Washington Park: The Urban Ecology Center Perspective!
3:19 pm | Topics: Issues
By Michaela Rosenthal, Manager of Land Stewardship, Urban Ecology Center
Photography by Eddee Daniel
Since the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) Washington Park branch opened in 2007, we have had the privilege to work in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks, Washington Park Partners, Washington Park Senior Center patrons, our neighborhood schools, numerous student and corporate volunteer groups, community neighbors, and a variety of workforce development partners to help care for and activate Washington Park.
In its most recent annual thematic report, Landslide 2022, the Cultural Landscape Foundation focused on “The Olmsted Design Legacy” and included Olmsted-designed Washington Park on a list of at risk landscapes. The Foundation expressed concern that Washington Park’s historic landscape features remain at risk as “myriad local stewards and interest groups balance natural and cultural concerns in planning for the park’s future.” We appreciate the Foundation’s interest in Washington Park and we wanted to take this opportunity to provide some background about our ongoing work in the park.
From years of inter-organizational meetings, walks through the park with Milwaukee County Parks Landscape Architects and local Olmsted historians, a 100-year Restoration and Management Plan was developed by UEC, and approved by Milwaukee County Parks. The Restoration and Management Plan calls for twenty-one acres of land on the north end of 135-acre Washington Park to be restored to native plant communities by UEC. Park design elements that embody the original components of Washington Park, formerly West Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted Sr. were carefully considered and continue to inform the type as well as composition of the plant community planned for the landscape.
To date, UEC has restored seven acres of land to native plant communities and planted one acre as a fruit orchard. The restored native planting areas have provided habitat for mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, and birds while increasing opportunities for high quality outdoor experiences and environmental education. Now more than ever, native species are needed within our urban landscapes for ecosystem recovery, bolstering resilience, halting the loss of biodiversity, and restoring ecosystem trajectory in an age of climate change. Through the restoration efforts at Washington Park, native plant species richness has increased within the park by 95%, and bird species richness has increased by 22%.
We are grateful for the support we receive and to be able to help advance Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of “public spaces for all” while striving to achieve environmental justice within the Washington Park community space. Leading, recruiting, and training people from our city neighborhoods in daily land restoration projects has cultivated a sense of pride and connection to the land and strengthened community connections to allow for more inclusive conversations addressing accessibility, sustainability, and historical landscape preservation.
At UEC, we believe that by inspiring generations to build environmental curiosity, understanding and respect we can restore hope and heal our urban natural world neighborhood by neighborhood.
We acknowledge that the land and waterways we live on, steward, learn from, and love near Lake Michigan are the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples including the Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ho-Chunk. Past, present, and future caretakers of these lands and waters include the Ojibwe, Peoria, Sauk and Fox, Oneida, Mohican, Brothertown, and other Indigenous peoples.
Note from Preserve Our Parks: As stated in the previous blog post by The Cultural Landscape Foundation, “Milwaukee’s Olmsted-designed Washington Park listed as “at-risk,” which was the impetus for this response, Preserve Our Parks has not taken a position on the recommendations therein. The Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee County Parks Department are both project partners of A Wealth of Nature.
The photos included in this post are a small selection of Eddee’s work from Washington Park. You can view them all on his Flickr album.
Michaela Rosenthal is the Manager of Land Stewardship for the Urban Ecology Center. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and Project Director of A Wealth of Nature.