Three Bridges Park celebrates its Tenth Anniversary with a “Party in the Park!”
By Eddee Daniel
It’s a miracle that this place exists! I heard that from more than one person who attended the celebratory events commemorating the tenth anniversary of the opening of Three Bridges Park on Saturday, June 3. Indeed, miracles abound when you think about a beautiful nature park arising from the wasteland of an abandoned railroad yard in the middle of what was once the industrial powerhouse of Milwaukee.
One of the miracles, according to Melissa Cook, former director of the Hank Aaron State Trail (which runs through the park), was a coincidence of factors and individuals coming together at just the right moment for such an unlikely development to be approved, let alone built from the flat brownfield up. But you don’t have to know any of the backstory, the politics, the wheelings and dealings, the blizzard of different government agencies, corporate partners and private organizations involved, the grant money needed or any of the other funding challenges … you don’t have to know any of that to recognize miracles when you see them happening all around you in the park
There is the plethora of wildflowers every summer and fall that speckle the hillsides—hillsides that “grew” up from the rail yard using repurposed concrete rubble from the demolition of the old High Rise Bridge. There are the pollinators—birds, bees, butterflies and more—attracted by all the wildflowers despite their being surrounded on all sides by the most intensive human developments and neighborhoods in Wisconsin. I hope it never becomes a cliché to extol the wonders of nature wherever they occur, but here in this particular place, it truly seems miraculous.
Then there are the people who come to visit this magical place where nature grows in the middle of the city. Some live in those nearby neighborhoods, but many choose to come here even though they could very well have gone farther afield to more traditional parks. Most of all, there are the children. It is no mystery that the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) brings them in by the busload to get a dose of living with nature along with age-appropriate lessons about the environment, wildlife and sustainability. But even when there are no school groups present the park is often busy with parents pushing strollers and kids of all ages enjoying the discoveries that can be made here.
And many of them showed up on June 3 for the “Party in the Park” to commemorate ten years of operation. There were dance performances by two different dance troupes, a musical trio, an art exhibit inside the UEC, and guided hikes by three experts in the field (literally!), Corey Zetts, Executive Director of Menomonee Valley Partners, Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of the UEC, and Jeff Veglahn, long-time UEC Land Manager in Three Bridges Park. The concluding climax, for the younger set at least, was a piñata set up on the deck behind the UEC. A long line of kids took turns taking three whacks apiece. The line went around several times as the increasingly bruised piñata stubbornly refused to give up its treasures. Finally, one of the larger kids was given free rein to have at it until the candy rained down. Chaos, of course, ensued.
I asked a number of folks I saw there to reflect on the day and the anniversary. Here are a few of the responses I received.
“What a rewarding anniversary celebration! It’s hard to believe that in ten years time, all the plants and trees that we planted with kids and volunteers, in what was then a brand new park, have now become a full-fledged forest, offering shade to us all on a hot June day. It always amazes me how, when we partner with nature, nature gives back tenfold.” ~ Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of UEC
“Three Bridges Park is a special place to me. As a Land Manager, there aren’t many opportunities to see a project like this, of this size, from the very beginning and see it progress into a beautiful natural space over the course of ten years. But the best part of this project was working with the hundreds of volunteers that valued the park just as much as I did. They saw it as just as special.” ~ Jeffrey Veglahn, former UEC Land Manager in Three Bridges Park
“I am a citizen scientist for the Urban Ecology Center. I have been surveying beetles in the parks for over 5 years. Three Bridges Park is one of my favorite parks because of the biodiverse flora found in the native habitat that changes almost every week I survey.” ~ Heidi Meier, UEC volunteer
“Three Bridges Park is an ever-changing gem of shifting light and life that has increased the diversity of ‘who’ lives in the park year-round and seasonally. Watching the river change over time, or the daily shifting between Lake bore and River push is ever fascinating and ever calming. Dancing the Global Water Dance outside in Three Bridges Park is a joy.” ~ Betty Salamun, Artistic Producing Director of DanceCircus”
“Ten years ago I stumbled upon the opening of Three Bridges Park. I was excited to join the anniversary celebration and hopefully see some faces I hadn’t seen in a while. The park has changed a lot from its first days of blank dirt hills with winding trails between them. The park offers a lot to me: biking and hiking, a wild space to see birds, flowers, sometimes turtles, and on rare occasions a coyote or mink. It also offers programs about subjects that I didn’t know I liked, such as bat or snake censuses, and activities such as candlelight hikes, even removing trash from the river—all led by dedicated staff that make deep connections. I saw it in their faces that day.” ~ Scott Mason, UEC member and outdoor enthusiast
“Thinking back on the grand opening of Three Bridges Park ten years ago, it still makes me tear up a little to remember all the people who came out to celebrate. It was literally twenty-four acres of bare ground! And the generosity and creativity of the community who shared performances, activities, and music…it still blows me away. I love how clearly people could see the potential of this place, and “showed up”—that day, and then again and again over the past decade, to make it come to life.
“To have the chance to celebrate again, ten years later at the “Party in the Park”—what a delight! I felt the same energy, creativity, and generosity from all those who shared their gifts to put on such a fun event. And beyond the event itself, it’s remarkable to see the growth in this place, and to see how so much of what was being envisioned at the grand opening is now a daily reality.” ~ Glenna Holstein, former director of Menomonee Valley Branch, UEC
“I am thrilled to be part of the great story of Three Bridges Park. As we celebrated its 10th Anniversary on June 3rd with a Party in the Park, I was reminded of all the work and passion that has been poured into this park over the years. The creation of Three Bridges Park took a monumental effort by many partners and still today, this park is cared for and loved by so many. “I am thrilled to be part of the great story of Three Bridges Park. As we celebrated its 10th Anniversary on June 3rd with a Party in the Park, I was reminded of all the work and passion that has been poured into this park over the years. The creation of Three Bridges Park took a monumental effort by many partners and still today, this park is cared for and loved by so many.
I am honored to see the change in seasons and how all of the park’s communities come together—from neighbors going on a nice sunset walk in the summer, to the active beavers in the winter, and the monarch butterflies that return every year. Three Bridges Park is truly a magical place to be and connect with nature. It is a natural oasis right in the heart of the City for all living things to come together.” ~ Angélica Sánchez Mora, current director of Menomonee Valley Branch, UEC
“Ten years into the existence of Three Bridges Park, I still get overwhelmed every time I am here. I remember the history of this land, from the forced removal of indigenous communities to the heavy industry that lined the river banks. It really wasn’t that long ago that Three Bridges Park was a railyard, not a speck of vegetation growing here, and no access to the Menomonee River, which was wedged between all the rail lines. Knowing that, and seeing Three Bridges Park today, one of the places that always looks like Milwaukee to me—a true cross section of this community in all its diversity—and filled with so much life, fills my heart. When I stand here and see what this community did to create Three Bridges Park, I renew my faith in Milwaukee and our collective capacity to make positive change and feel so deeply grateful for everyone filling this land with love and life.” ~ Corey Zetts, Executive Director of Menomonee Valley Partners
For more about this event, go to the story on the WUWM 89.7 website:
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks, a former board member of Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail, a member of the UEC, and a former Artist in Residence for Menomonee Valley Partners. Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail and Urban Ecology Center are project partners of A Wealth of Nature.