Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Park Volunteer Groups- Find Your Niche

Work with birds of prey at the Schlitz Audubon Center
When I've been out in the parks, I've run into many people who volunteer.  I really had no idea just how many people it takes to make programs happen in the parks and nature centers, but I've come to know that it really takes an entire village.  These are the people who lead nature hikes, make apple cider out of apples, show off snakes, clean up weeds and waterways, give cemetery tours, make art projects, share their historical knowledge, and many, many more things.  I'm so grateful to all these people who add extra value to our community.  Ask any of them why they volunteer, and the stories will be as varied as the people who tell them, but the message that comes through strongly is that they believe in the experiences they provide and want others to enjoy the things that they enjoy.

Winter is a good time to reflect on how we can share our passion with others.  If it involves any aspect of the parks (and I'll tell you now that there IS a place for whatever talent you have), I hope you'll find a way to join one of the organizations who help.

The Park People is the main volunteer organization for the Milwaukee County Parks.  They oversee fundraising and provide services that aren't in the county budget.  They want people to be able to enjoy the parks for many years to come so they work with preservation groups, and offer opportunities for people to donate trees, benches, and other structural needs.  Take a look at their website to see how you can be involved.  You can give your time, make a donation, or just learn more about how the parks work directly with the group.

Many of the county parks have friends groups that work to enhance a specific park.  Just to give you an idea, I've been told that the Wehr Nature Center has more than 400 volunteers, but then there are other parks where it's just a handful of individuals who make their local park better by getting involved.  Click on the link for friends groups to get contact information for a park near you.  If there isn't a group, you can always start your own.  If you want to help your village/community parks, contact the village hall for wherever you live.  Havenwoods State Forest has volunteer opportunities for people who want to tend the land or do educational programs.  Lakeshore State Park also has a friends group that helps with events.
A volunteer at an event at Wehr Nature Center helps kids make cider
There are three fabulous Urban Ecology Centers who rely heavily on volunteers to lead programs and help out with projects.  If you live near one and feel you have some extra time on your hands, drop in or contact the volunteer coordinator listed on the site.
Volunteers even show off snakes at the Urban Ecology Center

Do you enjoy gardening or art?  Keep in mind that places like Lynden Sculpture Gardens offer free admission if you help with any of the gardening on certain days.  In the past it has included aquatic planting as well as tending to the flowers.

Schlitz Audubon Center relies on volunteers to do everything from greeting folks at the front desk, to helping out with maintaining the grounds, showing off the lovely birds of prey, and working with students.

Do you enjoy history?  You can share your stories about the famous people who used to live here in Milwaukee at Forest Home Cemetery tours or through the Milwaukee Historical Society events.  Often they need people to dress up in costumes for special historic reenactments.

I hope you'll check out these organizations to find just the right fit for your special talents.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter Fun Ideas

Jetsetter Magazine just voted Milwaukee one of the top 14 cities to visit in 2014...and in my opinion, it wouldn't be a complete visit if you didn't step foot into one of our magnificent parks.  Why not see a few of the local places yourself this weekend?

If you're an early riser, head to Bradford Beach to see the sunrise and grab coffee/breakfast at nearby Colectivo afterwards.  The ice at the beach is changing every day depending on temperatures and wave action.  Here's a photo I took on Sunday morning this week, but when I drove by yesterday it looked different again.  We're lucky to get beautiful sunrises at the beach every day of the year.  Just because it's winter, don't write it off.  Sunrise isn't really that early in winter either.  Get there by 7:00 and you'll likely get a show, as I did.
Sunrise at Bradford Beach.  Looks like the lake is on fire.
There are Sculptures on Ice in the Third Ward at Catalano Park and the mid block parks on Broadway, both Friday and Saturday (Jan 17-18)  Should be fun to see what the artists create.  They are competing for prizes and the theme is DISNEY!  Who wouldn't love that?

This Saturday morning, the Domes has their weekly Winter Farmer's Market from 9-1.  Admission to the market is free.  The newest exhibit also opens, which is the Gas Lamp Express Garden Train Show and it runs through the end of March.  G-scale trains wind their way along 600 feet of track through a Victorian landscape, in celebration of the industrialized world in the age of steam-powered technology.  Remember the Domes are free to Milwaukee residents Monday mornings with a local address on your ID card.

You can get a ride with the Sled dogs at Whitnall Park near the warming house/golf clubhouse at the sledding area, both Saturday and Sundays, 11-1 through February.  The cost is $15 per person, and you really need to be there early to get a ticket.  Each person gets a number and they may not be able to accommodate everyone.  You can always bring a sled and go down the sledding hill too.  These dogs are just magnificent.  It takes 8 of them to pull the sled.  There are also friendly dogs you can pet.  This is a non-profit organization with loving people who care for these dogs.
Some of the sled dogs that will be at Whitnall Park

On Saturday, January 18, you can ski at Three Bridges Park with the Urban Ecology Center- Menomonee Valley Branch.  Be sure to sign up at their website.  There is a cost.  Next weekend, Jan 25, 12-4, the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park will hold their Winterfest.  Expect lots of outdoor fun, depending on weather.  The Door County Sled dogs will make an appearance.  There will be sledding, ice skating, and indoor treats as well.  They are still collecting milk cartons to make an igloo, so bring those if you have them.  You can go there this weekend to check out the ice rink that just opened.

Wehr Nature Center is always a good choice.  Bring your snowshoes or just hike the trails.  You can also rent snow shoes there.  Be sure to go down to the waterfalls if weather permits.  It's partially frozen and quite pretty.  It's already too late to sign up for the adult owl prowl this weekend, but next weekend is the family owl prowl.  Check their events page for more information about costs and times.
Whitnall Park waterfall from the Wehr Nature Center side
Schlitz Audubon Nature Center has their usual word with a bird event this weekend.  Drop in and see what they have on display from 1-2 every Saturday and Sunday.  Trails to the beach are in good shape and the icecanos are forming so you may be able to slide on them.  The lake is definitely worth a look if you go.  Next weekend is the Winter Carnival on Sunday, January 27, 12-4.

For any skiing, snowboarding, or tubing, head to the Rock Sports Complex.  Their Facebook page always has the latest events and deals.  Weather permitting, all the area sled hills and ice rinks will be open, although the ice rinks aren't in great shape due to freezing/thawing, so if ice skating is your thing, I'd recommend Slice of Ice at Red Arrow Park.

If you like ice fishing or can find open water, fishing is free this weekend anywhere in Wisconsin. You don't need a license for both Saturday and Sunday.

Boerner Botanical Gardens hosts their Winter Woods Walk and Winterfest  January 26, 10-2.  Dress for the weather and you can walk outdoors.  There will also be crafts and refreshments indoors.

Mark your calendars for Havenwoods State Park's Winter-Naturefest Saturday, Feb 15.  You can meet animals, participate in activities, and of course if weather permits, there is always hiking or snowshoeing.  They'll have a campfire all day long to warm up.

So many choices!  Hope you get out and have some fun!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Polar Vortex Art on Lake Michigan

After having everyone home for the past couple of days, I could hardly wait to get out for a walk.  It didn't matter that the temperature was still in single digits.  I was ready to have some of that fresh frigid air.  If you wear enough layers and add some traction devices on your snow boots (think yaktrax), you can go about anywhere this time of year.  

I headed to the lake to see some of the beautiful artwork Mother Nature left behind after that bone chilling polar vortex.  It's not unusual to see frozen waves this time of year, but due to the intense cold that came so very quickly, they look a bit different than usual, I suppose.  The ice that had already formed on the beach cracked like shattered glass and the ice is out much further than I have seen in years prior.  The waves aren't so large- not what I'd call icecanos yet.  I went to several beaches and each one was a little different.  Take a look at the photos and then see if you can get out there this week and have a look.

The first park is Big Bay, 5000 N. Lake Dr., in Whitefish Bay.  I took the path through the woods but it was very icy due to the spring that used to feed the waterfall through this park.  Ice formed on the concrete barrier that goes out into the water and it's still easy to walk out to the end to have a better look at the lake.

Big Bay Park about 9:00 AM with nice steam off the lake.  Temp was 1F.

Along the coast line at Big Bay

The spring that feeds the old falls through the woods at Big Bay is still running.  See the icicles.  VERY SLIPPERY.

These poor birds had icicles on their beaks.  
Water froze on these small plants and made an ice cactus
The next place was a short trip to the Concordia University bluff in Mequon.  Of course the bluff is closed in winter because the steps and path aren't cleared of snow, but it was a pretty view at the bottom.  Notice how the frozen boulders make a pool of icy puzzle pieces.
Frozen pool of icy lily pad looking things.  Very pretty icicles on the boulders too.
Next stop Doctors Park, 1870 E. Fox Lane, in Fox Point.  I walked down using the paved trail large enough for cars that runs from the parking lot, and returned via the wooded path.  Both were easy to walk on, but I had the yaktrax on and they really make a difference.  At this point, my nose was hurting from the cold so I had to pull on a scarf.  This is a great workout with all the hills though.  From Doctors Park, you can walk the beach to the small icecanos that usually form at the Schlitz Audubon Center.  There was still some open water, so be careful to avoid anything that has a crack in it.
Looks a bit like frosting.  If you sit here quietly, you can hear the waves under the ice splashing.

The blue color of the water here was very pretty in contrast to the ice formations
 Bradford Beach, 2400 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.,  affords the easiest access for anyone who wants a quick peek.  Park at the Custard Stand and walk the beach as long as you like.  The ice is quite solid and out pretty far.  Some people were there with their smart phones taking photos, but I'll warn you that the batteries die almost instantly in cooler temperatures.  You might want a real camera as your back up plan.
Bradford Beach is a sheet of ice from the beach out to the ice formations
I made one more stop at Shorewood Nature Preserve.  This is a bit tricky to find. If you blink, you might pass it up.  It's on Lake Drive between Newton & Menlo.  Park on the street, but mind the hours when it isn't allowed to park there.  Then you can slip slide down the hill through the woods.  This will really get your heart beating on the way back up again!  The beach extends out further than most areas and is mostly snow, but if you walk all the way out, you're in for a real sight.  The ice is so clear you can see everything underneath.  Of course, don't walk on that part because you can see the water lapping at the ice formations just inches from there.  This is typically a great place to see birds, and there were plenty but they are pretty far out, so if you're into bird identification, you'll need binoculars or a long camera lens.
Shorewood Nature Preserve beach is snowy, but out further there is clear ice

Friday, January 3, 2014

Take a Walk on the Wild Side...and a View from the Top of the World

OK, I know those two phrases are overused, but I was thinking how to group a few outdoor photos that will get you out for a nice walk and it's what came to mind.  It's snowy and pretty cold outdoors, but it may warm up over the weekend while we get more snow.  If you have a chance to take a walk, I'd advise you stay away from icy sidewalks, and instead walk in the snow where there's a smaller chance for slipping and falling.  Put on snow shoes if you like, or break out the cross country skis.

At the lakefront, the icecanos are starting to form and the lake is freezing in chunks, but we still have a few more weeks of wave and freezing activity before they are able to be used for sliding.  There are maybe THOUSANDS of ducks hovering at the back of Veteran's Park (thus- take a walk on the wild side).  Park at the Sailing Club and walk to the lake's edge to see what I'm talking about.  There's still an ice sculpture at the Kite Shop in Veteran's Park left over from the Festival on New Year's Day.  It's a buck.  Slow down and take a look if you can.  Pretty impressive.

Buck ice sculpture at the Kite Shop, Veteran's Park

Plenty of snow to walk, snowshoe, or cross country ski at the lakefront

So many ducks in Lake Michigan
If you want a really great view of Milwaukee, head to Reservoir Park (North Ave at Bremen).  The staircase is snow covered but if you park on Bremen, you can walk up the back of the hill where kids have already been sledding.  The path that  circles the top was cleared when I was there and benches are cleared as well, in case you need a break.  You will feel like you're on top of the world.
View from Kilbourn Reservoir Park
If it's more of a lake view you want, try Juneau Park.  With all the leaves gone from the trees, you can see the beach down below as well as most of Veteran's Park.  The walks were also cleared there and you can park for free on the street in some places, so be sure to check the signs.  With all the lovely snow, there are lots of options with a view!

Veteran's Park as seen from Juneau Park