Sunday, March 29, 2015

A New Skateboard Park in West Allis

Radtke Park has a new skatepark installed
Last November a much anticipated skate park opened in West Allis at the northeast corner of National and 84th Street.  Because it snowed the day after the ribbon cutting, I just visited it this weekend.  They had hoped to build it sooner, but the original design ended up costing much more than they thought it would.  I've been following the project via their Facebook page, which is a closed group one can join to enter the discussion.  The snow and cold weather haven't stopped enthusiastic young people from using it all winter.  They even brought shovels from home to clear the snow.

I spoke with a few, of the nearly 40 people enjoying the park, about their thoughts.  It's very popular with a mix of all ages.  They seemed very pleased with the park and its layout.  It seemed crowded for a cool spring day, so that could be a problem as weather warms up and kids get out of school for summer. It's a good indicator that if more of these were built, they would be used.  There was also a variety of users- bikes, skateboards, and even scooters.  It was fun to watch them in action, but a few times there were nail biting near misses.  Users have to be really observant and watch out for the younger kids.  I'll just leave you with a few photos but encourage you to check it out, even if you're not a skater.  It's fun to watch these talented people in action.  For other skate parks in our area, check out my previous post which includes Estabrook and Oak Creek.

Urban Forest Maple Sugaring

Maple Sugar Days in Milwaukee County include tours of the urban forests
Wisconsinites are a hearty bunch, and those who live in the city are no exception.  We like to "live off the land", even when it's just for show.  Maple sugaring time is a great example.  In spite of having tall buildings and underground sewer, we are known for our urban forests.  In fact, we made the list of the top 10 "Best Cities for Urban Forests" a few years back.  When warmer weather starts to show, the sap runs in the maple trees around the city, and in a few parks, you can experience the art of maple sugaring.  That time is now.

The trees need cold temperatures at night and warm sunshine during the day.  Sometimes spring comes too quickly and we have a bad year for the sugar.  Once a tree has buds, the sap tastes bitter and can't be used.  I visited a couple of our parks yesterday to see how the process is going.

The Washington Park Urban Ecology Center had a group eager to learn more about making maple syrup- both young and old alike.  I met Eric as he took them on a walk through the park.  First stop was just outside the back door where a volunteer was stoking the fire and cooking sap that had been collected earlier.  It smelled kind of sweet, and kind of smoky.  The clear liquid was boiling and Eric explained that it had to remain boiling to cook off the water in the sap.  Though it was a large pan, he said in the end it would make about a quart of syrup.  When the liquid starts to get thicker and has an amber color, it is taken indoors to cook.
The wood stove with a pan of maple sap cooking
The hike went over the bridge to the other side of the park, near the band shell, where there were several maples.  Because there were no leaves on the trees, Eric explained how to identify the sugar maple by its bark, woodpecker holes, and the way the branches grew.  If a tree has branches that grow opposite to each other, it can be an ash or a maple.  The photo below shows one of the sugar maples.  If you are considering tapping maple trees in your own backyard, there's a good video to help you determine if you have a sugar maple.
Look for opposite branches on the tree

Many years ago, maple sap was collected in buckets which had to be washed and stored when not in use.  Someone came up with the idea to use plastic bags which can be tossed after the season is over.  the only downside is that they can blow off if the sap isn't weighing them down and sometimes critters like squirrels will chew a hole in the bag to get to the sap.  Larger healthy trees can support more than one taphole, so you may see trees with 2 bags.
Holes are drilled and bags hung

We went to Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park to learn more about tapping, as they were celebrating their Maple Sugar Days. I found Ken Keffer, Naturalist, tending a pot of sap cooking just before he spoke with one of the dozens of groups coming through this weekend.  He said he used to camp out in the woods as a child and help make maple syrup, but things were historically a bit different.  A handheld drill was used to punch holes in the trees and sometimes the spouts were made from sumac.  He later demonstrated how a sumac branch could be hollowed out using a hot metal instrument. It was hard work, but obviously something he enjoyed and still does as an adult.

Ken Keffer at Wehr Nature Center woods
Though most of the formal events are finished for this season, you may still see maple sugaring happening at Riverside Park, Washington Park, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, and Wehr Nature Center.  This happens every March so put it on your schedule for next year, if you want to experience this in person.  You can support the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center by attending their pancake breakfast April 4th, where maple syrup from the park will be used.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Milwaukee Microadventures

I consider myself an adventurer. I'm a person who likes to plan adventures wherever they can happen.  There are some that take a lot of planning and expense like a hot air balloon over the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, or a trip to Japan during Cherry Blossom season.  Though those are memorable and wonderful, I think it's equally important to have some fun right here at home in Milwaukee.  These close to home adventures are more like "microadventures".  It's not a word I made up.  There's a famous bicycling adventurer, Alistair Humphreys, who wrote a book about it.  He talks about how most of us work from 9-5, but have free time to fit in some fun from 5-9.  He gives examples in his book.  Follow his blog for some great photography and extreme adventuring.

It seems that this time of year (late winter) is extremely difficult for me and everyone else.  We're a bit tired of the cold.  There isn't enough snow in which to play.  We long for summer and sunshine. I'm reminded when I drop my son off at school and am asked, "what's new?", I have no interesting response. Have I become that boring?  Have you become that boring?

I decided to make up a list of some microadventures you can have right here in Milwaukee during the hours you aren't working. Since this is a blog about the green spaces, they will all include some portion of fun in a park or in the outdoors.  With a little brainstorming, I'm sure you can come up with even more.  Feel free to share your ideas and microadventures in the comments.

Pick up a Bublr bike and ride along the lakefront.  The bikes return March 16 to a station around the city. Get the mobile app for more information about locations.  I find it easiest to pick up a bike at Discovery World and then you can either bike north to Bradford Beach or head west to the Domes via the Hank Aaron Trail.

Fly a kite at Veteran's Park. The Gift of Wings kite shop is open year round if you need a kite, ice cream or other goodies.

Join a group outing at Lake Park.  Their events calendar has a variety of choices including bird walks, clean-ups, and yoga.

Learn to make maple syrup or do some birding at Wehr Nature Center.  Ask for a copy of the Oak Leaf Birding Trail map.

Take a picnic to one of the highest points in Milwaukee- there are three I have in mind, but maybe you know more: Sheridan Park along the bluff, Kilbourn Reservoir Park, or Juneau Park.  The views are pretty amazing right now because the leaves are all gone from the trees.  Or watch a sunset from Lakeshore State Park- it's the best view in the city, in my opinion (the sun sets over the city- not the lake).  Or if you're an early morning person, bring your doughnuts to the lakefront and watch a sunrise.
The view from Kilbourn Reservoir Park

The Rock Sports Complex still has a few runs open for skiing because they make snow.  Go strap on some skis and do a few runs.  Stop in at the Beer bar to try out some craft beer.

Take your camera out and shoot some photos.  Here's a blogpost about some of my favorite spots, and Shothotspot has recently developed a map of the best places in the county, which includes many of mine.  This is a site that automatically finds places based on photos posted all over the world using Flickr. Go check it out!

Download the Best of Brew City app to find out about what's happening today in our city.

Go to the Mitchell Park Domes to enjoy the indoor plants, concerts, or Saturday Farmer's Market.  The final concert is March 19 and it's a family beach party!  The Farmer's market is spectacular and runs through mid April. If you have a membership to Boerner Botanical Garden, entry is free to the Domes.

Become a member of the urban ecology centers (there are 3 to choose from) so you can rent seasonal equipment for FREE!  Go fishing, hiking, birdwatching, volunteer, take a class.  They always have something going on.

Sit on a swing at the Swing Park with some friends and be a kid again.  If you're not sure where to find it, put Trocadero in your GPS- 1758 N. Water- and get a bite to eat while you're there.

Feeling energetic?  See how many times you can do Atwater Park stairs or any others in the parks (the link gives you several options).  That will really get your blood flowing!
Atwater Park stairs

Go see the birds of prey at Schlitz Audubon Center and take a hike.  There's something happening nearly every day of the year at the center.

Join a spring clean up at a park or the river.  One of these is fun, huge (50 places to choose from), and very organized by Milwaukee Riverkeeper.  Put April 18 on your calendar now.

The Grohmann Museum's rooftop will open when weather permits.  Grab a 50 cent coffee in the basement, then go to the roof.  You can view the current exhibit, The Art of the Milwaukee Road, until late April for $5. This is a must see for anyone interested in railroads or trains.

Hike a part of the Oak Leaf Trail.  Most of it is paved and easy to access. There's an interactive map on the Park People website. A new printed map will be available with the passport May 1.

It won't be long before the rivers will thaw and it will be kayak season.  The lagoon at Veterans Park will be ready for watersports like stand up paddle boarding.  In fact, for more warm weather ideas, check out my previous blog with the "Not Bummer Summer list".  There should be no excuse for not doing something interesting.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Winter Farmers Market

The market is a busy place!
Missing your summer fix of veggies direct from the farm?  There's still a pretty wonderful place to find everything you need, and it's indoors every Saturday morning at the Domes through April 11.  Called the Milwaukee County Winter Farmer's Market, it is stocked full of vendors, music, gift ideas, and people.  There is definitely something for every taste and it won't break your weekly budget.

Parking is available in the front lot, where you'd normally park when you visit Mitchell Park Domes, but there is also plenty of overflow parking at the rear of the newly built greenhouses.  Traffic assistants are usually at the entrances and can direct you to parking.  Of course, if you need to do a drop off with someone who shouldn't be walking on ice or snow, just speak to one of the friendly assistants and they will allow you to do a drop off in the front of the building.
Park behind the Greenhouses and Domes where you'll find a paved walkway to the front door
The market has recently moved to one of the greenhouses, which makes it wonderful and warm.  Seven new greenhouses were built to grow the county's plants used for the Domes and other parks.  It's great to have all the space for planting and growing at one location. You can read more about the construction at Hunzinger Construction's web page.

As you enter, you'll find food samples, fresh vegetables, canned goods, coffee, and even items from the Friends of the Domes gift shop.  You can come hungry because there are pancakes with maple syrup, sandwiches, and other freshly made food, which you can eat at tables provided at the rear of the greenhouse.  I'll leave you with some photos of the people and goods we enjoyed.  Bags are provided by the vendors, but bring your own reusable bag, if you prefer. We ended up buying more than I expected.  Credit cards are welcome, but cash is preferred.

Be sure to check this out before the snow melts.  While you're there, pop in to the exhibit featuring trains through March 15.  Or wait until the spring floral show, That's Amore, begins March 28.   You will have to pay admission to enter the Domes unless you are already a member of the Domes Friends group, but the Farmer's Market entry is free.
These lovely ladies greet people with samples

Jams, pickles, and even pickled peppers

My son, Omar, always loves the lady musicians

A variety of potatoes

Winter veggies are available

You'll find a variety of mushrooms

An unusual looking mushroom- I picked up a basket to cook with some garlic chicken

They smell heavenly and look so pretty

Quite a variety of cookies- we tried the chocolate chip pistachio

One of our local Valentine baristas will fix you a great cup of coffee

Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter Fun at Lake Park

The benches haven't seen many visitors lately
It seems like the cold temps are going to stick around for awhile, so why not get out and make the best of it?  Lake Park is beautiful with all this fresh snow.  You don't really need skis or snowshoes to get around the park, though you can strap them on and take to the golf course.  The Lake Park maintenance crew from Milwaukee County Parks are very good about cleaning the paved trails so you can easily walk along in just your shoes, if you prefer.
You won't need snowshoes, but it's good exercise if you choose

The ice rink is frozen.  Open skate is noon-8 daily.  You'll need to bring your own skates.  The rink is open for hockey from 8-10 PM.  The rink is lit. You can park on the street or near the tennis courts for easy access. Restrooms are available in the building beside the ice rink.  If you're unfamiliar with the park, check out this map and look for number 6.
The outdoor ice rink is open and cleared

You can hike down the ravine to the frozen waterfall, for a pretty sight.  Or maybe you want to check out the lions on the bridges near the lighthouse.  The lighthouse is closed for tours until mid March, but they are hosting a pirate party on March 19, that should be fun. This is a fundraiser celebrating the 150th birthday of Dan Seavey, a pirate of the Great Lakes.   If you know your birds, there are plenty of them coming to the feeders, which are stocked with food by volunteers and park friends.
The stairs to the waterfall may be snow-covered

The lions seem stoic in spite of snow 

The lighthouse can only be seen from the outside until mid March due to renovations

There are always ongoing activities at Lake Park hosted by Lake Park Friends.  Check out their calendar to see what's up.  Indoor yoga is relaxing every Tuesday at 7 AM.  This is held in the building which houses Lake Park Bistro.  Enter to the rear of the building or through the side door and go downstairs.  You'll stretch your body as you watch the sunrise over the lake.  Whatever you choose as your activity, it's bound to be fun.
Yoga every Tuesday with Edie Starrett

Friday, February 6, 2015

Get Your Dog Sled Rides!

Having fresh snow is certainly a benefit when it comes to winter sports, and the best is here for you this weekend.  The Door County Sled Dogs will be giving $15 rides around a trail at Whitnall Park.  That is $15 per person, Saturday and Sunday, and rides start at 11 and go until 1 PM.  Lines usually form right away and they may not have time for everyone who shows up, so it's best to get there early to ensure you get to try this extraordinary experience.

Whitnall Park is a very large park, so maybe you need a bit more direction?  Park at the golf club house at 6751 S. 92nd st., which becomes a wonderful refuge during winter, complete with a roaring fire, drinks and snacks.  You can also rent cross country skis and snowshoes from a vendor at the Clubhouse.  There's a very nice hill right out their back door for sledding too, so bring your sleds and dress for the weather.
Bring your sleds and try the hill

Are you new to dog sledding?  These dogs are all rescues, and though they are called "Door County Sled Dogs", they are very much a part of the Milwaukee tapestry.  They spend summers in Door County and winter here in Milwaukee where they live with a variety of owners.  The main two people behind this effort are Rick & Bonnie (pictured below).  They even have a bus that transports the dogs to area events.  You can read more about all these lovely well behaved dogs, but it's better to just get out and meet them and the volunteers who work with them every day.  Your rides help them to be independent in meeting their food, housing, and veterinary needs.  You can also help in other ways by buying some Sled Dog swag, or making a donation at their website.
Bonnie & Rick with their bus and some of the team
 It truly is a total experience.  While you wait for your turn on the sled, you can pet other dogs and ask questions of the volunteers.  Kids will enjoy having so much attention given them, and adults will likely appreciate the work and skill these dogs give to people who enjoy them.  If you can't make it out for a sled ride, find one of the other meet & greet sessions they host.  The Party with the Sled Dogs event is a great family outing.  Follow them on Facebook for up to the minute changes and events.  You might even consider having them come to one of your own events.  I was lucky enough to have a dog attend my book launch last February at Boswell Books for my book, 101 Things to Do in Milwaukee Parks.  There is another book, Omar Meets the Sled Dogs.  If you purchase this,  all proceeds go to the Sled Dog organization.
Rick, Bonnie and Boo Boo at Boswell 
Omar trying out the musher position

You can meet the dogs and pet them while you wait

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Snowshoes and Fat Tire Bikes

Bring a sled for the younger snowshoers just in case they tire out.  Schlitz Audubon has nice views!
It's going to be a great week for snowshoeing due to the new snow we received over the weekend.  Most of the great places to snowshoe are the same places I mentioned in the last blog about cross country skiing, though you can NOT snow shoe on groomed ski trails.  You can use your snowshoes in any of the county parks and nature centers, as well as the state forest land.  Lots of options!

If you need to borrow snow shoes, there are several places:

Havenwoods State Forest has free rentals for both children and adults.  Get them inside the nature center building during any day they are open.  

The Urban Ecology Center(s) has an equipment closet that is available to members.  As I continue to say- this is a great deal.  Buy an annual membership and use all the great gear they have.

Whitnall Park Concession has snowshoes for $15 per session.

Wehr Nature Center also has snowshoes.

There's a fun race/event for snowshoers that requires registration, called the Yeti Dash.  It's being sponsored by the School District of Cudahy and held in Warnimont Park on February 7 at 9 am.  Let them know if you need snowshoes and they can be provided.  You can "race" alone or in a team of 4.  This is the 2nd year for this event.  Should be entertaining.  You can do a 3K or 5K course.  On the same day, you'll find the South Shore Frosty Hog, sponsored by South Shore Cyclery.  This is also at Warnimont Park.  You can register for $20 which includes food and drink.  It's preferred that you preregister, but you can also do it on the day of the event.  Even if you don't plan to participate, you can go to watch.

Dress in layers and enjoy!
 You can bring your snowshoes to another FREE event on Saturday, Feb. 7 at Brown Deer Park.  They are hosting a Winterfest which includes all sorts of winter fun activities.  I've posted the flier here for more information.  This may be the only time you get to see the Door County Sled dogs outdoors, as we haven't really had much snow this winter.  Go for the activities but enjoy all the great Sprecher food and drinks too.  You'll notice they include fat bike demos.  This is a fun way to extend the cycling season.  If you haven't seen these bikes, you're in for a surprise.  They are quite different than the usual summer tires.  If you have a chance to try it, do so.