Saturday, December 29, 2012

Riverside Park- the Urban Ecology Center

We never seem to be able to pass by the Urban Ecology Center (1500 E. Park Place) when we are on a walk or bike ride on the Oak Leaf Trail.  It's so accessible and interesting for all ages.  It's in the middle of Riverside park, right on the bike path, and has a pedestrian bridge over the path so you can easily reach the river from above.  This time of year, if you find yourself out enjoying the park or the trails, you should stop in too!  The crazy thing is that I have never actually driven there.  We often begin at the playground off of Oakland and walk over, or come by bike and enter from the trail.  You could always drive directly there, but then you'd miss the fun of the rest of the park.
You can get up close and personal to a snake
My son loves this slide which is
accessed by a secret entrance in the wall!
Once inside there are animals to see and displays about nature.  You can try a musical instrument or play a game.  The bathrooms are nice and water fountains available.  There's a meeting room in the basement you can rent for special events.  

If you're looking for some activities both outdoors and indoors, you can check their website which has a calendar of events.  Coming up this week is a Sunday program on water, and a weed-out.  During warmer months, you can use kayaks or climb the rock wall.  There are student and adult learning programs here.  It's a hub of activity on most weekends.

The building itself is quite impressive as it is green.  It has solar panels (in fact it is the largest solar power station in WI, according to their website!), finds a way to reuse rain water to flush toilets, and uses a number of recycled products.  Be sure to walk around and take a look at what they've done.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dog Sledding in Whitnall Park

There's snow in the forecast and I'm hoping for 5 or more inches, because that means there will be enough snow for the Door County Sled Dogs to make their appearance at Whitnall Park soon!  If you've never tried this before, you should come out and see it.  The dogs are beautiful.  The kids who love dogs REALLY love this.  You can call the automated sled dog hotline 414-967-9677 to see if they will be there on any Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 1 pm, starting Jan 7 through March, weather permitting.  Cost is $15 per person and 2 people per sled as a rule.

Here's an excerpt from the information on their Facebook page.  You can always like their page and follow their activities.  They have some great photos of the dogs.  I think it's a fantastic service they offer to our community.

General Information For all interested in rescues, sled dogs, and community. The Door County Sled Dogs are a recreational sled dog team (all rescues) consisting of nine purebred Siberian Huskies, two Alaskan Huskies, one very special collie/husky mix and two human mushers: Rick Desotelle and Bonnie Ulrich. Our dogs are a “recreational mid-distance” team that participates in races, fun runs, leisurely trail rides, and many special community events. In addition, since the huskies are also pets who love children, people, and running, they provide dog sled rides to the general public on weekends in both Milwaukee and Door 
County – wherever they happen to be at a particular time! 

Whitnall Park is also a fine spot for sledding so be sure to dress for the weather and bring your sleds too.  They have a warming house, with a snack bar, that is open from 11-8 on Saturdays and noon-6 on Sundays.  The address is 6751 S. 92nd St., Franklin.   This is in the same area as Boerner Botanical Gardens and Wehr Nature Center.  You can park at the golf course for easy access to winter sports.

Another great spot to see what's happening in Whitnall Park, and other county parks, is the events page on the Milwaukee County Parks Facebook page.  And don't forget the county link that lists parks by winter activity.  If there's something you enjoy doing, they can tell you where to go.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Estabrook Park- Outdoors, Wildlife, and a Top 10 Beergarden

Estabrook Park has lots going for it.  It's right on the Milwaukee river and is loaded with green spaces and a variety of ways to enjoy it.  There are 2 very nice playgrounds, dog exercise area, disc golf, biking/hiking trails, an unofficial but hopefully soon to become official skateboarding park, ball fields, and fishing...just to name a few.  If you enjoy seeing wildlife, you should check out this Facebook link to animals found in the park this year.  It's also a great place for birding, if you have a pair of binoculars and a little patience.

If you like history, during the summer you can check out the Benjamin Church house, the 2nd oldest structure standing in Milwaukee.  It's inside the park and you can read all about it at the link for the house.  It was relocated from its original location in 1938 and has been in the park since then.  It's on the national register of historic places.

This year is the first year they opened a "Biergarten" (Beer Garden) in the park.  What a concept!  If you have never been to a German biergarten, let me give you a little information about how to use them.  You bring your own mugs, food, tablecloth, and you buy the delicious local beers with them.  They will provide you with a mug to use while you're there and they do have food too, but you are allowed to bring your own.  Over the summer they had live music on some days.  And the most incredible thing was this local biergarten made the Top 10 Beer Garden list in the WORLD! WOW!  We certainly have something to be proud of!  It is closed during the winter months, but keep this in mind next summer when you're out playing and need a refreshing drink.  The biergarten is right next to the river and playground, and just in front of the skateboard park.  Lots of parking and plenty of space for kids to play while you watch over them.

We like to go watch the fish jump during spring and fall.  Unfortunately, this has been a bad year for water levels and the river is quite low right now.  There is a set of stairs and brand new boardwalk to get you down to the river where you can take a look and watch the fishermen when the water is higher and fish are running. You can sometimes see the salmon jumping through the mini waterfall at this point.

Of course, if we do get some decent snow levels, this is an excellent place for snowshoeing, snowman building, and all other snow play activities.  The Oak leaf trail runs through the park and they have cleared it in winters past, so you can ride a bike most of the year.  I've seen commuters using the trail even in January, although I'm not quite that hard core.

Today when we stopped by, there were a number of disc golfers using neon discs and toting a sled behind them filled with thermoses and snacks.  Makes for a nice outing!  We played on the swings for a short while, but the seats were pretty cold and the slides still covered in snow.  Wear snow pants!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Katherine Kearney Carpenter Dog Park and others

We don't currently own a dog, but sometimes we dog sit and therefore, we've been to some of the area's dog parks and have a few favorites.

Katherine Kearney Carpenter park is actually in Mequon, but it's close enough that you should give it a try.  It is our favorite because dogs can be off leash and there are some water features and trails that make it interesting for humans too.  There's a large grassy area where you can throw a ball, and get drinks for your mutt.  If you want a drink, you still need to bring it with you.  Volunteers have been gracious to provide water and plastic poop bags, so even if you aren't prepared, you can still go.  This above link gives you a map to help you find the 2 parking lots so you can choose one and enjoy the 35 acres of outdoor fun.  I always feel like I get enough exercise here, and the trails are good enough, that I've even taken a stroller.  The problem we always have with a lab, is that you can't keep them out of the water.  If you have a dog like this, be sure to bring a towel and blanket.  The car is always a huge mess after we've been here.

Milwaukee has a website that lists all of their dog parks/exercise areas.

Estabrook park has a fenced dog area but it is not a favorite.  It tends to be muddy and is basically an area to throw a ball and clean up poop.  Plus you need a permit which you can buy on the spot.  They call it an exercise area rather than a 'park'.  That part of the park is very near the ponds that contain large numbers of geese and ducks, so it's important to keep your dog on a leash while you are going from the car to the exercise area.  There's a similar exercise area in South Milwaukee on Lake Drive at Warnimont Park.  Both areas actually require a permit.

Granville Dog Park was the first off leash dog park that I know of.  It's nice but will be getting some updates.  There was a meeting in early December to talk about the plans, but if you keep your eye on the Milwaukee Dog Park Link, you can learn more.  This is an excellent blog about all the dog parks in Milwaukee county.

Now you have some excellent links and information about where to go with your doggie pals.  Snow or shine, they still love the outdoors!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Covered Bridge Park- Cedarburg

Alright, just one more "out of Milwaukee county" park to add since it is the holiday season.  You'll allow that, right?  Covered Bridge park should be included on anyone's list of fun places to go outdoors mainly because of its historic value.  If you click the above link, you'll get a bit of history on the bridge.  This is the only covered bridge left in Wisconsin!  Every kid I've ever known loves to run inside and shout so they hear their echo!  For you adults, it's just very cool to see how bridges were made before we discovered concrete and steel.  It can be a bit tricky to find as it's on covered bridge road, but use the link above as they describe how to find it.  It showed up on my Oh Ranger park finder app, and that's how I discovered it originally, but the directions weren't quite right, so you may not want to trust your GPS.

There are actually 2 bridges in the park, the other is just a span over the river without cover, but it makes for a good photo op too.  There isn't a lot to do other than the 2 bridges here.  I have seen some fly fishermen here, but don't recall ever seeing a fish on the end of the line.  It is a picnic area.  At any rate, put this on your list if you have any interest in Wisconsin history.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Possibility Playground- Port Washington

OK- I know this blog is usually about parks in Milwaukee County, but this park is so amazing and fun that I have to include it.  It's an easy drive  north of Milwaukee.  Possibility Playground is a creative playground built onto the top of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and it's in Port Washington, WI at Upper Lake Park.  If you click on the link above, it will give you detailed directions from the Milwaukee area.

I heard about it because one of the 'founding mothers' is a friend of mine.  We both have kids with down syndrome.  It is designed with the abilities of all kids in mind.  If you want to relax while the kids play, this is a great place because it is completely enclosed by a fence with only one entrance/exit.  They can't run away from you!  Of course, the play structures are so much fun and can support an adult, so I'd encourage you to do some playing of your own too.  Look at the details, because there are little features like musical toys along the fences.  There is a restroom with changing area too.

There are some spectacular views from the bluff, but be careful about letting little kids near the edge.  And while you're in the area, there are 2 cool lighthouses in Port Washington that are pretty interesting, if you like that kind of thing.  One is a museum and the other is at the breakwater in the harbor.  You can pack a picnic lunch and make this an awesome day trip.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bradford Beach and the Polar Bear Plunge

When you hear the word beach, you probably think suntan lotion, sand pails, and summer fun.  That is all true, however, you should also know that Bradford Beach can be a happening place the rest of the year too.  All we need is a little wind, and the kiteboarders show up in full force.  This is really fun to watch, even if you don't understand why or how they do it.  So many colorful kites out on the lake to watch.  You wouldn't think we have decent enough waves, but somehow they manage to do it and make it look easy.  The next day it's windy and not terribly freezing, you might drive by to see if it's happening.  They have more information on the kiteboarders website shown above for special functions.

Bradford Beach is also THE place to be on January 1st for the Polar Bear Plunge.  Ask anyone in town and they will have an opinion about this.  Either it's fun or it's crazy.  Either way, it can be fun to watch, but you have to arrive early to even find parking.  There is on street parking and depending on snow levels, there may be parking lots plowed to use near the beach.  I have never done this, and I'm not really seriously thinking about doing it this year, but there will be plenty of people out there.  You don't need to register.  It is free.  Just be thoughtful about bringing the right attire and plenty of blankets, handwarmers, non-alcoholic beverages, etc.  You can see more information for this event on their website above.  Will you take the plunge?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Schlitz Audubon Center

The national weather service is promising snow...a lot of snow!  And because I love snow (well at least the first heavy snowfall anyway), I'm already dreaming of all the fun we're going to have in it!  We enjoy snowshoeing and sledding, so the best place we've found is the Schlitz Audubon Center at 1111 E Brown Deer Road.  This is right along Lake Michigan so you have a great view of the lake and plenty of open space.

You'll have to pay to use their 6 miles or so of trails, but it will be well worth it.  It costs $6 for adults and $4 for kids.  There is also nearby Doctor's Park where the terrain is very similar, but they lack the warm building and restrooms that you get at Schlitz.

Sometimes there is a gate attendant and you pay from your car as you drive in.  Other times, you have to go indoors to pay.  The building has a number of displays about wildlife, and often you can go there for specific talks on raptors, or even join a yoga session.  What we usually do is pack up our sled and snow shoes and take a lunch along.  When you've had enough fun in the snow, you can go indoors by a roaring fireplace and enjoy your thermos of hot chocolate and eat something.

If you're new to winter sports, and looking for gear, I found most of what we have on Sierra Trading Post.  This time of year, especially, they run big sales where you can save even up to 30% off the already discounted prices.  I probably never would have tried snowshoeing if I hadn't found such a deal on these I own now.  Be sure to google a coupon code before you make a purchase.  As far as sleds, we got ours at the local Ace Hardware for a reasonable price.  It's heavy duty and has lasted for several winters already.

So if the weatherman is right, we'll all be out in it by Friday.  Enjoy the snow and get outdoors!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Milwaukee Domes and the newest pedestrian bridge

The Milwaukee domes (really called Mitchell Park) is a great space to go explore when the weather isn't the greatest.  It's a county run facility but it's indoors.  There are 3 domes and one is changed throughout the year to reflect the current season.  The other two are tropical and desert and may get a few decorations but remain relatively constant.

We were there yesterday and the seasonal dome was all decked out in poinsettias and snowmen.  Mondays are free for county residents from 9-12, as long as you bring a form of ID to prove you live in Milwaukee county.  Be prepared that if you go on the free days, it's going to be packed with lots of little kids and senior citizens.  It doesn't take long to see all 3 domes.  You can grab a drink or a snack in the vending machines.

When the weather is nice, there's a pond out behind the domes that is nice.  There's also a playground across the park on the other side of the pond.  You can nearly always find lots of geese.

There's an exciting project happening that will link Mitchell park to the Menomonee valley.  You can read more about this new construction project that includes a pedestrian bridge linking this park to the lakefront as well.  If you're so inclined, you could then ride a bike all the way from Discovery world to the Mitchell Park Domes!  I took a look at the bridge that is currently under construction.  You can take a look too by driving behind the Domes.  They say by summer 2013, it will be ready for use!  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lynden Sculpture Gardens

Lynden Sculpture Gardens isn't really an official park, but it is a lovely green space where you can get outdoors and have some fun.  The downside is that you have to pay to get in because it's privately funded.  It might be worth your while if you have an interest in outdoor art or want to participate in one of their hosted activities, which can include speakers, classes, or workshops both indoors and out.

I've been there in all the seasons, and my favorite time to go is in Fall or Winter.  During the Fall, you get to see the reflected colors of their many hardwood trees in the pond.  During winter, you can strap on your cross country skis or snow shoes and take a walk around the grounds.  There's a main building where you can go to warm up or use a bathroom.

I can't actually include photos of the sculptures because they are protected images, but I have included a few photos of the nature.  Keep this place in mind when the snow falls later this winter!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh Ranger Park Finder app

Some people ask how we find parks for outdoor play.  If you're in Milwaukee, and you have access to the Milwaukee parks website, it's a good starting point.  If you are out and want to know what's near you, I like an app I downloaded to my iphone called Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder.  Someone already did the hard work of plotting these parks and offering descriptions of what seems to be every park known to mankind in the USA.  You can select federal & state parks in one area of the app and use the phone's GPS to give you detailed directions to it, or you can select the "find local parks".  We've used both of these when we're out traveling and it's been an extreme help when you're looking for a place to burn off a little extra energy.  It finds so many neighborhood parks that you won't find in guide books.

If you have a certain activity in mind- let's say you want to take your doggy for a run- there's a section called "select things to do" with icons you can tap and then it will select only locations near you that allow that activity.

If you've heard about a specific park and know the name, you can also go directly to that park on the app and it offers a description.

The best part about this app is that it's FREE!  Check it out for awhile and let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pocket parks at Washington Park

Pocket parks are popping up in urban spaces in Milwaukee.  The first I'd heard about were in Washington Park, and the Urban Ecology center seems to be behind them.  I can't remember how many there were at the 40th street end of the park- maybe 6 or 7?  They are all within walking distance of each other and seem to consist of mostly climbing structures- not really designed for the smallest of tots.  My son is 7 and they were perfect for him.  Each one of the smallish parks has an ecology theme to it.  Some have signs that explain a little about animal or plant life.  Get out and explore these and have some fun!
a grove of trees and a spiderweb
ride a bug!

climb the fish

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shorewood Nature Preserve

This is a difficult "park" to find.  As you enter Shorewood from the Milwaukee border on Lake Dr., you'll find a wooden sign with Nature Preserve on it.  This is just a somewhat steep trail down to the beach.  It feels a lot steeper coming back up!

This is a great place for birdwatching currently.  Since hurricane Sandy, Chicago lowered the water level in Lake Michigan and there are hundreds of exposed rocks, making good perches for water fowl.  When we were there we saw geese, sea gulls, and ducks.  Unfortunately there can be quite a smell here too, so be prepared.

It's a great place for beach photos if you're looking for a last minute snapshot for your holiday cards- plenty of driftwood, larger rocks, and tiny sea shells.  My son likes to come here and throw rocks into the lake.
trail to beach

Plenty of birds beyond the beach, but the smelly stuff you see in the foreground can be a deterrent

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cathedral Square

From late November to early January, Cathedral Square is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with trees decorated by schools and other groups, and beautiful lights that sparkle through the night.  It has plenty of benches, a small children's play area that include 4 swings (2 baby and 2 child) and a climbing structure, and free wifi!  During the summer you can come here for the farmer's market and Jazz in the park.  Look at the Cathedral Square link above to find current events sponsored by the East Town association.

You will need to pay for parking, and you can use coins or credit card at a central parking machine.

If you need a snack after playtime, I recommend you stop in at one of our favorite places, Classy Girl Cupcakes.  It's located on Jefferson right across from the children's play area.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lake Park has it all!

Most people see this from Lake Drive- 89 steps
or something like it!  Lake Park Bistro at the top

It's no surprise to me that Lake Park was just awarded 'best public park 2012' in the Best of Milwaukee contest.  It has everything one would want in a park, plus location, location, location!  This is a county park and is run by the Milwaukee county parks system, so you can find it on their webpage Milwaukee County Parks.  There's a nice map at Milwaukee County parks website too.  It's a large park with a lot of spaces that don't necessarily connect without some knowledge of how to get around.  For example, there are 3 parking areas, but you can't actually drive through the park from one to another because of a large ravine in the center that is navigated by bridges.
This waterfall is a popular place for photographers

Some major work has recently gone into the play space and there are 2 playsets geared towards different age groups in one location, right next to the tennis courts.  It has that wonderful new gummy padding under it, so you won't drag home bark or sand from a nice playdate.  This is a great place to bring a scooter or trike too as the trails are paved and even the youngest could ride through a smaller portion of the park.
great new play space

tennis courts in great shape

You used to be able to grill at this park and it was always crowded in the summertime by people having picnics, but I noticed when I was there recently, the grills are gone as are the hot coal bins.  Not sure if those will be replaced next summer.  There are plenty of picnic tables and places to throw down a blanket.

This is a beloved park, thus it has a friends of the park group.  You should always check their website for current events, because they tend to plan some pretty fun stuff here.  Just this month, I see bird counting, yoga, and a duck watch.  Don't miss the summer concerts.  There's even a stage you can rent to put on your very own production.

This park is also on the Oak Leaf Discovery Trail, a program run by the Park People of Milwaukee County.  They had a passport program last summer that included stops at various parks along the route.  It's a good way to get some exercise and visit multiple parks.

There is an 18 hole public golf course here where you can "get your golf on" for very cheap.  This is a par 3 course to teach your kids about the game.  It is self pay and you can get more information at the golfers website for Milwaukee County.

There are lawn bowling groups that meet here.  For more information about bowling or to join a group, check out their Lake park Lawn Bowls Club website.

Whew!  This park has so much to offer.  Go hike it or take a look at the lake from the bluff.  Now that the trees are barren of leaves, it's a great view!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Atwater Beach, Shorewood

NOTE:  This park has been updated since this was written.  For current photos and additional information, click here.
Atwater Beach in summer- usually not crowded

Atwater Beach is a local park, run by the village of Shorewood.  It's right on Lake Michigan and is often overlooked because you can't see the best parts, which lie beneath street level.  Look at Tripadvisor for recent reviews. Even though it's chilly outside, don't bypass a visit to this lovely park.

The upper level includes a small playground and some information about a shipwreck located just off the coast, as it's part of the Wisconsin Maritime Trails.  If you have some time, there's a lot to explore on the Maritime Trails website with ideas for kids and loads of historical information.

There's a beautiful piece of art on the bluff done by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist that also did the famous Crown fountain in Chicago that shows faces.
These signs pop up all along the coastline at parks

Jaume Plensa sculpture

Street level playground

This is a great place to watch a sunrise, and if you show up there, you will likely be in good company.  Often you'll see photographers, dogs (which by the way, are not allowed), and even people doing yoga.  The big draw for fitness buffs is the staircase.  It has probably just under 100 steps and is quite steep, which provides a good cardio workout, even if you do it just once a day!  They recently redid the paved path to the beach level and it is gated, so if you want to bring a wheelchair, it is possible, but the grade is pretty steep so try this at your own risk.  There is also some new intriguing play equipment.  I'm not sure if it was designed for kids or adults, but it is a lot of fun.  I have seen all ages on it.  Go try it yourself!  In the summer this past year, they had lifeguards, but I'm not sure if the funding will be there to have it all the time.  Still, the beach is quite protected and I haven't seen huge waves there.  People do launch canoes and kayaks here.
Some nice landscaping along the paved path

Stairs are quite a workout
New playground equipment

All ages can enjoy the swings!

Fall sunrise at Atwater Beach