June 25, 2018 | Topics: Spotlight
By Eddee Daniel
Not long ago, while walking along the Menomonee River in Milwaukee’s Three Bridges Park, I experienced the magic of urban nature. Late afternoon sun lit the undulating hills with a golden glow when, suddenly, four great blue herons bolted from cover on the near shore. They flew several hundred yards downstream to land in the upper branches of tall cottonwoods on the far shore. To see so many of these normally solitary creatures at one time seemed miraculous.
Then, close behind me, a fifth heron stirred. With a loud, guttural squawk, it unfolded immense, angular wings and rose with ungainly haste. Once aloft, it glided gracefully up and over the thin band of riparian trees and circled slowly on slender, widespread wings that, in the distance, looked prehistoric. Skimming low over the water, it vanished behind tall grasses lining the riverbank. Farther on, it reappeared, swooped upward, stalled over the outstretched limb of a dead tree, and came to rest. The magnificent wings collapsed onto a suddenly svelte body, as if deflated. Mesmerized, I watched the heron stand warily on its perch where it had a commanding and enviable view of the river—and the glistening skyline of downtown Milwaukee.
There is powerful magic here.
Southeastern Wisconsin is the most urbanized region of the state and yet those who live here are blessed with an abundance of opportunities to experience this kind of magic. Our wealth of nature makes it possible. When Preserve Our Parks initiated this project, we called it “A Wealth of Nature” in order to express not only the abundance but also the quality and value of the parks, preserves, wildlife areas and other open space that exist near at hand. Preserve Our Parks has long been a watchdog organization advocating for these places.
Why the emphasis on nature? Having a personal connection to the natural world is essential for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being, according to Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Because it is so easy for our surroundings to alienate us from nature, those of us who live in urban settings have the greatest need to use and explore the parks and preserves available to us in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Preserve Our Parks understands that the magic of urban nature is fragile, evidence of a conditional reality. Society chooses to make this magic by preserving natural places where people as well as wildlife can flourish. Wisconsin can claim a proud history of visionary leaders—such as scientist Increase A. Lapham, local civic leader Charles B. Whitnall and state politician Warren P. Knowles—who identified and fought to protect important landscapes in the Milwaukee area and throughout the state. Preserve Our Parks is committed to continuing that tradition.
Furthermore, Preserve Our Parks believes that the greater Milwaukee region compares favorably with other urban areas, such as Portland OR, that have used their natural features to attract residents and visitors. The six-county area that this project showcases is bracketed by two world-class natural wonders: Lake Michigan and the Ice Age Trail. From Harrington Beach on the north to Chiwaukee Prairie near the Illinois border, a string of parks makes the shore of our Great Lake accessible to all, with Milwaukee’s peerless Lakefront and South Shore parks as the centerpiece. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail runs 1,200 miles throughout Wisconsin, following the line of the terminal moraines and other glacial features of the last Ice Age. In our area, the trail runs through the series of parks known collectively as the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Invitation to the website
Preserve Our Parks invites you to share in the magic of our parks and nature in Southeast Wisconsin through this new mobile-friendly website. Our intention is to introduce you to as many parks, preserves, and other publicly accessible places as possible. We hope that you will find it both useful and informative.
Find a park
The central feature of the website is the map showing the locations of many places where you can enjoy nature without traveling a great distance. The map page allows you to filter your search by location and activity. You can find a park within 5 miles or up to 50 miles from your location, within the six-county area of SE Wisconsin.
Select for activity
You can also select for parks that offer opportunities to hike, camp, kayak, hunt, and any of the other listed activities.
Browse park pages
Browse through the park pages to learn where to go and what to expect when you get there. Photographs enable you to visualize the places and numerous links are provided should you wish to investigate further.
The Natural Realm
In our blog, The Natural Realm, you will read stories and essays and see photos about a wide variety of places and topics relating to parks and nature in our area. Authors with diverse backgrounds and perspectives will be invited to contribute.
Become part of the project
We hope that you will also contribute. Our “Share your Story or Photo” page allows you to become part of the project. Maybe you’ve been to a magical place that you want us—and everyone—to know about. Maybe you’ve had an encounter with wildlife. Maybe you were moved by a special event or activity that you’d like to share. Please tell us about it.
Do you believe in magic? This is not the kind with smoke and mirrors. It is earthier and fundamentally wild. It inhabits secluded dells, windswept bluffs and running rivers, embodied in great blue herons and numerous other creatures. It has the power to heal. It reveals itself fully only to those with active imaginations and a willingness to seek out nature in surprising places. Places like Milwaukee.
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and the project director for A Wealth of Nature.