Join our Email List!
Blog

Topics

 

 

Dates

Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park

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.

Beginner class of kayakers in the lagoon in front of the Urban Ecology Center.
Beginner class of kayakers in the lagoon in front of the Urban Ecology Center.

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.

Ice skating lessons during the annual Winterfest organized by the Urban Ecology Center.
Ice skating lessons during the annual Winterfest organized by the UEC.

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.

A mix of wildflowers and prairie grasses in a section of the park restored by UEC staff and volunteers.
A mix of wildflowers and prairie grasses in a section of the park restored by UEC staff and volunteers.

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%.

The orchard established recently by the UEC.
The orchard established recently by the UEC.

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.

A controlled burn in the park conducted by specialists and UEC staff to help control invasive species.
A prescribed burn in the park conducted by specialists and UEC staff to help restore prairie areas and control invasive species.

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.

A seedling newly planted by the UEC, dwarfed by one of the existing mature maple trees.
A seedling newly planted by the UEC, dwarfed by one of the existing mature maple trees.

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.

A pollinator bee visits a wildflower in a section of the park restored by the UEC.
A pollinator bee visits a wildflower in a section of the park restored by the UEC.

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.

A riot of asters in a section of the park restored by the UEC.
A riot of asters in a section of the park restored by the UEC.
Wild Space Dance Company in a public performance in the park.
Wild Space Dance Company in a public performance in the park.
Washington Park Senior Center also helps activate the park.
Washington Park Senior Center also helps activate the park.
Washington Park Wednesdays at the bandshell draws large crowds for performances by a variety of performing groups.
Washington Park Wednesdays at the bandshell draws large crowds for performances by a variety of performing groups.
Milwaukee County Parks has created a play station trail in a section of the park.
Milwaukee County Parks has created a play station trail in a section of the park.
On October 31, County Executive David Crowley (second from left) and other dignitaries dedicated the Washington Park road with a new name honoring Frederick Law Olmsted.
On October 31, 2022, County Executive David Crowley (second from left) and other dignitaries dedicated the Washington Park road with a new name honoring Frederick Law Olmsted.

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.