Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley lights up for Urban Candlelight Hike 2022
March 2, 2022 | Topics: Events
By Eddee Daniel, with contributions from many others!
A voice calls my name from out of the darkness. Startled, I look around for its source. Shadowy figures spill down the icy slope in Three Bridges Park where I’ve planted my tripod in order to capture some of the action. One of the figures separates itself from the crowd and calls again. A familiar voice, but one I haven’t heard for years. We chat a bit in the dim glow of distant city lights, catching up, enjoying the camaraderie as well as the crisp night air.
It isn’t an isolated episode. Several times over the course of the evening I am accosted by friends and acquaintances, eager to share the joy they are feeling and the surprise of the encounter, there in the dark amongst throngs of people all bundled up against the winter cold. The chance to run into folks you know—or meet new folks—is perhaps one of the reasons that so many people have decided to bundle up and head out into a wintry night to walk together along icy trails through what is arguably the least natural of Milwaukee’s nature parks. And as for the latter, I’m sure that another reason people come is to experience this island of nature that is so starkly surrounded by the lights of the city.
As a long-time proponent of urban wilderness, Three Bridges Park is personally one of my favorite places in Milwaukee—night or day. In any season. Its value for city-dwelling humans is hard to overstate—as a symbol of resilience and hope as well as a refuge.
But don’t take my word for it. Here in their own words are comments made by a number of observers, some of whom were instrumental in organizing the event and others just heard in passing who were simply there to enjoy it.
“What a nice way to spend an evening with friends! Everyone had a good time—groups of friends chatted around fire pits, couples linked arm in arm, and kids bundled up and flopped around making snow angels. One tenderly cared for the candles on the path, making sure they weren’t buried on the snow. And the views were great! I’m very happy to have seen a little (new to me) slice of Milwaukee in such a special way. Thanks UEC!”
For the uninitiated, the Urban Candlelight Hike held in February each year is organized by the Urban Ecology Center (which has a branch adjacent to Three Bridges Park) and Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail (which runs through the park).
“It was heartwarming to witness so many people from the neighborhood and beyond, engaging with the urban nature of Three Bridges Park on such a windy, chilly evening. I loved watching the kids play in the snow and turn the slippery sidewalks into fun, miniature ice rinks. Events like this, where kids and adults alike can play outside in the winter, offer a change in perspective on these cold, dark months. Bonfires, hiking under starry skies, tasty s’mores, and cheerful laughter produced the power to reignite a shared community glow––rekindling appreciation and love for Wisconsin winter.”
~ Jessica Zalewski
“Taking advantage of one of UECs many events has been on my to-do list for a while! The candlelight hike was such an enjoyable way to enjoy the beautiful winter evening in Milwaukee with friends and a hot cup of Rishi Tea in hand!”
“It’s stunning to think that twenty years ago this area was vacant and avoided, with an uncertain future. Now thousands of people descend to the Valley on a cold February night to enjoy candlelit trails amidst over forty-five acres of restored natural spaces. The last generation can recall standing on the 35th Street Viaduct looking at trains in the former railyard in awe. This generation will remember a magical evening of winter hiking with their families by candlelight.
~ Michelle Kramer
“Loved the option to try the snowshoes! My son said he would like to go again!”
“I was so impressed with the number of babies strapped to chests and backs, as well as toddlers toddling in the snow. Families out on the trails on a wintry night felt so quintessentially Wisconsin, getting out to enjoy the outdoors together no matter the temperature.”
~ Corey Zetts
“It was my first time and I loved it. Very well organized. Awesome that you had so many fire pits along the route. Makes it much more likely that I’ll return next time even if the weather is colder. Great job!”
“I assumed the persona of Monty the Mammoth from the Ice Age Trail for the evening. Monty is a hit with people of all ages, but especially children. Getting young people into outdoor activities and showing how fulfilling they can be, that will make organizations like the Urban Ecology Center and Friends of the Hank Aaron Trail continue to prosper. The stronger the retention rate, the better the environmental stewardship, the healthier the world … it’s all connected.
“Now that indoor activities are beginning again, I’m hoping that all the outdoor fun people have experienced over the last couple of years doesn’t fade. I think outreach events like the Urban Candlelight Hike remind people how fortunate we are to have so many options for enjoying the outdoors relatively close to home. Keeping the spirit alive, this is why I spent my Saturday night as a 10,000-year-old mammoth. Kids of all ages will have fun memories of high-fives, hugs, and dancing with a cuddly mammoth.”
~ Karl Herschede
“I loved the set up for s’mores! It was nice to have the ingredients in the bag and the chocolate unwrapped! Very helpful for the adults who were helping the kids!”
“After months prepping this event and coming up with strategies to spread the word, it felt really good to see that there is a lot of interest for the Urban Candlelight Hike. It was very exciting to see the park so vibrant with people of all ages enjoying nature in the middle of the city during a wintry night. We hope to see them back for other events at Three Bridges Park.”
~ Anna Aragon, Urban Ecology Center
“We had a wonderful turnout and are thrilled with how well the night went! We could tell from conversations we had, and conversations we overhead, that many people were exploring the park and the trails for the first time while others haven’t missed a single year. It was such a joy to see the kids light up to see candle after candle along the trail and to play in the snow near various firepits where folks were gathering. The Urban Candlelight Hike in Three Bridges Park always brings the magic, and 2022 was no exception!”
~ Jill Maertz, Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail
“I cannot wait to return in the spring and summer!”
To learn more about Three Bridges Park go to our Find-a-Park page.
The comments quoted in this story were edited for length, clarity, and to avoid repetition. All images by Eddee Daniel. The Urban Ecology Center and Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail (FOHAST) are project partners of A Wealth of Nature. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and a former board member of FOHAST.