Lincoln Creek Greenway: Pocket of Paradise
October 2, 2020 | Topics: Events
By Sarah Bregant and Sierra Taliaferro
Photography by Eddee Daniel
Lincoln Creek flows through several of Milwaukee’s North Side neighborhoods. One segment meandering between West Congress Street and West Hampton Avenue has the potential to become a signature nature haven—or “pocket of paradise”—nestled right in the heart of the City.
This space is truly a gem and one that often goes unnoticed, which is why we conducted a history-themed nature hike in Lincoln Creek as a great way to physically bring residents into the space to explore the native plants, trees, birds, and other wildlife coexisting with us each day.
Almost immediately after venturing down towards the creek, participants noticed that traffic noise begins to fade beyond the line of trees, giving way to a sense of peace and stillness, despite remaining in the center of the city. We began noticing all of the different types of vegetation and beautiful fall flowers in bloom, the trickle of Lincoln Creek never more than a few steps away.
Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC) has been working on Milwaukee’s North Side for the last 37 years to improve the economic vitality and quality of life for our neighbors. Our community development efforts in this neighborhood, led by NWSCDC Community Organizer Danitra Jones, include working directly with residents and block watch groups to create a safe, vibrant, healthy neighborhood with opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in community-based activities and initiatives. Some of our recent efforts in the Lincoln Creek neighborhood have been to engage residents in green infrastructure and stormwater basin projects that help reduce flood risk while also beautifying public spaces with native vegetation.
Sierra, one of the walk leaders, provides the personal reflection that follows. Jennifer Wright, our other walk leader, described the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s (MMSD) efforts over the past 20 years to alter the Creek’s path in order to naturalize the flow and reduce flood risk. Directly south of this segment of Lincoln Creek, a related project being led by MMSD is presently known as the “West Basin.” It will be a large stormwater detention basin designed to capture rain from heavy storms before slowly draining into the creek. Approximately two acres of new community green space will be included.
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In the midst of a pandemic that has most people stuck inside, I’ve made the most of my time by enjoying the outdoors. The last several months have been challenging to say the least. Despite this, I make sure to ground my spirit in gratitude by visiting green pockets of paradise in the city, such as Lincoln Creek.
As we walk along the creek, I take it all in, from the abundance of migrating birds, to the asters and native sunflowers that lead the way along the trail. During this time of the season, we are reminded how healing nature can truly be. When we take the time to be still and behold the wonder that is right before our eyes—or right in our backyards—we can begin to see how much significance a place can have on our wellbeing and why green pockets of paradise are necessary for healing our community.
When I guide people to explore places like Lincoln Creek, I always try to let the land speak for itself, while providing commentary now and then. The beauty of the space doesn’t necessarily require words. Sometimes the silence and the view are all you need as you embrace the energy of the land. The land speaks to everyone differently, conveying a different message to everyone who explores it with an open mind and an open heart. That’s what makes any nature hike enjoyable. Simultaneously, you leave with a positive experience that lives with you. As a nature hike leader who always wants to encourage others to explore the outdoors, that is most important.
What’s fun about being in the Lincoln Creek greenway and bringing more people with me, especially neighbors who live nearby, is that we get a chance not only to explore but also to envision the future of what this green oasis could be for them and the community. What’s even more important than exploring is continuing the momentum of conversations we have here and making this spot a priority to invest in so that it can benefit everyone—including the wildlife. We must be advocates for the land and encourage others to join in and witness for themselves the magic of this space, too.
We left this space with positive energy and the experience enlightened a group of neighbors who are now more aware that they live near a pocket of paradise. Moving forward, it is important to leave the power where it’s always been—with the local community. We must make sure that they’re supported in the process of envisioning the transformation of this space. This type of work takes all of us; when we work collectively we can expand our impact beyond our wildest dreams.
Especially in the current political climate and struggle for environmental justice, it is good to remind the community of the power they truly hold. As we traced our steps back into the noise and commotion of 35th street, I was full of gratitude. Their glowing faces showed me that they left with so much more than a new point of view. They left with a sense of hope and something to look forward to in the future. For themselves, the community, and future generations.
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NWSCDC has been working to engage community members on the West Basin stormwater and public green space project for over two years, and it is not too late to get involved. The engineering and design process will formally begin in 2021 and will offer many opportunities for residents and local stakeholders to offer ideas on how to reimagine this space and better connect to Lincoln Creek. Our hope is that this community engagement and design process will incorporate trails that follow along this segment of Lincoln Creek so neighbors will be able to explore and enjoy this peaceful sanctuary for years to come.
To learn more about this project or to get involved, contact Sarah Bregant: 414-444-8200 x. 8104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Bregant is Community Development Specialist at Northwest Side Community Development Corporation. Sierra Taliaferro is a Milwaukee-based naturalist. Eddee Daniel is curator of The Natural Realm for Preserve Our Parks.