Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hiking Mangan Woods

There's a mature woods, set between Whitnall Park and The Rock, that I had heard about but didn't know how to find.  Eddee Daniel of the Urban Wilderness Blog wrote about it in Spring. Eddee has some great blogs about nature and what you can find if you venture outdoors in Milwaukee county. I enjoy reading his posts, and know you will too. He's an artist and author, who uses his photography to make some great books. He offered to take me through Mangan Woods for a short hike this week. What a relaxing, beautiful forest it is.

Eddee standing next to one of the large trees- so big!
He drove and we parked near the golf course. Open the Whitnall Park link above, and you'll see the map with an arrow to Ross Lodge.  That's where the trailhead will be. There are no facilities here, so you'll want to bring water and use restrooms before you arrive. The hike is easy terrain and makes a loop so it would be difficult to get lost. This is one of the trails shown on the Park People list, so if hiking is something you enjoy, check it out to find more options.
Here's a map of the trails posted near the parking lot and also on the Park People website
For mountain biking, there are a couple additional trails in parks.  The Rock closed its downhill bike park last year, in spite of achieving fame outside the region for having the best gravity bike park. You could ride the lift to the top and take the trails down. It just never caught on here with locals to a point where they could make money at it. The hill is still there, but it's not open for business until it snows.
The trails are for bicycling too. Look for the signs.
In just a few short weeks, the woods here and all over the county parks will be full of color.  Keep this hike in mind for then, or try some of these Fall hikes I wrote about a few years ago. If you can go to the Rock's umbrella bar area, they have a great view of the surrounding woods and it is amazing with the right weather.
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Wave Action in Stormy Weather

Who would have thought there was surfing on Lake Michigan?  I didn't know about that until I lived here for several years and realized that when the weather gets bad, the surfers take to the beaches of Milwaukee.  For the past two Fridays, there have been large enough waves that both Bradford Beach and Atwater Beach were full of kite boarders and surfers.  Though it's not Hawaii or California, there are waves large enough to get a small ride, and they make the best of it.

Not a sight you see every day in the midwest

The toughest part of the sport may be just getting your board to the beach.  Now that all the beaches have ramps, it makes it easier, but a surfer has to be in good shape. You may also see surfers at other beaches, though Big Bay/Buckley Park does not allow any watercraft, which would include a board.
One surfer catches a wave at Bradford
Surfers at Atwater
The kiteboarders seemed to be having a great time in spite of huge gusts that sometimes carried them high into the air.  It sure looked like fun. Next time you see bad weather in the forecast, you might want to check out the beaches to see if the most adventurous boarders are out enjoying the day.
Kiteboarder at Bradford

Even a paddle boarder 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ozaukee Stairs/Hikes

Nearby to our north is Ozaukee County which has several wonderful natural areas.  I visited two of them this week in an effort to do some stair climbing.  It is not only beautiful, but gives you a great workout.
At the bottom of the stairs is a sandy beach- Lion's Den Gorge

The first place was Concordia University.  On their bluff is a winding path that leads to the lakefront trail, as well as a steep set of stairs.  This is a busy place whenever I've visited, no matter the time of year or day of week.  If you're not affiliated with the University, you'll need to check in with the gate guard to get a parking pass. There's no cost for using the facilities.
Something like 200 stairs

Or take the winding path

Once you're at the bottom of the bluff, you can choose to go back up the same way you came down, or walk a bit north to another quite steep path that takes you to the top.  This path does not connect with the other area, except over a lawn.  The entire bluff is a birding site and is planted with wildflowers, so you may see something of interest.  There were swarms of dragonflies while I was there.  Because the bluff is exposed, you will feel the weather.  The sun was beating down during my climb, so I opted to visit another park after a couple times up and down.

About 15 minutes north of this spot is a bluff park- Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve.  This area is quite shaded, but you still have incredible views of the lake.  Go deep enough along the trails and you can take wooden stairs to the bottom of the bluff, crossing the gorge and landing on a sandy beach.  There are numerous trails, but all of them loop back to the parking lot, so don't be afraid to explore.  There are a few which are stroller/wheelchair friendly- they are crushed limestone or boardwalks, while the other trails are wood chips. This is also a place where dogs on leashes are quite welcome.  September is a beautiful time to visit because of all the late summer wild flowers in bloom, but it will be even better as fall comes due to the large number of trees. Parking is available in two lots, with a couple portapotties in the second. Part of this area was once an apple orchard so you will see apple trees filled with fruit now.  You'd have to venture into some tall grass to get an apple though.

Large trees and boardwalks offer shade and easy stroller use

Stairs to the beach 
How do you like them apples?

There is a water feature, but the walkway near it just provides a small viewing point of some very green water. I saw a couple of slimy turtles, but no birds.  With binoculars, you might have more luck.  This is a US Fish & Wildlife waterfowl production area. Bring a snack and sit for awhile on one of the many benches or picnic tables along the trails. Enjoy the views.  I think you'll like it here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Logging some Laps at a Lagoon

What a glorious day it was yesterday!  I know lots of people made time for the outdoors. Some even went to street parties to watch the Packer game on big screens. I headed over to Estabrook Park and did some laps around the very small lagoon.
Estabrook Park Lagoon
This is always a good option when you want to listen to a podcast or some music. You can't get lost or run into anyone when you're doing a circuit.  My son, Omar, came with me so he put on his headphones and did a few laps too.
Easy paved trail
Most know Estabrook for the disc golf, skateboard park, or the incredibly popular Biergarten. That's all on the other side of the park near the river. The lagoon is tucked away across from the dog park. It's only .2 miles, so it's one of the smaller lagoons.  You can find out the length of the trails around the park lagoons in two places.  There's a list at Milwaukee Health Department with some of the lagoons and malls too. You can also click on the Milwaukee County Parks site and find your park.  At the bottom of the individual park maps is the distance of the lagoon trail.

During the peak of summer and even on some fall weekends when the Biergarten has live entertainment, parking can be hard to find at Estabrook, so I'll tell you a little secret. You can park outside the park and walk through a trail under the Oak Leaf Trail bridge.  This entrance is by Wilson & Diversey Blvd. The trail brings you out right at the lagoon. We went in this way, and noticed the graffiti on the wall of the bridge.
Go underneath the Oak Leaf Trail


As you walk around the lagoon at Estabrook, be sure to look out for the turtles, heron, ducks and even goldfish in the pond.  A few years ago I noticed there were large koi fish- bright orange. It's such an oddity. Then we had a deep freeze two years ago and the koi were gone last year.  This year, there are thousands of much smaller goldfish. You will likely see orange clouds of fish in the water. There are really that many. Now that you've had your walk, you've earned a drink over at the Biergarten.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Riverside Park Adventures with an Almost Two Year Old

 Exercising with a child can be challenging, but it can be done with the right equipment. I watch my granddaughter, who is almost two, a few times a week. My kids and her older brother have all been introduced to the parks, but this is the first season she's been able to enjoy the outdoors with me. We have a bike seat and a bike cart. I just had to get them out and put air in the tires so we were good to go. I'll tell you that the first time I took my bike out last week, I pedaled half a block and thought, "Wow, I'm really out of shape!  I can't even pedal this bike!" Turns out the tires needed about 40 more pounds of air.  Amazing what a fully inflated bike can do, even when you're out of shape.

We live near the Oak Leaf Trail. With all the extensions built in the past few years, there are few people who don't have a piece of the trail nearby. There are still extensions being built, so we're pretty lucky they continue to find funding. Milwaukee is a very bikeable county, and you don't even need to buy a bike. Bublr bikes are all over the city for rent and will be out until the weather gets nasty.
Oak Leaf Trail is more than 115 miles of biking heaven

The best way to find the trail is with the county parks map.  It's available at the Oak Leaf Trail link or with the Park People website. For $5, this will get you around to every county park and every trail. It also shows beer gardens, birding hot spots, the urban water trail, and mountain biking trails,  restrooms, and a list of county parks. I keep one in my car and one in my bike bag.

With Marlee in tow, I biked to Riverside Urban Ecology Center. I haven't been here in a few years and was surprised by how much everything has matured now.  Plants are taking over the place. When it was first built, you could easily see the bike parking and picnic area.  Now it's easy to miss it. The garden plots are rented out and all of them had beautiful food and flowers growing. Inside, we looked at the turtles, snakes, fish, and frog. What kid doesn't enjoy that? We also climbed the tower, checked out the lilypad pond, and of course Marlee tried the super secret slide.  Everyone loves it, and even a big person like myself can fit. Really fun for all ages.
Meeting the turtle

What's behind this door? Shhh...it's the slide!

This is the slide hidden inside

Plants started in pots on the upper terrace

Pretty lilies in bloom
Not only is this a cool destination for kids. It's a great place for adults who enjoy the outdoors. I met a brand new college student at Riverside Park afterwards and couldn't help but to gush about the fabulous programs right in her own backyard. For only $30, a student can become a member. Singles are $35 and families $45. Membership includes discounts on events, classes, and of course full access to the lending closet at all the centers.  This means you don't have to buy or store kayaks, camping equipment, snowshoes, gardening stuff, fishing poles, skates, sleds, etc.  You can just use theirs.  And even if you're a novice, they usually have a local expert who can help you out. Read about the benefits to membership. There's always something going on at one of the centers.

We played at nearby Riverside Park playground for a short while before we biked home again. Use toilets at the Urban Ecology Center before going there as the toilet building has never been unlocked in the seven years I've been going to this park. Overall, our bike trip took three hours and we were back home again. Marlee fell asleep within a block of the house. Mission accomplished.  I got my exercise and she got worn out.
All worn out after our trip












10 Week Challenge- Sweat an Hour Every Day

We spent most of the summer in Morocco, and because of the heat, we really did very little in the way of exercise. Needless to say, I never lost the winter weight I normally get each year. Worse yet, I added a bit more. I was thinking about exercise a lot but doing very little until this week.  One of the moms at my kid's school started a group to kickstart weight loss for the next 10 weeks, so I joined.  It's more of a support group, rather than an exercise program, so we all have to be doing something independently to move in the general direction of better health.

At first, I wasn't so sure this was the best time to get fit, but she got me to thinking. The weather is going to get cooler, in spite of the heat and humidity we've had this week.  Evenings are still fairly long with sunset after 7 pm, so even if you work, there might be an hour of daylight after dinner. There's a lot to do that would be active outdoors so I wouldn't have to be on the treadmill every day like my husband is doing. I thought I'd get back in the parks and do what my doctor has been telling me for the past 5 or 6 years- just do something that makes you sweat for an hour every day.  Even though I've written two books about Milwaukee, there are still places I've yet to visit.

My goal is to visit as many different parks as possible in this ten week period that ends November 15.  You can start at any time too and join me.  I'd love to hear from you if you're doing something active in any of the parks right now.

This week took us hiking at Doctors Park where the Traveling Beer Garden was visiting. The beer gardens are still open for a few more weeks, so you might have an opportunity to check out one before they close. It's a decent hike down the steps through the woods off the soccer park. We threw rocks for awhile but the waves were too big to do any real skipping.  Then we hiked back up the paved trail, where again it was shaded so it was a great time in spite of the heat. I hadn't been to Doctors Park for quite awhile, so I was impressed by what the Doctors Park Friends Group has been up to.  There are new directional signs to help you find your way through the park.  A new toilet building is also under construction.  This will be wonderful.  It's a rarity to find a working bathroom inside a building at a park now. They tend to get vandalized or used for illegal activities, so I feel lucky if I find a portapotty.  This park has a nice playground, a workout machine, new practice disc golf course, and a beach.  In fall, you might get lucky and see migrating birds coming through as this is a great park for bird watching.
New restrooms under construction

The beach is loaded with rocks, good for skipping

Paved trail through the woods


The stairs at Atwater Park are killer.  There are a lot of them and it's quite steep.  In the past few years, there have also been major improvements at this park, which include a boardwalk and a paved ramp, so you can still do the stairs for exercise, but on the days you just want an easier hike, you can take the ramp.  It's still a challenge, so don't think you're wimping out.  Now that the beach is closed for the season, it's been cleaned well and is still a beautiful spot to meditate, do yoga, walk, or play on the few fun pieces of playground gear at the bottom.  I did this a few times this week and find my calves are screaming at me right now. No one should see me try to get down the stairs in my home as I scream out with every step. This too shall pass.
Lots of stairs for climbing

The beach on Labor Day- lots of bees in those flowers

Aww...someone left a heart

Great swing for all ages and sizes
Wonder where I'll be going next?  Come back later to find out!  Lots more adventures in store!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, Canoe, or Pedalboat This Summer


For anyone wanting to try kayaking with friends for the first time or as an expert, we have a lot of choices for rentals in Milwaukee. There are also other options for watercraft.

Milwaukee Kayak Company has two locations.  The south river location has been open for four years now at 318 South Water Street, which is open seven days a week.  The new location this summer is at Schlitz Park, 1555 N. River Center Drive, which is open Friday through Sunday. You can choose a single, tandem, paddle board, or canoe. Reservations are encouraged and can be made from the website link for the main location.  Walk-ups only at Schlitz Park.

Clearwater Outdoors rents out kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards across from Milwaukee Public Market, but you can visit their store to make a reservation and pay. They also have a fun outdoor adventure club that offers social activities along with some exercise. You can combine yoga and paddling or dinner and paddling.  They even have a moonlight paddle.

Urban Ecology Center has always provided kayaks for its members. You need to take a safety class, provided at their locations.  You can get into a canoe on the lagoon at Washington Park with little fuss.  You can also borrow a cart at Riverside and put in on the Milwaukee River at Rotary Centennial Arboretum.  

Wheel Fun Rentals is the watercraft vendor at Veterans Park. They no longer offer watercraft at Bradford Beach. This is the easiest paddle and is great for beginners because you're on a still lagoon. You can't get lost. If you fall out, you can probably stand up on the muddy floor of the lagoon. They have kayaks, paddle boards, and pedal boats. It is open every day of the week.

For more information about where you can kayak, check out the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail map.