Coping with COVID: An Earth Day tribute!
By Eddee Daniel
I still remember Earth Day. The first one, in 1970, that is. The one that initiated the Environmental Decade of progress on clean air, clean water, endangered species and wilderness protection, among other remarkable accomplishments. That April 22 brought millions of Americans out into the streets. I was among thousands in New York. Not today, of course. Today, like so many of us, I sit alone at my computer. Today, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are in week five of the “shelter-in-place” order, with at least five more weeks ahead of us here in Wisconsin. Instead of taking to the streets to celebrate the milestone anniversary, we must be content with virtual gatherings online.
Fortunately, we can still go outdoors. And, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I do so every day. In honor of Earth Day, this morning I visited Three Bridges Park in Milwaukee and made this selfie as a tribute to the anniversary. It was a fitting culmination to a very busy week that found me all over our area in a wide variety of parks and preserves.
Although some parks have been closed to prevent unhealthy gatherings, most remain open. I have found some to be busier than others, but it’s still easy to find a place to go where there are no crowds (see our Find-a-Park map) and I’ve been to some where I saw no one else at all. On a sunny but cold and blustery day, my wife (above) and I had a lovely hike at Kratzsch Conservancy in Newburg all by ourselves.
Speaking of cold, that’s how it’s been most of the past week. Although it’s been sunny most days, the temperatures and wind chills have not been inviting. And yet the phenomenon of people out in parks that I’ve been documenting for four weeks continues unabated (with more and more keeping an appropriate social distance.) Some even seem to relish the cold. When I met Paul (above) at Quarry Lake Park in Racine, he was standing on the beach stewing about the prospect of swimming. Even in the wet suit it would be cold indeed. It was his first attempt this season, he told me. When it gets warmer and he’s in shape he’ll swim all the way around the lake, which is quite large. It takes him an hour. I took this shot of him going in and then left him to it.
I’ve been writing weekly for a month now about the opportunities the shutdown has provided me to show how people are coping with the crisis by getting outdoors and using the parks. While most of the activities I’ve documented have been recreational, it is never my intention to suggest that the shutdown is all fun and games. It is a great tragedy, of course, especially for health care workers and families of the sick and dying. It is a financial catastrophe for so many more. I met Lovell (above) as he was adjusting the outside of the makeshift structure he’s been living in next to the Milwaukee River for the past month. He worked for a florist previously, he told me. He was delighted to show me the Styrofoam model of a boat that he’s holding. He hopes to build a functional one to float on the river using solar power. He invited me inside to see the solar panel and generator, but since I was maintaining my social distance, I declined.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he probably wouldn’t have time to make his boat, since the construction of such shelters and living in the park is illegal. He knows this. In fact, he said that that the police and a sheriff had come by several times. After taking down his name and other information, they let him be. Later, I spoke with Milwaukee County Parks Director Guy Smith and I asked him about their policies regarding homeless people in parks. He told me that his Parks Department staff work closely with the County’s Health and Human Services Department to find appropriate housing for people before dismantling any self-made shelters.
Lovell’s was just one of four occupied shelters I noticed on an hour-long walk in the Milwaukee River Greenway. While this is not a new phenomenon, the scale of it has intensified during the coronavirus crisis as group homeless shelters struggle with unprecedented demands and vulnerable populations.
We’re all coping with the “new normal” as best we can. I met with Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee’s Riverkeeper (above), yesterday on the banks of the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa, where she was being interviewed by a news team from Channel 58. Since Milwaukee Riverkeeper has had to postpone its annual Earth Day Clean Up of the rivers, she is promoting a Do-it-Yourself Spring Cleanup to supporters instead.
Although I knew that the Kettle Moraine State Forest was closed, I wanted to go see for myself what that meant in such a vast park. I discovered that it meant all of the parking lots are gated, roped off or barricaded. That keeps most people away, but not everyone. I stopped briefly along the road where a few other cars were illegally parked, outside the gated entrance to the Ice Age Trailhead. I jumped out and was lucky enough to catch this family on the trail before going on my way.
Here then, in no particular order, are the other places I visited this week and the people I encountered.
This is the sixth installment in our “Coping with COVID” series. Here are the previous ones:
Remember, our “Find-a-Park” map is here to help you— yes! —find a park. Please observe safe personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines when you head out for fresh air, exercise and a healthy dose of nature. And, as always, take only pictures and leave only footprints.
To see the complete set of chronological images in over 80 different places, all taken during the COVID-19 shutdown, go to Eddee’s Flickr album.
Milwaukee County Parks Department and Milwaukee Riverkeeper are project partners of A Wealth of Nature.
The featured image at the top is from County Grounds Park in Wauwatosa. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and A Wealth of Nature Project Director. All images in today’s photo essay were shot in the past week.