Join our Email List!
Blog

Topics

 

 

Dates

Autumn panorama in Kletzsch Park

Autumn in Southeast Wisconsin: A Thanksgiving Treat!

1:48 pm  |  Topics: Spotlight, Stories


By Eddee Daniel

I’ve heard complaints. I complained a bit myself at the beginning. As you probably noticed, autumn came late this year. Some say it was more subdued overall. But I found a more complicated story that included some pretty spectacular displays of color, as you will see from the photographs. The cycle of the seasons is ceaseless, and yet, due to constant meteorological and other variations, no season is identical to those that preceded it in previous years. In 2019, you may recall, the entire autumn season fit neatly into the month of October. Not so this year. Though late in coming, brilliant splashes of autumn color lingered well into November when we might reasonably have expected the usual descent into wintry gloom.

Underwood Creek Parkway in Wauwatosa
For some reason that is a mystery to me, individual trees, such as this maple on Underwood Creek Parkway in Wauwatosa, explode into extravagant color earlier than everything else. Most years this happens as early as mid-August. But I didn’t find this early adopter until Sept. 29. Most trees remained unchanged at that time.

Some individual species—oaks in particular—were generally lusterless, turning quickly brown without much of an intervening reddening or yellowing. But other species—especially the exuberant maples—made up for that in spades! And, as of this writing, well past the middle of November, the weeping willows that stand tall around the Washington Park lagoon remained green, with nary a hint of autumn yellow. And so, in this season of Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks for the resilience as well as the beauty of nature.

A small burst of orange nearly smothered by still-green foliage all around at High Grove City Park in New Berlin.
A small burst of orange nearly smothered by still-green foliage all around at High Grove City Park in New Berlin.

And thanks, as always, for the wealth of nature that we have all around us in the metropolitan region of Southeast Wisconsin. In this latest installment of what has become an annual odyssey and tribute to all things autumnal in our area, I have made a special effort to find and explore parks and preserves that are new to me so that I can share them in hopes they will be new to you as well. You will find some of the tried, true, and well-loved parks in the mix, but it is ever my goal to bring you surprises and new places to explore. The links in the captions will take you to our Park Page for more information about individual parks.

First week of October and still very little color, but an explosion of autumn asters graces a meadow at Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park, Franklin.
First week of October and still very little color, but an explosion of autumn asters graces a meadow at Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park, Franklin.

In order to cover as much ground as possible, I am limiting this post to a single image per park. In some cases this is a huge limitation, for a few were truly spectacular and deserve greater representation. Kletzsch Park in Milwaukee, for instance, which gets the prize this year for most amazing display of autumn splendor. It’s one photo is featured at the top. Never fear, however! I have also created a Flickr album that includes many more images should you want to explore them further. The images presented here and on Flickr appear chronologically in order to illustrate the variability of the season.

Friends and I took advantage of an unseasonably warm day in mid-October to go boating on the Milwaukee River in Lincoln Park, amid still-green foliage.
Friends and I took advantage of an unseasonably warm day in mid-October to go boating on the Milwaukee River in Lincoln Park (Milwaukee River Greenway), amid still-green foliage.
Although I've been on many other segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail--and other parts of the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest--this was my first hike on the Brady's Rocks segment.
Although I’ve been on many other segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail–and other parts of the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest–this was my first hike on the Brady’s Rocks segment.
Friends of the Monarch Trail out sifting and spreading milkweed seeds
The Monarch Trail on the Milwaukee County Grounds is a very familiar place, but this was the first time I’ve been there when the Friends of the Monarch Trail were out sifting and spreading milkweed seeds. Cultivating and maintaining milkweed is essential to the viability and sustainability of the trail as a roosting site because it is the only plant on which monarch caterpillars feed.
Bluhm Farm City Park, named after one of the pioneers who founded Muskego is largely playing fields but has a nice woodland trail along the back of the lot with some enormous o
Bluhm Farm City Park, named after one of the pioneers who founded Muskego is largely playing fields but has a nice woodland trail along the back of the lot with some enormous old trees.
I discovered Frontier Park in Butler when I was exploring the Menomonee River 20 years ago and haven't been back since. It was especially nice to reconnect now as it was one of the best places for autumn color I visited this year.
It wasn’t until the last week of October that I could expect to find peak color in many area parks. I discovered Frontier Park in Butler when I was exploring the Menomonee River 20 years ago and haven’t been back since. It was especially nice to reconnect now as it was one of the best places for autumn color I visited this year.
Even as some places reached peak autumn color, others had already gone brown. This is an unnamed Waukesha County property adjacent to St. Martin's Woods State Natural Area near Big Bend.
Even as some places reached peak autumn color, others had already gone brown. This is an unnamed Waukesha County property adjacent to St. Martin’s Woods State Natural Area near Big Bend.
eech leaves (set against the still-green backdrop of invasive buckthorn!)
West Bend is blessed with numerous beautiful parks. This one is Regner Park, another autumn highlight. I just love the variegated tones of these beech leaves (set against the still-green backdrop of invasive buckthorn!)
The same day, just east of West Bend next to the airport, the colors were more subdued, most of the foliage already fallen from the trees, at Decorah Woods Preserve on the Milwaukee River.
The same day, just east of West Bend next to the airport, the colors were more subdued, most of the foliage already fallen from the trees, at Decorah Woods Preserve on the Milwaukee River. It was one of two Ozaukee Washington Land Trust properties that I visited for the first time.
The other OWLT preserve was Hepburn Woods, nestled amongst the glacial terrain along the Ice Age Trail. This one was resplendent in autumn gold.
The other OWLT preserve was Hepburn Woods, nestled amongst the glacial terrain along the Ice Age Trail. This one was resplendent in autumn gold.
The same rugged terrain makes adjacent Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area very popular with mountain bikers.
The same rugged terrain makes adjacent Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area very popular with mountain bikers.
While most of the action is at the other end of Grant Park, where the Seven Bridges Trail is mobbed at this time of year (for good reason), even a few golfers got to enjoy bold autumn colors as we turned the calendar to November.
While most of the action is at the other end of Grant Park, where the Seven Bridges Trail is mobbed at this time of year (for good reason), even a few golfers got to enjoy bold autumn colors as we turned the calendar to November.
Although not as popular overall, as a lure for photographers the mill pond on the Oak Creek Parkway in South Milwaukee is surely second only to Seven Bridges
Although not as popular overall, as a lure for photographers the nearby mill pond on the Oak Creek Parkway in South Milwaukee is surely second only to Seven Bridges Trail.
80-acre Sanders Park, a Racine County Park in Mount Pleasant, includes a DNR-designated Hardwoods State Natural Area.
80-acre Sanders Park, a Racine County Park in Mount Pleasant, includes a DNR-designated Hardwoods State Natural Area.
A river runs through it. This is Colonial Park, a lovely urban wilderness in the heart of downtown Racine.
A river runs through it. The Root River to be specific. This is Colonial Park, a lovely urban wilderness in the heart of downtown Racine.
It's not a park per se, but after several people recommended that I take in the autumn colors at Forest Home Cemetery, I did. Not only is it a beautifully landscaped domain, but you also get to examine the many curious grave sites of often-famous Milwaukeeans, such as this Blatz family crypt.
It’s not a park per se, but after several people recommended that I take in the autumn colors at Forest Home Cemetery, I did. Not only is it a beautifully landscaped domain, but you also get to examine the many curious grave sites of often-famous Milwaukeeans, such as this Blatz family crypt.
Again, after a number of recommendations and over a year on my to-do list, I finally made it to the Conservancy for Healing and Heritage in Franklin. Billed as southeast Wisconsin's first independently-owned, public healing garden, it includes a chapel and is situated on spring-fed Kopmeier Lake.
Again, after numerous recommendations and over a year on my to-do list, I finally made it to the Conservancy for Healing and Heritage in Franklin. Billed as southeast Wisconsin’s first independently-owned, public healing garden, it includes a chapel and is situated on Kopmeier Lake, a spring-fed kettle lake. My grandson, Santi, and I enjoyed the glorious glow of the peaking maples, in our different ways!
Frog Hollow, a preserve owned and managed by Waukesha County Land Conservancy, is wedged between Lake Nagawicka and I-94. The entrance is hard to find and there is only a short developed trail along one side of the property. However, it is beautiful and easily seen from the Lake Country Recreation Trail, which runs along another side.
Frog Hollow, a preserve owned and managed by Waukesha County Land Conservancy, is wedged between Lake Nagawicka and I-94. The entrance is hard to find and there is only a short developed trail along one side of the property. However, it is beautiful and easily seen from the Lake Country Recreation Trail, which runs along another side.
A blaze of maples glows through a screen of pines at Rudorf Farm Preserve, a Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation property on the west side of Big Cedar Lake in Washington County.
A blaze of maples glows through a screen of pines at Rudorf Farm Preserve, a Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation property on the west side of Big Cedar Lake in Washington County.
On the same day, across Big Cedar Lake, I found mostly bare trees at Fox Hill Nature Sanctuary, another CLCF property. This Guelder Rose Viburnum provided a bit of color in an otherwise lackluster landscape. But beautiful nonetheless with rolling glacial hills and broad trails.
On the same day, across Big Cedar Lake, I found mostly bare trees at Fox Hill Nature Preserve, another CLCF property. This Guelder Rose Viburnum provided a bit of color in an otherwise lackluster landscape. But beautiful nonetheless with rolling glacial hills and broad trails.
Although a little farther afield than usual, in Walworth County, I was intrigued enough by its name to go visit Natureland Park. My suspicions at the whiff of Disney in the name were quickly dispelled as I walked around each of the four looping, color-coded nature trails huddled around the southern tip of Whitewater Lake.
Although a little farther afield than usual, in Walworth County, I was intrigued enough by its name to go visit Natureland Park. My suspicions at the whiff of Disney in the name were quickly dispelled as I walked around each of the four looping, color-coded nature trails huddled around the southern tip of Whitewater Lake.
While I was down that way, I discovered the magnificent Rice Lake Nature Trail, which encircles Rice Lake at the southern end of the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest.
While I was down that way, I discovered the magnificent Rice Lake Nature Trail, which encircles Rice Lake at the southern end of the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest.
I’d been to this park in western Kenosha County before, but it has undergone a name change–to Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park (see the memorial in my Flickr album). And on this visit I discovered that what I’d seen before was but a fraction of a vast, 335-acre landscape (which is adjacent to the even larger DNR-administered New Munster Wildlife Area).
As late as the middle of November the season showed no signs of abating--at least in some places, as here at Lake Park in Milwaukee.
As late as the middle of November the season showed no signs of abating–at least in some places, as here at Lake Park in Milwaukee. I’m fond of trees. As you can tell. Some trees, of course, are better than others. I have admired this particular beech, perched on the edge of the north ravine, for years. Look at it in its autumn garb! A fitting conclusion, I think.

But wait! There’s more…. The season actually continues as of this writing on November 22 and I’ve continued to add photos to the Flickr album, should you wish to see more.

Related stories

2018: Signs of autumn in Southeast Wisconsin

2019: An October Odyssey

2020: An Autumn Odyssey of Discovery

2020: Autumn forays in the parks of Southeast Wisconsin

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.