Frosty Fun in Three Bridges Park with a three-year-old!
By Eddee Daniel
In memory of Hank Aaron
If you haven’t taken a three-year-old for a walk in a park lately, I recommend it. You know it doesn’t take much to get me outdoors and into our wealth of park lands. But it’s a special treat when I get to share my love of nature with my grandson Santiago. For anyone who doesn’t have a three-year-old in your life, I suggest you befriend some young parents who do and share the love. Santiago can’t wait to get bundled up and doesn’t much care where he goes as long as it’s outside. As Winnie the Pooh says, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”
On this morning’s outing we went to the Hank Aaron State Trail and Three Bridges Park, inspired by both Pooh and a Scavenger Hunt that is being promoted by Menomonee Valley Partners, the redevelopment organization in the Menomonee River Valley. The Scavenger Hunt is just one of a number of self-guided adventures you can find on their website intended to motivate people (who may need it) to enjoy winter outside. According to Pooh, “Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.”
So, come along with us as we explore the park and try to find everything listed on the Scavenger Hunt:
We park on Canal Street, next to the Valley Passage Bridge over the Menomonee River. As soon as we get out of the car we spot a beaver. No, not a real one, but it qualifies as “Something made out of snow.” And a pretty good likeness, too! We’re off to a great start.
We stop on the bridge to look for “A bird in the water.” Although we do not see one, we are not disappointed in the view! We take a cue from Eeyore this time: “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
While we are enjoying the long view of the river, our focus suddenly shifts and we see “Icicles” right in front of our noses.
“Animal tracks” are easy: they are everywhere! Although neither of us knows what animals left any of the tracks, they are fun to follow, to see where they lead. Some of the tracks lay right atop the snow, obviously made by small creatures, light enough not to break through the soft surface. Maybe mice scurrying from hole to hole.
Others are deep and more widely spaced, indicating larger animals. We speculate about a coyote slinking into the tall grass. Very probably, we think.
Before long Santiago goes off-script. Very interested in anything with wheels, his attention is drawn to the sound of trucks rumbling by overhead on the 35th Street Viaduct. Then he spots a whole line of railroad cars, each emblazoned with large letters. Together we read off the letters one by one: H . E . R . Z . O . G . He smiles proudly. We don’t care what it spells. Like Pooh, we know “There are days when spelling…simply doesn’t count.”
We also spot two very curious items that are not on the list. We can’t quite make out what they are, but they look a bit like carrot tops popping up from the snow. Or maybe the three-toed feet of some robotic giant lying underneath the snow. What do you think they are?
Back to the hunt. We spot “A bird nest,” complete with a kite-like tail made of plastic streaming out of its base. Birds will use what they find. Sometimes that includes discarded plastic.
“A bare tree” is another easy find. Some, however, create more of a spectacle than others.
Then there’s the strangely symmetrical tree that seems to have a chimney growing out of its center.
A large patch of desiccated milkweed stalks provides us with a “Seed pod.” Santiago brandishes one of the stalks like a spear as we make our way over the top of a large hill.
The hill, when we reach the other side, overlooks “A pond,” although quite solid for the season and covered with snow. (Whoever made up this Scavenger Hunt must have known about this pond.) Beyond the pond we point out the tall buildings of downtown Milwaukee and Santiago notices more trucks—and a BUS!—going by on the 27th Street Viaduct.
We very nearly despair of finding “Fallen leaves” since the ground is covered with snow. But then we come upon a whole tree full of unfallen leaves and we decide that we can count those. Oddly enough, some trees don’t drop their leaves in the fall when most of the others do, but rather cling to them until new buds push them off in the spring. It is called marcescence—but that is not in a three-year-old’s vocabulary. (In fact, it’s not even in my own! I had to look it up.) I knew beech trees and some oaks are marcescent, but this one looks like a maple. Beats me! (I’ve since learned from one of the naturalists at the Urban Ecology Center that sugar maples like this one commonly cling to their leaves until they reach sexual maturity, but I’m sure Santiago isn’t ready for that information.)
Heading back to the car, we cross the 33rd Court bridge, the second of the eponymous “Three Bridges.” Pooh comes to mind again: “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.” What we know right now is there are still no birds in the water. In fact, we haven’t seen any live animals at all. We decide we’ll have to make do with the many animals depicted in the mural we found at the Valley Passage Tunnel.
Big excitement ensues as we walk along the North Bank Trail. A whole line up of huge semi-trailers is parked between the trail and the Palermo’s Pizza factory. Then we spot another one driving along Canal Street in the distance.
When we reach Stormwater Park we take a final look at the Scavenger Hunt. “Bike tracks” are now visible (but not photogenic!) We probably could have checked off “Two types of trees” before now, but since we haven’t we find this stand of trees with at least two types.
Going off-script again at the end of our adventure, we spot a stick shelter in the stormwater ravine and wonder who might have made it and why just here, squeezed between the river and Canal Street. Children, like birds, build nests with whatever is at hand.
Just before we reach the car we discover another mysterious object that is not on the Scavenger Hunt. This one has a plaque, but the title, “Tilted Channel,” doesn’t help us figure it out. Looks a little like the Roadrunner stuck upside down in a chimney. The Valley is full of chimneys.
After our successful (or very nearly so) Scavenger Hunt, Santiago says “bye-bye” to the sculpture, to the river, and the trees. I remind him that Pooh would say, “But, of course, it isn’t really Good-bye, because the Forest will always be there… and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it.”
Most of this story takes place along the Hank Aaron State Trail, which runs along Canal Street and through Three Bridges Park. This post is dedicated to its namesake, Hank Aaron, who passed away recently at the age of 86. Santiago and I think he would have liked the hunt.
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail.