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Prairie wildflowers with a view of Lake Michigan at Bender Park

Photo Essay: Summer scenes from our wealth of nature!

4:12 pm  |  Topics: Places, Spotlight


I hope you enjoyed summer as much as I did! Now that autumn is upon us, I bring you a selection of the beautiful places I was privileged to visit over the summer. While some are familiar haunts, many were new to me and now are newly added to the A Wealth of Nature Find-a-Park map. Follow the links to learn more about each place and to see additional photos.

Lois Jensen Nature Preserve, Delafield

Steep wooded hills, and impenetrable wetlands, dominate this 30-acre City of Delafield preserve at the northern tip of Nagawicka Lake. The impenetrability of the wetlands vanishes in winter and the preserve is used to provide ice fishing access to the lake. Last winter I witnessed several teams dragging heavily laden ice fishing sledges about a quarter of a mile up and down the steep trail leading from the road to the lake.

My visit this summer was quieter. The preserve is adjacent to the Village of Nashotah’s Dickton Park and an approximately mile-long trail traverses its length, connecting Dickton Park on the west with Lake Country Elementary School on the east. I passed four others hiking and walking dogs. I also discovered a hunting blind but I have no idea whether it’s sanctioned or not.

Link to newly added Lois Jensen Preserve Find-a-Park page.

Dog walkers on trail, Lois Jensen Preserve
Dog walkers on trail, Lois Jensen Preserve
A panoramic patch of eastern skunk cabbage, Lois Jensen Preserve
A panoramic patch of eastern skunk cabbage, Lois Jensen Preserve

Ackerman’s Grove County Park, Town of Polk

This 68-acre park on the shore of Little Cedar Lake packs a lot into it. A lot of playing fields and picnic areas, as one might expect, but also a small woodlot with a lovely trail and, especially, the lake shore. Popular for fishing and boating—I’ve been here with my kayak. It even has a small beach that was pretty crowded the day I visited this summer.

Link to newly updated Ackerman’s Grove Park Find-a-Park page.

The beach, Ackerman's Grove County Park
The beach, Ackerman’s Grove County Park
Family kayaking on Little Cedar Lake, Ackerman's Grove County Park
Family kayaking on Little Cedar Lake, Ackerman’s Grove County Park

Bender Park, Oak Creek

Another park with a nice little beach, this one snuggled up against the boat landing breakwater. The day I visited both the beach and the boat landing were hopping. Since I like my nature less crowded I headed up the bluff to hike among the prairie wildflowers. There I found myself completely on my own—which has been my experience nearly every time I’ve been here. Great spot to get away from it all and still have a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan. (The featured photo at the top is from Bender.)

Link to newly updated Bender Park Find-a-Park page.

The beach, Bender Park
The beach, Bender Park
Menarda (aka Bee Balm), Bender Park
Menarda (aka Bee Balm), Bender Park

Nature Hill Nature Center, Oconomowoc

The eponymous hill, while not quite a mountain, is fairly precipitous for the area. The crest provides a panoramic view of surrounding Oconomowoc. Nature Hill is an Oconomowoc Area School District preserve located next to Nature Hill Intermediate School and used for environmental education. But it is also open to the public. A color-coded trail system leads through woodland, wetland and prairie. Rosenow Creek meanders through the preserve near the trailhead. A chorus of frogs greeted me when I arrived.


The fresh air and invigorating hike were lovely, but the real treats were large tracts of black raspberry bushes, which were just becoming ripe when I was there. By contrast, the mosquitoes, for which I neglected to prepare, kept me moving at a brisk pace.

Link to newly added Nature Hill Find-a-Park page.

A solitary hiker, Nature Hill Nature Center
A solitary hiker, Nature Hill Nature Center
A tapestry of daisies and black raspberries, Nature Hill Nature Center
A tapestry of daisies and black raspberries, Nature Hill Nature Center

Muskego Park, Muskego

This 193-acre park was purchased in 1958 as Waukesha County’s first regional park. A 60-acre woodland of hardwoods has been designated a State Scientific Area. While I’ve been there a number of times before (I especially enjoy seeing the beaver lodges and trying to catch a glimpse of a beaver), I went this time specifically to check out the beach. I had never gotten a decent photo of the beach, which felt like an omission. On the warm, sunny day I visited it was quite busy with a diverse crowd of families.

Satisfied with my photographic take, I then set out around the pond only to scare up a great blue heron from the shade under waterside bushes. It sailed smooth and low over the surface, swooping up to land on a log on the far side of the pond. I traipsed carefully around and approached from behind a shrub. But I needed have worried. I slowly eased my way closer and closer until I managed to get this shot of it. Uncharacteristically, it never reacted to my presence. The turtle sharing the log was a huge bonus!

Link to newly updated Muskego Park Find-a-Park page.

Panoramic view of the pond and beach, Muskego Park
Panoramic view of the pond and beach, Muskego Park
Great blue heron shares a log with a turtle, Muskego Park
Great blue heron shares a log with a turtle, Muskego Park

Scout Lake, Greendale

Most of this Milwaukee County park’s 64.3 acres is either woodland or the lake itself. A paved half-mile path goes around the lake and paved paths connect at several points to the neighborhood. I was nearby recently when it looked as though there might be a nice sunset and I’m a sucker for nice sunsets, especially if I can put a reflective body of water in front of them! Alas, the sunset petered out, as they so often do. But I used my new drone to get a nice shot of the lake from on high. Then I spotted a mother duck with two ducklings down low. Nice to balance the macro and micro when possible!

Link to newly added Scout Lake Find-a-Park page.

Aerial view of the lake, Scout Lake Park
Aerial view of the lake, Scout Lake Park
Mallard duckling, Scout Lake
Mallard duckling, Scout Lake

Stute Springs Nature Trail and Homestead, Palmyra

This trail offers a three-in-one adventure: the remains of an historical homestead, a lovely self-guided nature trail, and a scenic overlook from the top of a “Big Hill.” Stute Springs is just one of over a dozen established trails and trail systems within the sprawling 22,000-acre Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. An old road takes you into the forest to where Anton Stute established the original 180-acre farm in the 1850s. Some buildings and remnants remain. A mile-long Nature Trail loop along wooded glacial topography begins here. An additional spur trail crosses a broad meadow to the Big Hill. At 1,050 feet, it is the highest point in the park, with views (on a clear day) as far as Holy Hill, 30 miles to the north.

I especially enjoyed the wildflowers along the way. I discovered (thanks to my trusty iNaturalist app) two different tick trefoil species, as you can see from my photos, among many others. At several points the foot path crosses what in winter are groomed ski trails. Bring your mosquito repellent!

Link to newly updated Kettle Moraine SF – Southern Unit Find-a-Park page.

Ruins of homestead, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit
Ruins of homestead, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit
Showy tick-trefoil, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit
Showy tick trefoil, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit
Pointed-leaved tick trefoil, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit
Pointed-leaved tick trefoil, Stute Springs Nature Trail & Homestead, Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit

Forest View Park, West Bend         

West Bend is a city well-endowed with a variety of parks and preserves, large and small. This is a small one. The 12-acre city park gets its name (presumably) from its proximity to Gregg Preserve, a remnant forest with no established trails. The two are surrounded by residential subdivisions. Although basically a neighborhood park that features a typical playground and softball field, much of it is a prairie ecosystem that seems to be left pretty much on its own. A paved trail and gravel side trails allow people to wander through the prairie and enjoy nature at a leisurely pace. Tall grasses and a variety of wildflowers, native and non-native, dominate the landscape (including a third kind of trefoil). We all need a little nearby nature!

Bird's foot trefoil, Forest View Park
Bird’s foot trefoil, Forest View Park
Monarch butterfly on milkweed blossom, Forest View Park
Monarch butterfly on milkweed blossom, Forest View Park

North Beach, Racine

For an urban beach, this one is pretty spectacular. That’s not just my opinion. According to the city website, it has received a number of awards. I visited on a blustery day in July with thunderheads rolling over and it was still bustling. I was impressed by the ADA mat allowing wheelchair access, which stretches an enormous distance across the widest part of the beach.

I wasn’t there to swim but to explore the park and discovered a large swath of—to my untrained eye, very natural-looking—dunes. But I learned that they were laboriously created by the city from scratch to provide habitat, improve water quality, reduce erosion, and keep gulls from congregating on the beach.

Link to newly added North Beach Find-a-Park page.

Dunes were laboriously planted and nurtured to help protect the beach, North Beach
Dunes were laboriously planted and nurtured to help protect the beach, North Beach
What a lovely flower, I thought. Then I saw the signage identifying it as common soapwort, a highly invasive species, North Beach
What a lovely flower, I thought. Then I saw the signage identifying it as common soapwort, a highly invasive species, North Beach

Spirit Lake Preserve, Mequon

While I did post a story related to Spirit Lake this summer, it featured the current ARTservancy Artist in Residence as opposed to the preserve. But since what I found there was one of the most spectacular displays of wildflowers anywhere, I simply had to share a couple of my photos of them with you. Most of the preserve is former agricultural land, which the current owner, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, is steadily restoring to more natural states. The core of the property is centered around the lake itself, which includes well established meadows sheltered by a screen of plantation pines. Lovely in any season, but stunning in summer bloom. If you go, parking is limited to the grassy verge near the entrance gate, which is kept closed (making this another place where you can usually count on solitude).

Link to newly updated Spirit Lake Find-a-Park page.

Golden glow in the meadow, Spirit Lake Preserve
Golden glow in the meadow, Spirit Lake Preserve
Sweet black-eyed Susans, Spirit Lake Preserve
Sweet black-eyed Susans, Spirit Lake Preserve

Margie’s Garden, Boerner Botanical Gardens, Hales Corners

Boerner Botanical Gardens at Whitnall Park are, of course, one of the premier attractions in the Milwaukee County Park System and I visit with some regularity. But when I heard that they had just opened a new garden area devoted especially to children, I had to check it out. With my five-year-old grandson, of course. I loved it, but more importantly, he did too—mostly for the non-botanical attractions like the slide, the sonic features, the ladybug and frog sculptures, the little playhouses, and the little library. I especially liked the alphabetical garden and the real live vs. giant metal sunflower display, which we fortuitously caught when the real flowers were at the height of their blooming season.

Link to newly updated Whitnall Park Find-a-Park page.

Entrance to Margie's Garden, Boerner Botanical Gardens
Entrance to Margie’s Garden, Boerner Botanical Gardens
Display of sunflowers, real and sculptural, Margie's Garden, Boerner Botanical Gardens
Display of sunflowers, real and sculptural, Margie’s Garden, Boerner Botanical Gardens

It was a great summer, as you can see. But we are on the verge of the most photogenic season of the year. Our Find-a-Park map can help you make the most of it. The parks and preserves listed here are among more than 130 currently featured. So, get out and explore!

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and curator of The Natural Realm. Milwaukee County Parks, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, and Waukesha County Parks, represented in this story, are all project partners of A Wealth of Nature.