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2021: Year in Review

January 4, 2022  |  Topics: Spotlight, Stories

By Eddee Daniel

It definitely wasn’t the year we’d expected. After nine unprecedented months of COVID in 2020 we thought we deserved some relief, didn’t we? I know I did. But our hopes for a new year full of promise, peace and prosperity were quickly dashed by a relentless parade of bad news that seemed only to get worse as the year proceeded.

But you already know that. I’m not here to hammer that nail deeper. This is The Natural Realm, our journal of events, activities and musings about nearby nature in SE Wisconsin. And while the news on the home front was not all good, on balance it was far more uplifting than elsewhere. There were stories of successful restoration projects, art installations, community building activities, and explorations of new parks and preserves. Some of it was just plain fun!

Hawk Watch at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, story and photos by Kate Redmon,
Wisconsin Great Lakes Bird & Bat Observatory.

As usual, more than half of the past year’s posts were submitted by guest contributors, many of whom represent A Wealth of Nature project partner organizations. These included MMSD, Retzer Nature Center, Riveredge Nature Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Tall Pines Conservancy, Urban Ecology Center, and Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. Other guests ranged from regular followers of The Natural Realm to distinguished local journalists such as Susan Bence of WUWM 89.7 radio and Chelsey Lewis of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

If you’ve seen the posts from the past two weeks you may be noticing that this is the third “Year in Review” post. I’m not repeating myself! Week 1 was specific to ARTservancy. Week 2—the Year in Pictures—emphasized photography and was not limited to posts from The Natural Realm. Now in Week 3 I offer my selections of the best and/or most important stories (in my humble opinion) that didn’t fit in either of the previous categories. All links will take you back to the original story.

I begin with the single most significant story of the year for this project: Culminating my two-year stint as Artist in Residence for River Revitalization Foundation, the organization published my book, The Milwaukee River Greenway: A Wealth of Nature in the Heart of the City. After six months I’m happy to report that the book is selling nicely and has gotten a gratifying amount of coverage in local media (there is a list of links at the end of the story).

The rest are presented in chronological order:


Authors Martha Bergland and Jim Uhrinak returned with an update on restoration efforts at the Buffalo Speaks Reserve, which is located along the Niagara Escarpment and owned by Milwaukee Audubon Society: Prairie Seeding Honors Ancestors at Buffalo Speaks Reserve.

After a massive two-year project that involved the removal of over 1,700 linear feet of degraded concrete channel and subsequent restoration of a more naturalized riverbed MMSD and I brought you Kinnickinnic River restoration in Pulaski Park in text and photographs.


Jill Kunsmann, the Outreach Chair of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, offered illustrated suggestions for sprucing up your yard with Native Species: Our Home is Their Home.

Michelle Allison, Adult Programs Coordinator at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, steps off campus to take us on A guided—and illustrated—tour of Lake Park in Milwaukee.


One of the more serious concerns raised over the past year has been the issue of privatization in Milwaukee County Parks. WUWM environmental reporter Susan Bence raised the issue in Bradford Beach proposal stirs controversy over public access.

I discovered a surprisingly wild corner of the Milwaukee River Greenway and shared it in my story and photo essay about The Lincoln Park Wilderness.


In another return engagement, journalist Virginia Small offered up suggestions for Honoring Earth Day All Year, accompanied by my photographs.


Menominee Water Protectors Jwin Zillier & Dawn Wilbur at Estabrook Falls.
Photo by Danielle Kornitz.

I felt privileged to have been able to accompany a team of Menominee Water Protectors in canoes for An Historic Return to the Milwaukee River and Indigenous Roots, a story co-authored by Mark Denning, who is himself Menominee/Oneida.


I arose one morning well before dawn to get to one of the area’s most popular parks to bring you Lion’s Den Gorge: A Meditation on Photography.


What is Nature Deficit Disorder? Does it afflict you or someone you know? Ed Carter shares how to answer those questions, as well as what to do about it, while my accompanying photo essay shows where you can go to alleviate it in Nature Deficit Disorder: A Guide to a Cure.


Courtesy Root-Pike WIN

In a story provided by the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network we learn about efforts to restore Lamparek Creek in Mount Pleasant: Drainage Ditch to be Restored into a Living River.

From a small preserve surrounded by suburban development I brought you an illustrated meditation on wilderness and the importance of nearby nature in The Abstract Wild: Stigler Nature Preserve in New Berlin.


Doors Open MKE, Historic Milwaukee’s project to encourage citizens to learn all about their hometown, inspired me to revisit one of the city’s premier urban gardens: Doors Open to Alice’s Garden Urban Farm!

Martina Patterson, a Master Naturalist and Arts and Nature Educator for Nearby Nature MKE, led us on a tour of Milwaukee’s own mid-city state forest with Autumn Colors Hike at Havenwoods with Nearby Nature MKE.


Another important restoration project, this one from Petrifying Springs Park, was brought to you by Nancy Retana, Grant Specialist/Development Coordinator with Kenosha County Parks: Pike River Restoration: Enhancing the Watershed for a Cleaner Lake Michigan.

WUWM’s Susan Bence made a second appearance in The Natural Realm with a story about a new trail under construction along the Lincoln Creek Greenway in Trailblazers aim to bring nature back to Milwaukee’s 30th Street Corridor neighborhood.


Perhaps the most serious issue covered during the past year was presented byRebecca Stoner, Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Parks Foundation: Milwaukee County Parks are in Desperate Financial Straits. My accompanying photo essay illustrates what is at stake.

Finally, a visit to Three Bridges Park on a freakily warm December day led me to reflect on photography, climate change and the passing time: How do you photograph the wind?

Related posts:

ARTservancy: Year in Review

2021: The Year in Pictures

All images by Eddee Daniel, except as noted. Eddee Daniel is the editor and curator of The Natural Realm.