a running store or group seems to be key in getting started and staying with it. Stop in at the Brookfield or Shorewood location to find out about training runs and programs they offer.  They may even turn me into a runner yet!

Dimity McDowell (author) with essayists Heather DuRocher and Amy Bailey

Some books you might check out if you're new to running or need some direction and support
Badgerland Striders is a statewide running club based in Wauwatosa which promotes running. Go to their website to find out where people are running for training, as well as organized runs. Hart Park in Wauwatosa has a track where you will find some of their members on Tuesday nights at 6:30. You can also learn about events at their Facebook page.

There will be many runs this summer hosted in our parks.  Here are just a few you could put on your calendar now, complete with links.  Some even encourage you to bring your dogs.  Most require advance registration so check the links for these important deadlines.

Walk, Run, Wag for Madacc- May 30 at Hart Park
Tails on the Trail- June 14 at Veterans Park
Hartfest Half Marathon- June 13 at Hart Park
Color Run- July 11 at Miller Park
The Great Amazing Race- July 19 at Greenfield Park
Run for the Parks- August 19 at Humboldt Park
Glo Run- September 19 at Veterans Park
Brewers Mini marathon- September 26 at Miller Park
Lakefront Marathon- October 4 starts at Grafton
Milwaukee Beer Run- October 24 at Veterans Park

If you're a runner, whether seasoned or an amateur, you might check out this Runner's website that gives a pretty comprehensive list of events in or near Milwaukee.  Maybe this will inspire you to get your athletic shoes on and get out there!  Or this Road Race Runner website that lists more.  Many of the local runs start or end in the parks, so it's a good opportunity to see a bit more of the parks.  Another comprehensive list with maps is available at Milwaukee Running Routes to walk, jog or run.

A few suggestions for outdoor running routes-  start from the War Memorial Center, on the corner of N. Prospect Ave. and E. Mason St. The most populated and scenic path is the paved Lakefront Trail that runs north from the Art Center along Lake Michigan. There's a great three-mile loop through Veteran's Park, which is just east of the south end of the paved Lakefront path. The park also has a 20 station exercise course.  If you cross Lincoln Memorial Drive, just north of the Art Museum, you can pick up the Oak Leaf Trail, with 118 miles of trails through some of Milwaukee's most spectacular parks.

Just south of the Summerfest grounds, you'll find the Lakeshore State Park, with paved trails that take you along the lake and connect to the river and the Hank Aaron Trail.

 Root River Parkway runs south from the duck pond of Greenfield Park (2028 S. 124th St.) through Whitnall Park (5879 S. 92nd St.), a nature preserve and a small lake. The loop is 12.6 miles one-way, so it's ideal for marathon trainers.

Seven Bridges Trail, in the city's Grant Park, is the perfect trail who wants to experience nature.  You may see wildflowers, birds, and just beautiful nature.

The Schlitz Audubon Center at Brown Deer Road, has six miles of trails through the 185 acres of land.  The Center is open from 9-5 every day and admission is $8 for adults.

The Hank Aaron State Trail now goes from Milwaukee's lakefront to the west end of the city.  Start at Lakeshore State Park and end at Doyne Park.  You can download a current map at the friends website.

You might also check out the list of rails to trails at the Trail Link website.  There were a few on there that I haven't been to...and it's always great to try something new.  They give a photo, a small narrative, and then you can see the trail on a map.  Let's get out and enjoy the great outdoors!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Great New Updates to Atwater Park

Atwater Park and Beach have been one of my top 10 choices for Milwaukee area parks for a number of years...and I gotta say, they just keep making it better!  It's been on my blog for a number of "bests"- best sunrise, best photo shoot site, best stairs for exercise, best playground, best family friendly beach with lifeguards, and best views.  Up until recently, it was mostly just a spot for locals because people driving by have no idea what a treasure lies below the street level park.  Then it made it to trip advisor and it seems everyone knows about it.  Read the reviews and you'll see what I mean. I can't give this park enough 'LOVE'!

There's a brand new playground installed at the street level which is all abilities friendly and has a nautical theme.  The wood chips were replaced by the super cushy foam surface.  You'll find a ship mast, helm, and a footbridge as part of the structure. There are still slides, ladders, and monkey bars.  The system cost Shorewood about $100,000 to have built and it's been used heavily since it opened this week.

The beach below opens to the public June 13.  They have lifeguards, provided by Milwaukee County, who rotate in from other Milwaukee county park beaches. You can walk the stairs or use the ramp to reach the beach, where you'll also find a couple of colorful, durable, play objects and a short boardwalk.  The nice thing about these sturdy structures is that they are large enough for adults too, because face it...who doesn't love playing like a kid?!  Bring your sand pails and shovels so you can bury each other in the warm soft sand.  There is a partial boardwalk on the north end of the beach and the village just approved funding for an additional boardwalk on the south end, which will be great!

Play structures large enough for adults

Get here early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise.  Many people like to incorporate the statue into the sunrise photos. You'll likely find others doing yoga, running, or taking pictures of the view. Occasionally you may see kayakers, paddle boarders, and surfers. It's quite a job getting your equipment down to the beach, but not impossible. Restrooms and changing facilities are at the top of the bluff.  Right now the toilets are portable johns. Last year the building was open during the summer with running water.  Look for a water fountain at the street side of the sidewalk.

Check out the Shorewood Waters Project Facebook page or website for some inspiration about work being done to the park.  You'll find events and suggestions for ways you can keep the water and beach  clean. Educational signs have been placed at the bluff side with this type of information. Bluff plantings have been done over the past few years and now you can really see it's making a difference.  They did it to prevent erosion.  Though much of it appears to be garlic mustard, it's doing the trick.
These stairs are very popular for fitness buffs

For fireworks, parades, and community events, follow Shorewood's Facebook page.  It's one of the better pages with frequent updates about what's happening.  They tend to post information not found in the mainstream media.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beer Gardens in Milwaukee Parks

The number of beer gardens continues to grow in the Milwaukee area parks and they are open for business! For all the beer gardens, of course, there are non-alcoholic options, so don't stay away if you're not a drinker.  They are meant to be family-friendly and will soon be the "go to" destinations for cyclists and hikers nearby.  There are bike racks for those who opt not to fight traffic.  Parking lots fill up fast in nicer weather.  You should really try them all because each one is unique in style as well as served by various breweries.

Humboldt Park has a beer garden again this summer,  after signing a five year lease with St. Francis Brewing Co. and the Milwaukee County Parks.  Located on the west side of the park pavilion, it operates 4-9 PM weekdays and 11-9 weekends.

Humboldt Park Beer Garden
Hubbard Park's Beer Garden in Shorewood is open for their second year of business, but only from Friday-Sunday during May.  As the weather gets nicer, it will be open more days.  You can reach it directly from the Oak Leaf Trail.  Look for the wooden gate and it will be open. Follow the Facebook page for special news.

The Sprecher's traveling beer garden is a repurposed firetruck and there are two of them this year visiting various parks.  Operating weekdays from 4-10 PM and weekends 11-10, you will find family friendly selections including pretzels and soda.

Estabrook's Biergarten is a great location for biking, and then you can cool off with a refreshing drink.  The Beer Garden is right along the Oak Leaf Trail in Estabrook park, at the top of the stairs to the river.  The views are gorgeous.  There is plenty of shaded seating.  Be sure to read the info signs they have posted on the walls of the building to learn more about beer in Milwaukee.  There's a long history in our fair city.  You'll even find an ATM at this location.
Estabrook Biergarten

Menu at Estabrook

Live music on weekends

The Friends of Hoyt Park Pool run The Landing at Hoyt Park.  This is a very active friend's group that has some great ideas for making parks more fun for visitors.  The Landing is behind the Pool and playground area and has a nice view of the historic bridge that goes over the river.  Be sure to take a look for a great photo op.  There's a full line-up of music.  You can see their schedule of performers at the events link.  

No matter which you choose, you're sure to have a great time and find a good beverage or two.  Which is your favorite?

Summer Concerts in the Parks 2015

The Summer concerts are starting up in June at local parks.  There are so many places you can enjoy a free outdoor concert this year. You can hear live music nearly every day of the summer!

Here's the interactive county park listing of all dates, so you can see what's available when you are.  Then click on any line for more information about the location, time, and performers.  These list only concerts, but the beer gardens at Estabrook and Hoyt Park Pool also have music on a regular basis.

The Rock Sports Complex has live music at their Umbrella Bar which has a great view too.  Every Saturday at 8:30 pm June through September.

Bayshore Town Center normally holds outdoor concerts in the Square on Thursdays, starting in June, 12-1:30 and again in the evening 6-8 pm.  Be sure to check the events calendar, because sometimes the performers are only doing one concert.

Shorewood will again host Wednesday evening concerts at the beautiful riverfront Hubbard Park.   Concerts start at 6 pm and are family friendly.  Food and drink are available in the Beer Garden.

Greendale Park & Rec has weekend concerts on Saturdays during June and July at Greendale Gazebo park in the business district.  The link will soon be updated with concert information.

Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation hosts ice cream socials that include music at Schoolhouse park across from the public library.  June 17 and August 5 have been scheduled.  They also do a "Sounds of Summer" outdoor concert on Silver Spring in downtown Whitefish Bay on August 22.

Fox Point normally does Summer Serenades at Longacre Pavilion.  More information will be available on their Facebook page.

Wauwatosa has their 2015 summer concert series at the Rotary Performance Pavilion.  Opening acts at 6, main performance at 7:30. Check back at this link or follow their Facebook page for more information about performers.

 Brown Deer will soon announce the Community Vibes series at Brown Deer Village Park..

Oak Creek has concerts scheduled at the Oak Creek Community Center. Look to this link for updated information.

West Allis has summer band concerts at Veteran's Memorial Park, and music in the park at the Police Satellite station.  Thursday June 19 & 26 are this year's dates.

COA Youth and Family Centers hosts Skyline Concert Series at Kadish Park (between the Reservoir and Commerce St) on Tuesdays from 5:30-8:30 pm, July through August.  This is the most family friendly environment for concerts.  You may find balloon artists, face painting, and other kid friendly activities prior to the concerts.

Colectivo Coffee hosts the Florentine Opera on Wednesdays in Riverwest & Bayview.  Then you can catch them at Colectivo on the Lakefront Thursday evenings.  Concerts are at 7pm beginning June 18.  Colectivo at the Lakefront also has a lineup on Thursday evenings that includes Latin music groups, which alternate with the Florentine Opera.

Villa Terrace Art Museum has their usual Sunday concerts beginning June 1, at 10:30 am with their Cafe Sopra Mare open for refreshments from 10-noon.  Although the music is free, you will need to pay admission to the museum, but then you can stroll the beautiful gardens and enjoy your coffee on the patio or in the courtyard.

Discovery World has Live at the Lakefront on Wednesday evenings beginning in July, running through September.  This is for grown-ups only complete with adult beverages.

Enjoy our free summer music!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Where to see Spring Flowers

Spring is really taking some time to get here.  I was hiking at Seven Bridges Trail today and found very few wild flowers in bloom.  I know they are coming though.  Get ready for it! Trillium can be found in many of the park ravines if you look for them.
Trillium at Estabrook near the Milwaukee River

Wild flowers in bloom at Grant Park's Seven Bridges Trail
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum has lovely grounds.  It won't be long and there will be a sea of daffodils on the hillside behind the museum.  If you want to see it for free, go on May 3 from 11-4, when the Milwaukee Museum Mile offers free admission to 5 museums- including two that are in parks- Villa Terrace and North Point Lighthouse.  North Point Lighthouse is always a treat too, and you can get in for reduced admission on this date.  $3 adults and $1 per child.  Take the opportunity to climb the stairs into the tower and see the lake before leaves cover all the trees.
Villa Terrace

Shorewood Nature Preserve is a bit tricky to find because it's just a slice of land stuck in between houses, but if you venture down the narrow path to the lake, there will be a sea of blue flowers in the woods to welcome you.  This is also a great place to see migrating birds, both in the trees and on the shoreline.  3600 Lake Drive.  Look for the small wooden sign and pay attention to on-street parking regulations, because they vary by time of day and day of week.
Shorewood Nature Preserve
Boerner Botanical Gardens just opened officially last week. It's a treat to go there no matter what is blooming, but I especially enjoy the sea of tulips they have on display.    Once these bloom, you can be sure there will be something to look at every week throughout summer.  The garden cafe is open too, serving coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and salads from 10-2 daily.  Be sure to watch their newsletter or events page for interesting things to see and do.  This would be a great time to buy an annual pass so you can go back as often as you like.  Remember that once you are a member, you can visit other botanic gardens, and the Domes at Mitchell Park for free.
Tulips at Boerner 

So many beautiful colors!

Call me crazy, but another beautiful setting I enjoy is Forest Home Cemetery.  Long ago when cemeteries were first formed, they were considered parks.  People would pack up the family and a lunch and spend the day there enjoying the outdoors while paying respects to dead family members.  The landscaping here is very pretty.  I was here last year when the irises were in bloom and really enjoyed the show.  There are plenty of flowering shrubs as well. This is the burial place for many of the beer barons and famous people who started Milwaukee.  Take a docent led walking tour if you want to learn more, or download the tour map from their website, or follow the Facebook page for tours.

If you want a more natural setting, check out the trails at Grant Park Seven Bridges Trail, Wehr Nature Center, Jackson Park, or Jacobus Park Nature trail. You'll likely find trillium, marsh marigold, trout lily, bluebells, and wild ginger.  You don't really need to know plant names to enjoy the view.  Jacobus park has interesting signage to help you learn more about what grows in the woods which makes it even better.  Mangan Woods in Whitnall Park is a spot to see unusual red trillium. You can find more hiking trails at The Park People website.
Seen at Wehr Nature Center trails

Jackson Park has these beauties
I hope this has given you some ideas about where to see some pretty signs of spring.  There are just a few flowers now so give it another week or two and you'll be sure to find something. Where's your favorite spot?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Milwaukee's Best Playgrounds

Milwaukee has a dazzling array of playgrounds.  I have never been to a city with so many wonderful choices.  You could choose a different park for every day of the summer and find unique play opportunities with every choice.  Why not try a few new places outside of your neighborhood?  If you're in need of a good map, the county parks have a completely updated map that is the most comprehensive ever.  You'll find playgrounds, trails, birding spots, and the complete Milwaukee streets system.  You can get it at the Park People website, and while you're at it, get a passport to have fun exploring the parks this summer.

Metroparent Magazine has a parks directory with point values which give you an indication of what to expect, though some of the information is dated.  It is still a good place to start if you're looking for basic area parks of all types, Most have photos, but be sure to look at the date at the bottom of the entry to determine how accurate it might be.

Milwaukee County Parks have 114 tot lots, and nearly all of them have been replaced in the past decade.  It's rare to find old rusty equipment anywhere, and if you do, you can be assured it's on the list for replacement.  Wood chips are being replaced by rubber matting.  Often the tot lots are placed nearby splash pads or wading pools.  Find a complete list of tot lots here at the county parks website.
Tot lot at Humboldt park, adjacent to a wading pool
Milwaukee Recreation manages a summer playground experience for free at a number of city parks and schools.  This begins June 22.  The link gives you addresses, park names, and a phone number for more information.  You don't need to preregister.  The program is for school age children (6-17).

Artists working in education (AWE) will be visiting parks again this summer. During spring, a truck comes to libraries with adults who work with kids (for free) to create art projects.  In summer, the trucks visit parks.  Follow the truck at this link to plan a meet up. This program is best for ages K-5th grade.
Your kids can do supervised art projects at the park
Look for the truck
Estabrook continues to be a favorite for us because there are two playgrounds with great equipment. The beer garden opens April 30. There's a skateboarding area, fishing pond, disc golf course, and dog exercise area within walking distance.  You can walk down the stairs to the river and look for fossils embedded in the stones or watch fish jump the mini falls.  The hiking trail along the river goes for miles, though you should be prepared for some mud. It's 2 1/2 miles from here along the Oak Leaf trail to nearby Riverside park which has an urban ecology center with a hidden slide which kids LOVE!
Slide at Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center

Washington Park has a series of mini parks, called pocket parks, done in a nature theme.  These are mostly climbing structures, so they are for an older child.  There are no swings in the pocket parks, however, there is a larger playground at the opposite end of the park which includes handicapped accessible ramps.  Be sure to stop in at the Urban Ecology Center if it's open.  Lots of interesting reptiles to see there.

Climbing structure at Washington Park

Nature themed pocket parks
Atwater Park in Shorewood will have a new playground at the top of the bluff by late May 2015.  They already installed some of the coolest equipment at the beach level and will have lifeguards again this summer, so this is fast becoming one of the best places for kid friendly fun.  You have the stairs for exercise.  There is a ramp for strollers. The view is breathtaking no matter when you go.  Sunrise is always a pretty sight.  Be sure to check it out in June.  The new nautical themed playground will feature ramps and structures to allow wheelchairs, similar to Possibility Playground in Port Washington.
Just one of the fun structures at beach level Atwater Park

Southshore Park has a nautical theme to its playground, which overlooks the water.  You'll find a little free library, sand pit, and exercise equipment for bigger kids (adults). Be sure to visit here on a Saturday some time this summer because they host one of the best outdoor farmers markets from June through October. Follow the Facebook page for more information about vendors and entertainment.  This park has a beach, which is normally not swimmable due to pollutants, but improvements are planned for the next 3 years to improve that.  This is going to become a premier destination if it can be corrected.
Farmers Market on Saturdays

Bring sand toys to play in the pit

Nautical themed playground at South Shore Park

For the widest variety in one location, check out Grant Park which has 4 playground areas and a lot of other fun spaces.  Hike Seven Bridges Trail through the wooded ravine. Check out the beach. Ferch's just won the concession stand bid.  They are already known for their custard, so I'm sure it will be a good place to stop on a hot day.  Beach volleyball leagues are starting in June too.
Wil-o-way Grant Park has ramps for wheel chairs

Grant Park
Wauwatosa has an interesting structure at Hart Park.  This is another accessible playground. The downside to this relatively new play space is a lack of shade.  Only go here when it isn't terribly hot.  On a hot day, drive a short distance from here to Hawthorn Glen where the playground is shaded and visit the nature center if it's open.

Hart Park accessible playground

Greenfield Parks are really nice.  Rather than list all of them, check out this review done by a mom a few years ago.  She and her kids visited all of the Greenfield parks and rated them on a scale of 1-5.  She includes comments about the condition of the structures and which have restrooms.

If you still aren't sure where to go, maybe you want to go see Cass Park , pretty unique with its art structures made by Marina Lee.  You can play chess on permanent tables constructed at Enderis Park. There's a large artificial rock at Hales Corners Park meant for climbing. Visit Lake Park where your kids can put on their own play at the nearby stage, after playing at the tot lot.  Doctors Park has beach access and lots of interesting driftwood. The swing park is covered so it's a great rainy day destination. Walker's Square has a farmers market, wading pool, and free wifi. McKinley Beach is just across the street from Colectivo (when you need your coffee fix) and has a nice beach. The City of Greenfield has slide shows on their website you can view to see what park you might like to try.  Village of Whitefish Bay has Cahill park with a sand box where all garage sale leftovers seem to end up-lots of trucks and diggers here.  They also have a playground at Klode with beach access (swim at your own risk). I'd love to hear all about your adventures!