Join our Email List!





Retzer Nature Center hilltop prairie

The Gift Of Nature

May 10, 2022  |  Topics: Places

Our guest contributor, Kimberly, has a website and blog of her own that has long been an inspiration to me, as well as a resource for finding new places to explore. I encourage you to check her out at The Park Next Door.  ~ Eddee

Story and photos by Kimberly Mackowski

Additional photography in various seasons by Eddee Daniel

It seems as though spring is on the slow track this year.  Each week I look forward at the forecast, and it continues to spoil the party.  I’m not losing hope though.  One of these days the tide will turn and warmth and sun will hang on longer than a single afternoon.  Even so, I am grateful for the gifts of nature surrounding us.  Particularly when I think about three recent nature hikes I’ve taken.

A recurring theme in all three of these hikes is the gift of conservation.  All of them exist today because in decades past others saw the value in preserving the land, and leaving it intact for future generations.  They saw the value in preserving the land for wildlife, for the environment, for the earth.  They saw the value in preserving native plant life, for the birds, the bees, and every creature in-between.  They worked the lands, restored it where it needed restoring, and they made a plan to hand it down to future generations, and ensured its safety from commercial destruction.  A Gift of Nature indeed.

I recently visited Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha, The Conservancy For Healing And Heritage in Franklin, and Saller Woods, in Rochester.  They are all beautiful and peaceful natural spaces. All offer something special to those who visit.  And they all have a story to tell. A tale of those who worked to protect and preserve the land.  I’ve tried to include some of the history in each profile, but I encourage you to follow the links provided and discover even more, if you are interested. I am grateful to those souls who left us these gifts of nature. And I dream of gifts we can leave for future generations as well.

Retzer Nature Center. KM.

Retzer Nature Center

Retzer Nature Center is a public nature preserve and educational center in Waukesha.  Within its gorgeous 450 acres you will find nature hiking trails that wind through prairie, forest, and wetland habitat.  The property was initially owned and restored by John and Florence Retzer, who planted over 26,000 trees, shrubs, and flowers in their lifetime.  They donated the property to Waukesha County for park purposes only, wanting to conserve the natural life, and wildlife, for future generations.

The development of the nature center began in 1974, and has developed over the decades since to include a learning center, a planetarium, extended walking trails, an all-accessible boardwalk, restored native prairies, butterfly and rain gardens, and special event and nature educational programs available to all throughout the year. In addition to hiking, snowshoeing is permitted during winter months.

A recent feature on the Orange Trail, is the family-friendly Story Hike.  An illustrated children’s book is presented in displays featured along the .75-mile mowed grass trail.

Autumn Explosion. ED
Solitude Among the Pines. ED
Diverging Trails. ED
Rough Blazing Star in bloom. ED
Oak Savanna Trail. ED
Autumn Sunburst. ED

For more information and additional photos about Retzer Nature Center go to our Find-a-Park page.

Conservancy for Healing and Heritage Chapel. KM

The Conservancy for Healing and Heritage

Located behind the parking lot of the Reiman Cancer Center at 74th and Rawson in Franklin, the Conservancy is part of a 36-acre natural habitat, and includes The Reiman Healing Chapel, WE Energies Foundation Healing Garden, walking trails, and Kopmeier Lake. Their mission is to welcome all who seek wellness, respite, and peace.  Nature heals. The Conservancy embraces—and shares—the concept.

The land surrounding the forest and Kopmeier Lake are both remnants from the Ice Age. They are Milwaukee County’s only kettle and glacier lake. Recent studies by the DNR determined that the 10-acre spring-fed glacial lake has excellent water and no degradation.

Although the day of my visit the weather was a very unspring-like gray and cold day, the trails were still lovely. Bits of green were starting to pop out on the trees and skunk cabbage was blooming. The walking trail loop is short, under a mile. A large wooden staircase leads from the upper level down to the lake level trail. 

A visit to the Healing Chapel is quiet, peaceful, contemplative, and comes with a stellar view of the surrounding natural environment. If you’re visiting, take a few minutes to enjoy this calming space.

An early spring Healing Hike. ED
View of Kopmeier Lake through trees. ED
The Glow of Spring! ED
Chapel in Autumn. ED
Stairs and Pier. ED
The Joy of Nature. ED

For more information go to our Find-a-Park page.

Saller Woods Pine Plantation. KM

Saller Woods

91-acre Saller Woods was a gift to Racine County by Frank and Mary Saller, in 1996, in an effort to preserve the land in its natural state for generations to come. The land once served as a gravel pit during construction of Hwy 36. Mr. Saller spent years restoring the land, planting hundreds of trees, and developing the walking trails. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed spending time hunting, and in nature, with his son, Frankie, who sadly passed away in his early 30’s. The park is dedicated to Frankie.

Nestled along the Fox River, south of Case Eagle Park, the woodlands were to be preserved as a passive natural habitat, providing hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and plenty of wildlife habitat.  The county eventually added a connection to the Seven Waters Bike Trail, which goes from Burlington to the Racine/Waukesha County line.

As I walked the trails here, I passed several ponds, turtles basking on logs in the sun. I saw wetlands and marsh areas. Prairie, too. Some of the trails near the ponds were slightly flooded, but nothing a good pair of hiking boots couldn’t handle. A few of the trails were a bit hilly, but nothing extreme. The trails through the forest smelled of pine, and held a peaceful beauty, in spite of the sound of traffic passing by on Hwy 36.  You can easily lose yourself in these woods, amid the beauty and the birdsong. I certainly did.

Seven Waters Trail winds through a meadow. ED
Fox River Overlook. ED
Woodland Trail in Winter. ED
Round-lobed Hepatica, a woodland spring ephemeral. ED
Seven Waters Trail in Summer. ED
Saller Woods Pines. ED

For more information and additional photos go to our Find-a-Park page.

Kimberly Mackowski is a fellow nature-lover, nearby nature explorer, and blogger at The Park Next Door. “The Gift of Nature,” slightly edited for length, has been reprinted with permission. Kimberly’s photos indicated with KM. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. Eddee’s photos indicated with ED. The featured photo at the top of Retzer Nature Center is by ED.