Saturday, November 26, 2016

Discover Historic Estabrook Park

The waterfall is a beautiful spot to visit in all seasons

My local park is Estabrook.  In all seasons, I am there. Biking. Hiking. Disc golfing. Playing beach volleyball (there's a seasonal net). Kicking a soccer ball.  Using the playground. Photographing birds or flowers. Watching fishermen. Enjoying a friend's company at the Biergarten. Petting dogs near the dog park. Checking out the rad moves of the skateboarders with my son. Even after visiting there for the past 11 years, there is still more to discover.

On Thanksgiving day, I decided to walk through the park, and checked out some places I had recently read about.  Have you read the Milwaukee Notebook?  Carl Swanson writes the blog. It's a great way to learn more about the history of Milwaukee, and he often covers parks. I decided to find the Indian rock he wrote about which had been used to grind corn, and thought it was very easy to find, based on his directions. Just look for the restroom building by the tallest tower, and it's just behind it next to the paved trail. Estabrook has a rich history of fossils, Indian settlement, mining, and swimming beaches. Browse the Milwaukee Notebook and you'll learn more about it.
The large holes on the left were apparently used to grind corn
As I walked through the park, I noticed a lot of work has been done recently.  Estabrook Park has an active Friend of Estabrook group, which you can follow on their Facebook page. They also cover the park history pretty well on their Friend's group page. On the Facebook page, I learned that volunteers on the burdock brigade recently cut down lots of burdock. They also lead hikes, do garden construction, and river clean-ups. You can join them for these activities. I noticed some new seedlings, repaired stair railings, and wooden benches where there are views of the river. I saw a man reading a book on one of the benches and thought it was a good spot.  This time of year, many hunters are sitting outside waiting to get their deer.  He was doing something more peaceful with a beautiful view of the river.

Some of the work has been paid for from Estabrook Beer Garden profits. The county receives about 20% back on any profits made by the various beer gardens, so it's good business for the parks, and for the beer gardens.  I think people who visit the beer gardens think it's a good deal. Milwaukee County Parks netted about $1 million in 2015, and I would believe it was even more in 2016 because there have been more opportunities to sell food and beer.


Under construction

Kilbourntown House is at the south end of the park.  It was moved here, and was originally in the downtown area called Kilbourntown. Owned by the Historical Society now, it is open to the public on weekends during summer.  If you visit now, you can peek in the windows and see the period furnishings.  There's a nice herb garden out front where I picked fresh herbs for turkey stuffing.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, like my son, you may want to go through the tunnel from Wilson Drive into the park.  Lately it's been painted in lots of graffiti. We've never seen any death eaters there, just for the record.
Tunnel from/to Wilson Drive
Go to the far south end of the park by Capitol Drive and you can see the bridge where most of the time you'll find fishermen.  You can hike the river trail from here back through the park to the north end. The trail is often at two levels and at this time of year, you'll have great river views, the sound of moving water, and maybe some geese overhead.  Work is being done on the entire length of the Milwaukee River Parkway Trail to prevent erosion. Head south and you'll find the Arboretum.  Head north and you'll go to Lincoln Park.  Sometimes I've seen bikes here, though biking on this trail is discouraged. I'm told it's because of the erosion, and the difficulty there is in sharing such a narrow path.
It's shallow here and often there are fishermen in waders
These geese are heading south



Thursday, November 24, 2016

See Santa in a Park

What could be more fun than taking the kids to see Santa in a park? Think roasted chestnuts, hot cocoa, and beautifully decorated trees. Here are some upcoming events where you will have photo ops with the red suited guy and his wife.

Christmas in the Ward features Santa in Catalano Square with Mrs Claus and her reindeer. You can take a carriage ride, buy cookies, or do some shopping while strolling through the Third ward.  This event is December 2-3. See the website for a full schedule of music and other entertainment.

The city will be filled with biking Santas on December 3rd for the Santa Rampage.  If you're a cyclist, get out your costume and ride.  Or if you prefer, drive to one of the stops on the route to enjoy costumes and fantastically decorated bikes. The ride ends at Lakefront Brewery at 1030, so you could definitely find them there and then walk across the river to the Swing Park. That's a lot of fun no matter what the weather.
The Santa Rampage includes hundreds of cyclists dressed in red
North Point Lighthouse at Lake Park will host Santa on Sundays, Dec 4, 11, and 18, from 12-4 PM. Purchase tickets at their website. Cost is $8 adults and $5 for seniors and children age 5-11. Younger children are free.

Santa under Glass is the name of the event at Mitchell Park Domes.  All three of the domes are open again. Santa and the little missus will be there Sunday, December 4, 12-3. And additionally December 10 and 17.

Head over to Boerner Botanical Gardens for their Holiday Gift Fair with Santa Claus. December 4 from 10-2. Admission is free. You can do brunch for the regular price. Bring a new unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots, and get $5 off brunch. There will be lots of unique, high quality gifts for sale from local artists.

Cocoa with the Clauses will be held at Cathedral Square December 10. 11-2. Free cocoa and cookies. Local restaurants will have meal specials.  Be sure to stop in at Classy Girl Cupcakes while you're there too.

A Very Merry Milwaukee is the Milwaukee County Historical Society's event, held in their beautiful building at Pere Marquette Park. Sunday December 11. 10-3. Admission is free.  Hear Mrs. Claus read stories and see the Milwaukee holiday treasures and traditions display. $7 gets you a photo with Santa.

The Milwaukee Zoo hosts breakfast and lunch with Santa, though they sell out in advance.  Take action today, and you may be able to get a lunchtime seating with Santa during December.  Or just visit the zoo for free December 3rd.

For a comprehensive calendar of 2016 holiday events, go to the 2016 Everything Holiday Event Calendar at Metroparent Magazine. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Black Friday- Get Outdoors

REI had such great success with their #optoutside program last year on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, that it is doing the same this year. State parks in many states, including Michigan and Minnesota, are offering free admission. You'll still have to pay to visit state parks in Wisconsin, though our local Havenwoods State Forest offers some nice trails and a nature center for free.

So what can you do to get outside? Weather will be cool (likely in the 40s) but not horrific, so why not bundle up and go to a playground with some kids? The county parks have 114 tot lots. To find one near you, visit the Milwaukee County Maps page or read my blog about what I consider the best playgrounds. Kayla's Playground in Franklin is super fun with a hiking trail on the property too. You'll see some equipment there you can't find elsewhere.


Lake Park has a playground, a burial mound, some nice trails which have recently been trimmed and groomed, and the lion's bridge for photo ops. Northpoint Lighthouse is open on Friday, November 12-4, so you can climb the tower.   This park has drawn lots of attention for the pokemon go users.  Maybe you want to download the app and give it a try.

Disc golf is fun and can be played with a group or solo.  Milwaukee county parks went to the pay to play system this year for the 5 main courses, so for a day it costs $5, or you can buy a permit for 2017 and play for free during December. There are five smaller practice courses where you can play for free. You need to bring your own discs. The courses have been improved over the past year to include concrete tee pads and new baskets.  The courses are somewhat protected from the wind by trees, and it makes for a pretty walk through the woods.
New baskets at Brown Deer Park
Do you like to hike?  You can download trail maps for local parks at the Park People website. With nearly 30 to choose from, there is a new place waiting to be explored. My favorite pick for this time of year is Kohl Park with a 2 mile trail that takes you through one of the few pine forests in a park. The scent of pines will stay with you long after the hike is over.
An old silo at Kohl Park, a former farm

The scent of pines is heavenly at Kohl Park

For a unique skyline view of Milwaukee while there are few leaves on the trees, go to the top of Kilbourn Reservoir Park at Bremen & North Avenue. There are steps on both sides of the hill for some extra exercise after a good turkey dinner, and a playground at the rear of the park at street level.
See Milwaukee from Kilbourn Reservoir Park

It's always fun to get near the lake. My kids love skipping stones or walking on the beach.  Check out Grant Park, which has a nice sandy beach with plenty of rocks. With three playgrounds in the park and hiking trails too, you're bound to find something to keep everyone moving.

Most restrooms are not open this time of year and portable toilets have been removed, so plan accordingly.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Holiday Lights and Walks in Downtown


Last night was the kick-off to the annual display of holiday lights in Milwaukee, and it signals a big change in the weather as well.  Now we'll have to start bundling up around here. With the early darkness and cold that comes with late fall, it's a great time to get out and see the 500,000+ lights making the city brighter.

For the full calendar of events, which includes Santa's mailbox, the Jingle Bus, Cocoa with the Clauses, and decorations at Grand Avenue Mall, go to the Milwaukee Downtown website.

The lights are featured at three different parks- Cathedral Square, Pere Marquette, and Zeidler Union Square. If you enjoy walking to see the displays, I recommend you sign up with Gothic Milwaukee for their holiday lights tour.  $10 per adult guarantees your spot. The tours run through the month of December and they often sell out. Book an available date on their website. The tour is just over one mile. There's a stop at Red Arrow Park for warm drinks and snacks, so bring some money to enjoy that. While you're at their website, check out the SHOP button where you can purchase a set of self guided walking tour maps which would make a great gift for an outdoor lover in your life.

For a unique opportunity to see the lights without people and traffic, get up very early this Sunday morning and do the circle tour with Brew City Safari.  The hike is 4-5 miles and cost is $5 per person.  It starts at 4:30 AM. If you've never been on one of these hikes, you'll find it interesting and get a lot of exercise.  You do need to sign up at the website and can see more details there.

Historic Milwaukee Inc. has two walking tours celebrating the holidays.  The winter tour of the Third Ward is December 3. The German Christmas Tour (which includes food) is December 17. Both tours are available on the website so you can sign up. This is a great organization that promotes the heritage of Milwaukee's past. I have been on several tours and learned a great deal as I walked with a local guide.

If you prefer to eat and sing your way through Milwaukee, sign up for the holiday bus tour featuring the holiday lights and desserts at Milwaukee Food & City Tours. Get out your favorite holiday sweater for the 2.5 hour ride.

For more outdoor fun, check the weekly schedule of what's happening at the Milwaukee County Parks page. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Rustic Roads and Hikes through the Kettle Moraine

Wisconsin has a network of scenic roadways called Rustic Roads.  You can read more about them at the Department of Transportation website, but here's an excerpt which describes the program briefly.

The Rustic Roads system in Wisconsin was created by the 1973 State Legislature in an effort to preserve what remains of Wisconsin’s scenic, lightly traveled country roads for the leisurely enjoyment of bikers, hikers and motorists.
To qualify for the Rustic Roads program, a roadway must have outstanding natural features along its borders. These might include rugged terrain, native vegetation and wildlife, or open areas with agricultural vistas that make the road unique. The road should be a lightly traveled, local access road. It should not be scheduled for major improvements which would change its rustic characteristics. A Rustic Road may be a dirt, gravel or paved road. It should be at least two miles long with a maximum speed limit of 45 mph.

These are most beautiful in spring and fall. Even though 'peak color' is past, you can still enjoy a drive and do some hiking where there are rustic roads.  There is still plenty of color, though it won't last long. We don't have any rustic roads in Milwaukee county, but there are some in the surrounding counties.  Today I took a drive on the rustic roads surrounding Holy Hill, shown above, in Washington County.  I didn't make it to the Basilica while the tower was still open. It closed November 1 and will reopen in spring. I wish it had been extended just a few more days, as often there can be beautiful views even past peak. This morning the fields were still full of fog, making for some interesting photos. You never know what you'll find on these rural roads, but since you are driving slower, you may notice some beautiful or odd things.  There are other winding, hilly roadways in the area too, with views of the treetops. Get lost and see what you'll find.

At the Fox & Hounds. They serve lunch on weekends and dinner during the week.

Loved this gorgeous dragon gate
When you're ready for some hiking, check out a nearby beautiful county park, Glacier Hills.  This is accessible from Highway 167/Holy Hill Road. You can download a trail map at the website link. They have trails from 1/2 mile to 2 1/2 miles. Friess Lake is at the edge of the park, and was formed by a glacier. You'll find plenty of other landmarks that show where the glacier came through. It's a diverse park complete with modern conveniences like heated flush toilets and a playground.  Bring your own lunch and have a picnic at one of the many tables provided.
During the winter you can sled down a lit hill. During summer there is fishing and swimming. With some easy to access wooded trails, you can get the leaves crunching under your feet, and I can guarantee you will see wildlife.  Today I saw hawks, woodpeckers, and a deer.
Free to visit

Friess Lake for swimming and fishing
Many trails are easy to find, even under leaf cover

A pine forest

Wetlands are a good place for birdwatching
When you're heading back to Milwaukee, take a detour on Scenic Road in Richfield. With a name like that, you won't be disappointed. You can catch it at Highway 175 just beyond the Kettle Hills Golf Course.  Here's just one place I found right at the corner of that intersection.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Lapham Peak Fall Hike

Have you ever had one of those days when you're exhausted before the kids are?  We were having one of those days Tuesday, so I packed up the car and we drove to Lapham Peak.  This is a state forest which requires an annual state park sticker or a day pass ($8). It's open from 6 am-9 pm and is quite a popular destination for both hikers and joggers, who live locally.

Though all predictions said we were already at peak a week ago, I found there is still a lot of color. In fact, I checked my best Fall photos from previous years, and most were taken the first week of November. The forecast is for a gorgeous weekend, so hopefully there will still be a few leaves left for you to see.  If not, the trails are still great with a layer of leaves to crunch beneath your feet.

Lapham Peak has a 45 foot tower, allowing you to see the color above the Kettle Moraine. You have to drive through the entire park and follow the signs to find it. The steps are kind of open, so if you have a little one like I do, I'd watch them closely. There are also slots in the railings which could be dangerous without supervision.


A portion of the ice age trail goes through this area.  It was 73 degrees and sunny when we were there so my granddaughter just took off her shoes and laid down in the leaves, thinking this might be a good place for a nap. Many of the trails are loops and can be identified by colored posts, so it would be easy to find your way, even without a map, but get a brochure at the pay station if you've never been here before.  We found benches along the trails, but you have to bring your own drinks.  This is a great picnic spot.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Healing Garden

Parks can be found in many strange places. We have one on the 8th floor of St. Luke's Hospital (2900 W. Oklahoma Ave) and it's open to the public.  With the entire valley out in front of you, it's a fantastic sight, especially with fall colors. Here's a photo from Saturday. Some trees are still green, but maybe leaves will fall before they color this year.

Called The Healing Garden, it was a labor of love, built with donations from both private and public donors.  It's a space where patients can enjoy the fresh air through the season.  There is even an indoor conservatory. Over 100 different varieties of plants are up here, including seasonal plants like mums now. There is an herb garden where you are encouraged to pick and smell. You'll notice sculptures as you make your way around the garden. Hours are 5 am- 9 pm. There's free parking in the garage. You'll have to make your way to the second floor from the parking garage elevator and find the patient elevators, then select the 8th floor.

The herb garden

Raised planters hold annuals and perennials
If you'd like to make a donation, you can have a brick placed in one of the planters. For more information, pick up a brochure in the Healing Garden, or call 877-460-8730.
Make an outdoor brick purchase
While you're up admiring the view, you might notice Leon's Custard is just across the street.  Make your way over there and bring cash (they don't take anything else) to try one of the best Milwaukee custards.
While you're in the neighborhood, Forest Home Cemetery is just down the street.  With an incredibly diverse selection of trees and plants, this is a fantastic fall destination. Here are a few photos from today, when we visited. Download a self guided tour at the website.