Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter Waterfalls

Tis the season to sit inside and watch too much TV...oh!  This is the time to get out and enjoy nature in its beautiful frozen state!  Well, if you're looking for an excuse to get outside and see something beautiful, I've got a few suggestions for you.
Milwaukee has some very pretty waterfalls in the parks and they are starting to freeze over.  We're bound to get some more snow tonight, so maybe they'll look a little different this weekend, but this is what they were like today.  Most still had some water running.  All are easy to access. You might want to wear some sturdy boots that can stand the snow.  If you plan to go down to the water level, it helps to have a walking stick or some yaktrax because some of the surrounding areas were a little slippery.  There are trails in all of these parks that were walkable.  The parks do a pretty good job of cleaning the paved trails.  I followed the unpaved trails that ran along the waterways and in most cases saw plenty of deer, rabbit, and squirrel tracks.  There were also cardinals, doves, and sparrows.  For detailed directions and maps to the parks listed below, go to Milwaukee County Parks .  You can enter the park name and find what you need.  This may be just what you need to get you motivated after another plate of cookies.
At Greenfield Park- look for a small bridge in the road near the pond and this is on one side

Whitnall Park- park at the golf course smaller lot on the hill and walk down to the pond

At Oak Creek Parkway and Mill Road near Grant Park

Lake Park near the golf course in the wooded area

Kletzsch Park right off the road that goes through the park

Estabrook Park below the biergarten

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Rock Sports Complex for Snowboarding, Skiing & Tubing

It's the first day of real snow falling, and I'm sure everyone is already thinking about the winter ahead.  If we have snow, it's always a good idea to make the best of it.  If it sticks around, conditions might be good enough for skiing and snowboarding.  So dust off that equipment!

The Rock Sports Complex is the new name for what you may have known as Crystal Ridge, but it's much more than just a name change.  The new ownership has built new facilities, improved restrooms, rebuilt the chairlift, added new snow guns, and built terrain features.  The snow guns and towers make snow using the same type of equipment used by the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Snow guns cover the hill, which allow them to make a 3-4’ base in about a week.  They have already been making snow over the past week due to the frigid temperatures we're having.  

The complex offers all types of downhill snow sports. You will find traditional ski and snowboard runs, but there will be some interesting bumps and ramps added to make it more interesting for those who are ready for more challenges.  They have rental skis, boots, and snowboards.  A session pass is $30 or you can buy a season pass, which also allows you discounts and special offers for resorts in Colorado as well.

If you prefer to sit while you go down the hills, you will find 16 runs of family tubing with a magic carpet, which brings you back to the top for more efficient tubing fun. That sure beats dragging the tube back up by yourself.

If you want lessons for yourself or the kids, be sure to sign up for them by December 30.  For a fee, you can attend weekly sessions in the evenings, or take a weekend course. These are designed for first timers or beginners to snowboarding or skiing and run for 5 weeks. 

If you want to ski, but have kids that prefer tubing, sign them up for the Tubing Adventure club where they will enjoy the time on the hill with friends, have hot chocolate breaks, and be supervised. This is most appropriate for school age kids.

Even if you don't ski, snowboard, or tube, you can go to the Rock Complex for some free winter hiking. The Rock is very close to Whitnall Park, so you can access trails to the park.  Whatever your skill level, or interest, there is bound to be something for you at THE ROCK!
Here's a map from their website with the layout

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Lights in Milwaukee

Tonight is the beginning of 6 weeks of colorful holiday lights in 3 parks in downtown Milwaukee.  Called the Holiday Light Festival, it features a kick-off tonight with lights and fireworks.

Cathedral Square will have decorated trees from 60 different schools.  2000 students participate by making their own ornaments.  There is also a mailbox for Santa in the park.  You don't need a stamp, but be sure to put a return address on your letter to Santa, and you will receive a reply!

Pere Marquette will have a display featuring electric elves getting their last minute holiday work done.

Zeidler Union Square will have the musical bears featuring the giant red teddy.

You can walk the city, or see it from the Jingle Bus.  Details here:
November 22 – December 29
Thursdays – Sundays | 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Shops of Grand Avenue – Center Court
275 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Narrated by Milwaukee Downtown’s Public Service Ambassadors, this 40-minute tour acquaints riders with downtown landmarks and the most decorated scenes. Even better, rides are just $1 per person!
Hop aboard at the Warming House location in The Shops of Grand Avenue. Passengers will board and purchase tickets from the mall’s Center Court – 275 W. Wisconsin Avenue. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis each night beginning at 5:30 pm.
Awaiting riders will enjoy a Shops of Grand Avenue holiday favorite, an 18-piece animatronic symphony orchestra of bears, holiday shops, and free cookies and hot cocoa compliments of Wild Flour Bakery. Kids will also receive a holiday coloring book. Please consider bringing nonperishable food items to donate to our Hunger Task Force collection.
Tours operate Thursdays through Sundays, November 22 through December 29 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.* The last bus departs at 8:20 pm, so get there early to reserve your seat!
Discounted parking is available for $3 in The Shops of Grand Avenue west parking garage until 10:00 pm when you present your T-Mobile Jingle Bus ticket stub. Enter the west structure from 2nd Street between Michigan Street and Wisconsin Avenue. For additional info on the Jingle Bus, contact Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21 at 414.220.4700.
*The Jingle Bus will operate from Pere Marquette Park on November 21 as part of the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza. Please also note the Jingle Bus will not operate on Thanksgiving.
The parade will be on Saturday:
87th Annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade
presented by Johnson Controls
Sat, November 23 | 9:30 am to 11 am
Downtown Milwaukee
262.377.5935 |
A cherished holiday tradition featuring approximately 100 units, including marching bands, floats, giant helium balloons, local personalities, costumed characters, live animals, specialty vehicles and, of course, Santa Claus! Live coverage on FOX 6. Discounted parking available at The Shops of Grand Avenue for $3 until 5:30 p.m.
For more holiday events, check the Milwaukee Downtown link.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

101 Things to do in Milwaukee Parks- the book is out!

It's been almost a year since I started this blog, and I really enjoy doing it.  About one month ago I was saying to a friend that I had accumulated so many wonderful stories from the people I met in the parks, and had a lot of great photos. I just didn't know what to do with all that.  She suggested a book.  So for the past month, I've been putting it all together.  It's now available on Amazon in both a paperback and a kindle edition.  I have to say the journey has been fantastic.  I love getting out in the parks and meeting people.  I hope you are finding time to do the same.

As I wrote the book, I became aware of even more fantastic fun you can have in our parks system, and the outdoors here in Milwaukee.  Much of it is free.  I started out by brainstorming 101 things, and found that as I talked to people, I had about 150!  I had to do some serious editing, and combined a lot of things under one category in order to be true to the title.  I hope you'll give it a read and see if there are some surprises in there for you.

If you'd like to purchase the Kindle edition, or the Paperback version, they are both available right now.  If you buy the paperback, you can download the Kindle edition for free.  And if you select the Kindle version, there's a free preview that shows you the first few entries.  This is the season where the weather tends to be iffy and it can be tough to enjoy the outdoors, but that doesn't mean you can't do a little reading to prepare for the winter season that is ahead!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Skateboarding in Milwaukee

I've been over to Estabrook Park lately enjoying the fall colors and watching salmon run, and it was hard not to notice how popular the skateboard park has become.  No matter what time of day you go on a weekend, there's a steady flow of skateboarders.  On weekday afternoons, there's also some activity.  It's great to see but then on the other hand, it's kind of sad that in spite of there being a demand for a skate park, and the battle for several years to have it made an official skate park, nothing has happened there.  I'm impressed that the people who use it have been keeping it up and building new ramps, rails, a pole jam,  and bringing in their own brooms to keep it clean.  It's really a self made project, and obviously very useable in the current state.  Still, I keep hope alive that someday it will be what they all dream of it being.  My son was amazed at the talent we've seen here lately.  He's bound and determined to figure out how to do what they do...I guess I'm in trouble now.

So tell me where are the skate parks?  Is it a dying concept?  Well, not really. West Allis has plans for a skate park that could be built at Radtke Park at 84th & National.  Although they thought it would be built this year, the bids came in more than double what they expected.  They had no alternative but to hold on to the plan and bid it out again, which I learned they are doing now.  The price tag?  Anywhere from $300,000-600,000 depending on who you ask.  Definitely not a cheap undertaking.  

 I saw a couple of small ramps at the north end of Kilbourn Reservoir Park that I assume are used by skateboarders and BMX bikes.  And there’s been some discussion about putting in a skate park at Milwaukee county's Humboldt Park.  If it is approved and built, you will find it near the wading pool at the southwest corner of the park.

I read about the nice skate park Oak Creek had, so I stopped over there this week to check it out.  It's a beautiful skate park with wooden structures at Abendschein Park, 1311 E. Drexel Ave., Oak Creek. If you're a skateboarder, maybe you want to visit it before the snow falls. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The General is BACK!

I admit, sadly, I had never heard of Thaddeus Kosciuszko before I saw his statue at the park named after him- Kosciuszko Park.  He was a national hero both in the US and in Poland because of his success during military battles.  He worked with Benjamin Franklin and was a friend to Thomas Jefferson.  He has statues in many other cities, all of them quite different.  When this statue was erected and dedicated by the Polish Archbishop, Francesco Symon,  in 1905, there were more than 60,000 people!  It was a big event for the south side of Milwaukee.

If you saw this statue a few years ago, you would have seen a green colored dingy piece of work.  Luckily, there was a fundraising campaign to have the statue repaired and it was sent away for many months, leaving an empty spot at Kosciuszko Park.  The cost was estimated at $150,000.  You can see how much work it was to restore it at this link, which has a lot of photos from the process.  Milwaukee Public Television is trying to raise enough money to air a documentary about the process.  If you'd like to help out with a donation, go to the documentary website.  UPDATE 2/1/14- the documentary aired on PBS this month, but you can still view it on youtube.

Now, as you can see from my photo, it is back.  There's some new landscaping, and the geese have already shown they approve.  I had to wade through about a hundred geese to get to the statue, so if you go see it, watch your shoes.

The statue is beautiful.  I have never seen one quite so pristine.  It will be rededicated on Monday, November 11 at noon.  This is a special day because it is Veteran's Day here, and Independence Day in Poland.  If you're able to attend, it will likely be an interesting time to view the statue and hear more about the project.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall Hikes

There is still plenty of color out there in the trees.  Why not go for a nice walk in the woods this weekend?  We were over at Brown Deer Park today and enjoyed the leaves underfoot, saw a deer, played on the playground, and then headed to the boathouse and bridge to take a look at the hundreds of geese.  Very pretty sight indeed!  I just love that old bridge in the photograph below.

So if you need a few tips on hiking, there's a great book of day hikes near Milwaukee, called Best Easy Day Hikes, which includes several of our parks.  Seven Bridges is in that book, over in Grant Park.  The nice thing about hiking at Seven Bridges is that you get the fall colors and the beach too.  I was there early last week and it was still quite green, but I'm thinking that by now, you'll see more color.  The ravine also didn't have a lot of water in it, but the hike is still pretty.  You can always do a loop if you feel ambitious- hike through Seven Bridges Trail to the beach, go right along the beach to the bathhouse and return via the Oak Leaf Trail back to the parking lot at Seven Bridges.  Grant Park has a pond near the golf course that you'd see on the way too.

Jacobus Park has a nature trail that is family friendly- under a mile long.  Hawthorn Glen is another place with a shorter trail that could be done with children.  Both of these places have playgrounds near the trail too.  Konkel Park in Greenfield has a nice nature trail with some bridges and marshland.  Fun for kids.

If you need to bring a stroller, pick any park along the Oak Leaf Trail.  You'll find plenty of paved trail through the parks.  The East Bank Trail starts at the new Rotary Arboretum and is less than a mile of paved trail also.

Why not choose a park with water features?  Lynden Sculpture Garden has a nice pond which was full of geese last weekend when we were there.  The grounds are well tended and there are many pieces of art everywhere you look.  There's a nice cottage garden that still had loads of blooms last week.  We had it all to ourselves.  Of course, there is a fee to enter.  Schlitz Audubon Center has hiking trails that lead down to the beach, and there's a fee to enter.

Kohl Park is another park with lots of trees and a pond if you choose the trail that goes to the right.  There are 2 choices from the fork, and you could easily do the entire park in about an hour.  

Wherever you go this weekend, I hope you enjoy the beauty of Fall!  Smell the leaves!  Look for wildlife!  Bring a camera and capture a few pics of your friends and family.

Grant Park Beach near Seven Bridges Trail

Lynden Sculpture Garden pond with geese
Brown Deer lagoon across from the boathouse

Brown Deer Park trees near playground- bury the kids and take a photo!

Be sure to look up too!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Milwaukee Zoo Best in Fall!

Fall at the Milwaukee County Zoo is my favorite time of year.  There seem to be more birds on the lagoon, more color to the trees, and more pep in the animals.  This is also a month full of Halloween activities.

Today and tomorrow, October 18-19 is the annual Boo at the Zoo from 6-9 pm.  The zoo will be full of jack-o-lanterns and spooky decorations.  There will be special features about bats.  See costumed characters like a pirate.  Eat caramel apples.  Ride the train.  It's all good fun.  Cost is $8 adults/$6 children, and parking is $7.

Next weekend is their trick or treating event called Halloween Spooktacular.  October 25, 6-9 pm, and October 26, 9-9.  It will have similar activities to the Boo at the Zoo, but will also include a costume parade, treats for kids, and even special Halloween treats for the animals.

Don't forget the Oceans of Fun adventure is still on during Fall.  It is pricy, but is the next best thing to a Sea World vacation.  Kids get to learn about the feeding and care of the sea lions, as well as learning the tricks from trainers about how to get the sea lions to perform.  They put on a show for the parents, which is magical.  There are a variety of programs for all ages.

Once you've paid admission, you'll still need some cash to make it a full fun outing.  For older kids, there's a new zip line or ropes course.  It will set you back $10/12.  Put some quarters in your pocket so you can feed the goats using the pellet machines near the petting zoo.  Quarters work in the foot massage machines placed around the zoo.  The carousel and train ride also require tickets.  You may want to check out the dairy barn which has some interactive displays, and an ice cream bar.  You can bring your own lunch or there are limited food stands open during the fall.
Lovely Fall colors

The bears are more perky in Fall

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Salmon Run on the River

Estabrook Park- view from the boardwalk below the Biergarten
This might be the best week this Fall to go to the river.  Fall color is at about 50%, and there's rain in the forecast for later next week, so the leaves may just fall after that.  The salmon are running upstream, so anywhere you can find a place to watch, you'll likely have a good show.  Look for guys in waders.  That should be a clue that there's some action to watch.

I stopped at Estabrook and Kletzsch Parks, and spoke with some fishermen.  Only a few salmon were caught while I was there, but you could see plenty of jumping (unsuccessfully I might add) at the waterfalls at Kletzsch.  In the 10 minutes I stood there watching, I probably saw 100 fish jump...or maybe just the same fish jumping a bunch of times.  Anyway, it's fun to watch and cheer them on.  From what I learned, this is the start of the salmon run, and it will become larger as the water cools.  It's also a great week for biking along the Oak Leaf trail that follows the river, as well as hiking the Milwaukee River Greenway.  You can start at Silver Spring and walk all the way to the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park, if you feel ambitious.  Get out and enjoy the nice weather while we have it!
salmon on a line at Estabrook Park

Fish caught at Kletzsch

Look closely in the center and you'll see a fish jumping

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

The Fall colors were beautiful in Wisconsin last year, and it looks like they may be good again this year, although maybe a week or two behind last year.  I did this drive the first week of October 2012. You can find the Kettle Moraine scenic drive on line along with the fall color report and put the two together to decide when to go.  Because we don't live very close to either end of the 115 mile drive, I decided to take the interstate to the northern point, near Elkhart Lake, and drive down through the forest as far as we could get before I had to go pick up my son from school.  I used my GPS to set my home address and that's a convenience I'm starting to love.  With every turn we made, it showed me exactly how long it would take me to get home so we could just enjoy the drive.  There were not so many cars on the road with us, but lots of motorcycles.  At every place we stopped it was mostly the same people you see all day.  If you do this scenic drive this weekend or next, expect more traffic and potentially peak color.

The first stop was Wade House.  You can print out written directions for the tour, but the roads are well marked with signs so you won't need them unless you get lost.  We stopped at Greenbush picnic area and had lunch.  There aren't a lot of places to buy food or water, so it's a good idea to bring your own along.  You will also need a sticker or day permit for using the state park.  You can buy them at the parks along the way in a self pay box.  You can hike the trails all through the park, and Greenbush has several that start there.  From there we drove to the Greenbush Kettle- a big hole left behind from a glacier.  The big challenge was climbing to the top of Parnell Tower.  Don't miss it if you enjoy views of the region.  There was a lengthy trail of steps to get to the tower and then of course you have to climb to the top.   I was huffing and puffing.  Of course there were senior citizens on the top that weren't breathing hard at all.  I met so many who were trying to visit every state park and did lots of hiking.  It's a wonderful way to enjoy your retirement!

Greenbush Picnic Area
Parnell Tower
hiking trail near Parnell Tower

Greenbush Kettle

view from the top

and another view from the top- Gorgeous carpet of color!
After the tower, there were several lakes (Butler, Long, and Mauthe) with nice views.  If you enjoy churches, there are some pretty country churches.  One was covered in vines that were turning purple.  We stopped at the General Store at Mauthe Lake for an ice cream.  They also had everything you might need for fishing and you could even rent canoes.  It wasn't too far past that point that we turned off and headed for home.  Great drive for anyone wanting to get out of the house and see something this fall!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Holy Hill for Fall Colors

People come from all over the region to see the Fall colors at Holy Hill.  This is a gorgeous church set on top of the highest hill in this part of the state, and it is surrounded by forests,  rural roadways, barns, cornfields, and hiking trails.  The Ice Age trail runs through the property.
Last year I did this drive in early October.  Even though it was a Monday, it was packed when I arrived at nearly noon.  They do a mass at 11 am and we were lucky enough to hear some of the singing and the church bells chime at noon.  I brought my grandson Landon and he was impressed with the dinging.  We took an indirect route to the chapel.  With a GPS in the car, you can easily set your location and then take off on any of the rural roads surrounding the property, knowing you will get there eventually.  There are a couple of rustic roads that are narrow and tree covered, so if you have the time, find them on the map and travel them.  You'll get to see creeks, unique homes, barns, and just beautiful trees everywhere.  We did this and it was great!

Rustic Road
Rustic roads are easy to identify

Wisconsin at its best

 Once you go up to the chapel, you can choose what you want to do.  There's a trail that surrounds the chapel.  You can eat in the cafe.  We had a tuna croissant and drinks for less than $10.  There's a nice gift shop with a variety of local information as well as religious goods.  If you're healthy, don't miss out on climbing the tower.  This was the first time I'd ever done that, and I was impressed by the views.  You can see a lot of color from the chapel level, but once you start climbing, the view changes with every turn.  The lower windows have glass or bars, but as you get to the top, they are open.  If you're afraid of heights, this may be too much for you.  I loved how the windows framed the trees.  It was a great way to experience Fall in Wisconsin!

There are several of these along a path surrounding the chapel

The view from the chapel level

For a donation, you can climb to the top

Tower windows