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View of Sanctuary Woods and Milwaukee Regional Medical Center from County Grounds Park

Wauwatosa Common Council to vote on resolution to protect Sanctuary Woods

November 25, 2019  |  Topics: Issues

Introduction and photography by Eddee Daniel with voices from the community

At a recent public hearing, unanimous support was expressed for the resolution, which would rezone the majority of the land popularly known as Sanctuary Woods from Special Purpose—Medical to Special Purpose—Conservation. The full Common Council will make a final decision about the resolution on December 3 at 7:30 pm at Wauwatosa City Hall.

Many, but not all, of the citizens who attended the public hearing have been steadfast proponents of efforts to protect Sanctuary Woods over the past two years—and the larger County Grounds going back 20 years. Here are quotes from a small selection of those who spoke. The most surprising, to me, was from a newcomer to the issue.

The ravine with ruined staircase at sunrise in summer
The ravine staircase at sunrise

“On behalf of Milwaukee Riverkeeper: we support the proposed zoning map amendment… for the area known as Sanctuary Woods. We appreciate the City of Wauwatosa and Common Council for listening to the public about their desire to protect this special piece of property. This 55-acre property will complement the 55-acre County Grounds Park, the 90-acre MMSD detention basin property and the 65-acre State Forestry Demonstration Area in providing important wildlife habitat at the confluence of Underwood Creek and the Menomonee River. It helps us achieve our community goal to “Save the County Grounds.” This is one of the largest remaining natural areas in Milwaukee County and it will provide an important natural and recreational amenity for Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County residents. We urge the City to continue to work with the County to ensure conservation easements are placed on this property to provide additional protection.”

~ Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Warbler nestlings in nest with open mouths waiting to be fed
Warbler nestlings

“Within the past month, the city of San Jose, California — the nation’s 10th largest city and “capital of Silicon Valley” — settled a 20-year-long and often acrimonious debate over development of its last large tract of open space. Corporations including Apple, Cisco and Google long wanted to expand into what is known as Coyote Valley, 940 acres of perhaps the most valuable real estate in the nation. In the end, San Jose agreed to spend $93 million to purchase Coyote Valley and set it aside in perpetuity, because its citizens refused to give up their last piece of open space.

“In parallel, but also in contrast, Milwaukee County citizens have also debated and battled for 20 years over the fate of the County Grounds. But neither Milwaukee County nor the City of Wauwatosa has had to spend one cent in its preservation. We, the public, have asked only that this already public property — our commons — remain as our commons. Tonight, we speak again, to say “Save the County Grounds.” After 20 years, we’ve heard that brief, imperative sentence echo over and over. This resolution to place the Sanctuary Woods in Conservancy is a last call to save this final unclaimed tract for the public good. As we conserve this last, precious place, we learn a new word for progress.”

~ Jim Price

Buckthorn brigade volunteers with a pile of cleared buckthorn
One of the volunteer buckthorn brigades with a pile of cleared buckthorn

“I want to thank the Common Council for the work that you’ve done to protect Sanctuary Woods in advance of the historic vote coming up on December 3. The people of Wauwatosa are not only behind you in this effort but also ready to be good stewards of that space. We have assembled a list of those ready to join a County Grounds Park Friends group to help maintain the land you are going to preserve.

“In the last two months alone, over 200 people have taken guided tours of Sanctuary Woods to enjoy its natural and historic features. In the last eight months, volunteers, in conjunction with the Milwaukee County Parks Department, have participated in three buckthorn remediations where Sanctuary Woods overlaps with County Grounds Park. We are prepared to continue this work. We have created an interactive website outlining the historical significance and some of the natural significance. It receives 1000 visitors per month. Thank you again for your support.”

~ Jonathan Piel

Red tailed hawk
Red tailed hawk

“The last two years have been harrowing, but also a rewarding adventure. I was able to meet many new people who were all working toward protecting the County Grounds. I also got to know many members of the Common Council. Over time, we’ve built respectful relationships with city staff and county officials and worked to come up with solutions to the issues at hand. Without this open dialog and cooperation, we would not be here today.

“Moving forward, beyond the rezoning of the woods, we hope to build on those relationships by continuing the discussion with the City of Wauwatosa and the developers, to be absolutely sure projects planned for adjacent sites are designed with environmental sensitivity and avoid any negative impacts to this precious area we are now protecting.

~ Barb Agnew, Friends of the Monarch Trail

Dog walkers crossing into Sanctuary Woods from County Grounds Park
Dog walkers crossing into Sanctuary Woods from County Grounds Park

The most surprising testimony, in my opinion, was from a new Wauwatosa resident who said he’d just heard about the public hearing that day and came on the spur of the moment to say this:

“I’ve lived in Oconomowoc for the past 10 years. It is a beautiful, small community with a lot of green spaces—a lovely place to live. Unfortunately, recently a lot of that area has been developed and the lake and parks and green space is [sic] starting to shrink and that is what convinced me finally to move…to another city. I moved here with my fiancé, now my wife, just last year. And one of the reasons I moved here was because of the beautiful spaces that are available here in Wauwatosa. Particularly the County Grounds…. I applaud those who have supported the initiative to turn this into a Conservancy and I encourage the Council to continue to do so when they do have opportunities to preserve green space, because in this day and age that’s such a critical portion of what makes a city special. It’s easy to go anywhere and find buildings and condominiums and businesses. To find beautiful green space and nature in a city with conveniences is very difficult these days and I really do appreciate Wauwatosa and I’m happy to be a resident here.”

~ Vincent Warczak

Oaks in winter snow storm
Oaks in winter storm

Again, the Wauwatosa Common Council will meet at 7:30 pm on Dec. 3 for a final vote on the resolution to rezone Sanctuary Woods as a Conservancy.

For a concise history of recent efforts to preserve Sanctuary Woods you can read “How Sanctuary Woods was saved. Almost” by Charles Mitchell, published in Urban Milwaukee Feb. 8, 2019.

Eddee Daniel is Project Director of A Wealth of Nature. You can see more of Eddee’s photos on Flickr of the Milwaukee County Grounds and Sanctuary Woods.