Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Turkeys and Spring Flowers at Shorewood Nature Preserve

Spring flowers turn the woods blue

 Shorewood Nature Preserve, at 3600 N. Lake Drive, is a small trail that leads to Lake Michigan.  It can be a bit tricky to find, as it is just marked with a wooden sign and is tucked between homes on Lake Drive, between Lake Park and Atwater Beach Park.  Parking is only on the street, and you do need to pay attention to the hours posted as they vary by hour of day and day of week.  When you are short on time and want to get out and see something, this is a great location.

It's a steep trail that is wooded.  It ends abruptly just before the beach.  It's a big jump down because erosion has washed away the bottom of the trail.  If you look to the right before the end, you'll see a short trail with thousands of blue flowers right now.  Please observe the posted signs and don't enter the private land, but do take a look.  It's so beautiful!  To the left, someone recently assembled sticks into a kind of interesting 'bird nest'.  Walk down to the beach and bring binoculars if you enjoy identifying shore birds.  You may be surprised by seeing migratory birds traveling much further north.  Last fall, the water level was way down and there were many more rocks exposed, so it's good to see the lake water level is beginning to rise.  We were surprised to see a pair of turkeys on the way down the path.  I've heard from residents who use the trail that there are many in the area between here and Lake Park.  We met a group of volunteers who were picking garlic mustard when we were here on Saturday.  It's been great to see so much activity from volunteers already this spring.
Turkeys roam the woods

Someone...or something?...assembled a large nest of sticks.  Could it be Big Bird?

We saw many finches and warblers in the trees

Plenty of shorebirds

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unicycle at Red Arrow Park

Unicycle!  Yes, you read that right!  Wouldn't you love to try something new?  If you can ride a bike, surely you can learn to do it on one wheel...with the right equipment...at the right location...for the right price...and with lots of encouragement!  Why not?

Red Arrow Park normally is my go to place for ice skating, but now that the outdoor rink is turned back to concrete, it was refreshing to see the space being used by a group of unicyclists of varying talents.  It's a great place to learn to unicycle, and some MSOE students were wise to figure that out.  With the gates closed, you can hold on to the bars surrounding the rink and do a continuous loop for as long as you like.  There were some beginners, holding the rail (and wearing helmets), but there were also a few able to cycle like they'd been doing it for years.

There's a Facebook page that announces unicycle group "meetings", and you don't even have to bring a unicycle.  There are unicycles available at the park during group times, and they vary in size.  You should probably bring your own helmet though.  If you go to that link, you can also see some great photos of them in action.

If you'd like to try it, or just want to grab a coffee at the Starbucks at Red Arrow Park and watch, go there on Thursdays from 12-2 pm or Tuesdays from 5-7 pm.  They will be there throughout the month of May.

Here's a short video clip from what I saw Thursday afternoon, featuring riders: Jeff Hanson, Stephan Skibinski, and Korey Christiansen.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Koi and a Very Cool Tree Fort at Estabrook Park Lagoon

Looking for an excursion that will impress your kids?  It's not far from home!  Estabrook park has a lagoon with a lot going on.  It's the only place in the parks (that I'm aware of) with a large koi fish population. Koi are really nothing other than domesticated carp and resemble goldfish but on a much larger scale.  I do wonder how they got there.  The lagoon is directly across from the dog exercise area, and there's a bench so you can watch the kids explore or bring a lunch and enjoy the view.

This is a good place to bring a pole and do a little fishing. There were some young men fishing there today and one caught a trout.  To see where else you can fish in Milwaukee parks and which are stocked, go to the fishing link.

You will see birds here, even if you're not really looking.  We saw a goose, a pair of mallard ducks, some red winged black birds and plenty of smaller song birds.

Right now the spring flowers are blooming on the left side of the lagoon.  If you go over to that side to admire the view, there's a trail to the left that heads into the wooded area, which will take you out to Wilson at Diversey Blvd.  Wander in just a short distance, and you will see this enormous tree that has been made into a tree fort.  What kid wouldn't enjoy crawling inside?  I was impressed by the work that someone has done to build it.  I think this place is worthy of a visit.  Hope you find time to make it there soon!
spring flowers blooming
There must be hundreds of koi fish in the lagoon

Tree house in the woods near the lagoon

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rock Climbing Wall at Urban Ecology Center, Riverside Park

Two youngsters suited up and ready to climb with Mike & Patrick, who work at the Urban Ecology Center

The Rock Climbing Wall at Urban Ecology Center
We use the Oak Leaf trail frequently to get from our house to the downtown, and every time we pass the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside park,  my son wants to stop and use the rock climbing wall.  Sunday was the first time we were actually able to do this and he was so excited!  They have a team of real professionals helping kids and adults who want to climb.  While the weather is warmer, there are  open climb sessions for children $10 non-member/$8 members and $12/10 for adults on Sunday afternoons from 2-4 pm.  You can climb as many times as you are able and there is availability.  If you get lucky and you're the only one there, you can wear yourself out.  Sometimes you may need to join a long line.

I was so impressed with the skill and patience of the guys working the wall.  They assist in putting gear on the climbers, which includes a helmet and harness.  Everyone gets a safety lesson.  Then they give you tips for how to make it further than the first brick on the wall.  They act as a grounding point for the climbers, as your rope is their rope, so even if you let go, you will float freely, or can come safely back down to the ground.  I thought it was a great place for beginners.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kohl Park Trail

It's still pretty wet most places, but when the temperature nears 60 and the sun is shining, I'm willing to put on some hiking boots and get a little muddy to enjoy the outdoors.  I had never been to Kohl Park, in the north end of the county in Brown Deer.  The trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail, similar to Seven Bridges Trail that I wrote about recently.  Finished in 2006, the trail through the park off County Line Road passes by areas of grassland, an old Christmas Tree farm, a farm silo, and several stands of hardwoods.  There is a pond behind a neighborhood which has become an extension of the trail, and a wetland towards the beginning.

It's best to park on Fairy Chasm Rd., and look for the access point.  You'll see the Kohl Park sign at the trail head.  There is also an entrance off of County Line Road, although no good parking, and some deep ditches.  There are no facilities here, so bring your own water and find a restroom elsewhere if you need it.  There are several benches along the route to rest.

swamp near the agricultural land
Bufflehead duck swimming in the pond
It has a "forked aster trail", according the to Best Hikes Book, so when you go in several hundred yards, you have to choose right or left.  I recommend you do both.  It's doable easily in an hour.  I went right first which takes you along a wetland and an agricultural field, through what might be an old orchard and if you follow the trail up the hill, you'll walk behind a neighborhood where you have a pretty good view of the area.  The grassland along this berm has birdhouses and apparently a lot of things that birds like because I saw hundreds of birds today- finches, sparrows, robins, cardinals, ducks (even a bufflehead which is only migratory), red winged black birds, and even heard a woodpecker.  All this without a set of binoculars. The trail is fairly easy to recognize, but it can be easy to get sidetracked on one of the many deer paths.
When you come to a flag and picnic table, you've reached the end of that first trail.  You can backtrack and continue to do the loop which goes past an old silo and through the pines.  There weren't as many birds here, but the scent of pines was refreshing.  There's a bench in the pine area so you can sit and breathe deeply.

If you want other hiking options, don't forget the hiking trails link at Milwaukee County Parks.

Enjoy the photos and maybe you'll take a hike here soon!

Rolling farmland and the chatter of birds

Old silo being overgrown

Some places are still very muddy

Large rock near circle trail- what kid can resist climbing on this?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Statue Garden on top of Grohmann Musuem now open!

You probably don't think of parks being on rooftops, but it's surprising how businesses and public places in Milwaukee are embracing the whole green roof concept and making gardens at the top!  Central library and the Clock Shadow Tower building are 2 places that come to mind, of places that recently went green.

My favorite is the statue garden on top of MSOE's Grohmann museum.  This is normally closed during winter months, but it is open again for the summer.  Although these photos were taken last summer, it won't be long and it will soon be green and grassy up there.

Admission to the museum is $5 and you can see several floors of incredibly nice paintings and other art work, most of them European, depicting different types of people working or machinery in action.  They have vending machines in the basement, so you could pick up a drink and enjoy it on the roof.  I think this is one of the best kept secrets in Milwaukee.

Friday, April 19, 2013


I'm new to geocaching but am finding it's a great outdoor activity my son and I can do together no matter where we are.  We recently took a trip to Japan, and there were even caches there!  It's a hobby that is going global, and now with smart phone apps available, you don't have to be an expert with a compass to have fun.

I logged on to the website www.geocaching.com to learn more about what it was and signed up for free.  If you're a beginner, this is a great place to start.  You can learn what a cache is and how you can participate.  Then I went to the itunes store to find an app that would work with my iphone.  I've talked to others who are using free apps for their phones that work just fine, but I paid for the one we are using.  I had no experience and I figured it out, so I know you can too.  Think of it as a treasure hunt using gps coordinates.  If you really want to know more, there's an official blog for geocaching, called Latitude 47.

If you're new to geocaching or want to meet others who are already looking for local caches, there's a weekend opportunity in conjunction with Earth Day.  Jackson Park is hosting a Cache-In Trash Out  (CITO) event.    This will be on Saturday 12:30- 3:30.  There will be gloves and trash bags provided for those cleaning up the park.  There were comments about standing water due to the amount of rain we've had lately, so you may want to dress for mud even if it's not raining.  Meet at the park pavilion at 12:30 to participate.  There will be some new caches planned and released before the event.

Estabrook Park will also host an event that day for Cache In Trash Out from 9-12.  See details at this link for geocaching.  Milwaukee River Keepers are supplying clean up items for this event.

I hope you'll try your hand at being a modern day treasure hunter and join the fun!  Below is a video put out for the CITO event, so you have an idea what it's all about.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Raging River

Here's a short clip that my husband made today while we checked out the river at Estabrook Park.  Usually at this time of year, you'll see a lot of fishing happening at this point, but today there was just one person fishing off the new boardwalk.  The water levels are very high and it's unsafe to get into the water.  The conditions were the same at Kletzsch park.  The waterfall that is usually quite evident was almost unnoticeable, and the island of trees nearby was completely submerged. Backyards that run along the park are starting to take on water.  Not a soul with a fishing rod could be seen.

That doesn't mean there won't be fishing this spring.  We have to be patient with the weather and see how things go.  With more rain in the forecast, I'm not sure when we'll see fish jumping at Estabrook park.  Sometimes, that's a real treat if you have younger kids.  Today was the day for free fishing clinics for kids at local parks, but the weather is quite cold, so I'm not sure how many people participated.  If you did, let me know how it went.

For more information about where you can fish, check out the Milwaukee parks page.  From here you can see where you are allowed to fish and what type of fish were recently stocked.  You will need a fishing license if you are age 16 or older.

OnMilwaukee did a piece on fishing last year in springtime, and it's interesting to read for what the "normal conditions" will bring as far as fish.  They give you some sweet spots where to fish and an accurate description of the fish you will likely catch.  You might check these spots when the water recedes a bit more.  You might also follow the fishing reports page, which is updated by fishermen with the bodies of water where they are catching fish.  There aren't many from our region even listed at this point.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bradford Beach Opens May 18

I know with all the cold weather and rain, Bradford Beach is probably not even on your radar yet, but it has been in the news lately.  It's great that so much money, time, and effort has gone into making it a #1 summer destination for Milwaukee beachgoers.  I remember the years when it was empty and full of stinky seaweed that washed ashore.  Now they keep it clean, provide lifeguards, and offer a full range of amenities.

First off, it's sad that when it rains a lot, the Milwaukee Metro Sewer District is still dumping waste into Lake Michigan.  It doesn't make me want to get into the water, however,  I know the alternative is to have flooded basements, but it is still a disgrace that a top notch city like Milwaukee can't manage the runoff a better way.  If you want more information about this, just check out the facebook page for WTMJ and look at the comments from Wednesday when they asked people what they thought about the subject.  There will be swimming this summer and lifeguards will be on duty starting June 11.  The water is tested regularly and you can check the quality at a Wisconsin water quality website.  It has many beaches listed here, so you can look at whatever your beach destination might be.

But aside from the water problems, the sandy beach is nice and the facilities are being upgraded more each season.  Bradford Beach has a great webpage that lists all of its services and an event calendar.  This year, there will still be an emphasis on beach volleyball.  You can join a league if you have the time and energy.  Registration opened in March, but the deadline for final registrations is May 22 at 5 pm.  There is a 10% discount for those who register by April 29.  This year they added Jr. Volleyball for kids aged 11-19.  They are even planning to host the US Junior Beach Volleyball National Championships July 26-28.  It would be great to have some local competition.

There will still be the usual offerings for cabanas, music, and drink, but they are kicking it up a notch.  You can now join a yoga class or get a massage.  Be sure to check out the Bradford Beach Jam website for all the details about the new and improved services.  Not everything is updated yet, but soon the live webcam should be up and running.  The concert series will be loaded when the bands are booked.  It's going to be a busy summer with lots of activities lined up for us!  For the Summer Beach Guide at Bradford, click this link.

And for more information about additional beach sites, as well as the rules for the beaches in Milwaukee, go to the Milwaukee County parks website.