Monday, July 21, 2014

The Olmsted Parks

Grand Staircase at Lake Park 
Long ago when Milwaukee was first being planned, there were some noteworthy forefathers who felt it necessary to have public green spaces or parks where people of all income levels could come for relaxation and recreation.  At that time, work really was very hard and transportation was often by foot, carriage, and very rarely by motor car.  You will see parks named after these men throughout Milwaukee, and you can see some early photos of the parks in the lower level of Boerner Botanical Gardens.  Around 1892, they asked Frederick Law Olmsted, who was already known for his park designs, to do some work for our city.

I just came back from a trip to Louisville, one of Frederick Law Olmsted's largest projects.  He designed their entire park system, including boulevards.  You'll find the Olmsted Parks conservancy here- a group designed to promote and preserve the parks systems in Louisville.  Everywhere I travel, I try to find the gems that he designed in the late 1800s, just to see what condition they are in more than 100 years later.  Often, amazingly, they continue to thrive, though some of his plans went "rogue" and have changed immensely.  His plans often called for a series of parks which could be connected by broad parkways.  I've been lucky to see his parks in New York City, Montreal, Louisville, and Chicago.  I've included a few pictures so you can see the similarities.
A fishing pond at Central Park NY

The Dairy Barn at Central Park
Mount Royal Park at Montreal was also designed by Olmsted

The bridge to the left of this photo, from Tyler Park in Louisville, was designed by Olmsted's son, John

Olmsted even designed private gardens like this home which is now a B&B in New Hampshire

In Milwaukee he designed Lake Park, Riverside Park, and Washington Park.  Considerable changes have been made since 1900.  Washington Park used to be the local zoo, so you can imagine what has been done since then.  Olmsted always liked water features, open spaces for play, and trees.  You can see a list of his other parks and learn more about this man who designed many parks.

Lake Park is the park for which Olmsted will truly be remembered in Milwaukee.  It was his design which led to the beach being created with Lincoln Memorial Drive.  The bluffs offer a view of the lake, though much of it is obscured by overgrown trees now.  The best views are often in wintertime.  You can enjoy the lions' bridge, grand staircase, promenades (Oak Leaf trail), and tour the lighthouse on a weekend.  What started as a six hole golf course now offers Night Glow Golf and a few more holes.  There's lawn bowling and athletic fields.  You can even enjoy an outdoor concert at the stage.  East Newberry Boulevard extends 12 blocks from Lake Park to Riverside Park.  It extends the parks in a beautiful way. It's honored by being listed as one of the APA's great places in America because of its beauty, shaded canopy and landscaped median.  When it was originally built, it had 20 foot wide sidewalks with a horse lane in the median.  Times have changed.

Golf at Lake Park

North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park
Waterfall through Lake Park ravine

Lions Bridge at Lake Park
Riverside Park is the home of the Urban Ecology Center which promotes nature and offers all types of outdoor adventure for young and old alike.  Not surprising, it is also the home of the new Centennial Arboretum at the river bank.  You can play at the playground, hike up to the Urban Ecology Center to check out reptiles, slide down the secret slide, and hike over to the river to do some fishing.  Become a member of the center and you can use all of their outdoors equipment for free, which includes kayaks!  The Oak Leaf Trail comes up to the back door, so it's a bike worthy location.
Kids love the secret slides, but they are big enough for adults

Borrow a kayak if you're a member

Kids and adults can try to climb the wall at Riverside UEC
Washington Park used to be called West Park, at the time it was a zoo, and you can read more about the history at the link provided.  Now it houses another Urban Ecology Center branch that offers neighborhood adventures and outings.  You can canoe at the lagoon, ice skate there in winter, or cross country ski across the hills using their equipment if you're a member.  There's an amazing array of equipment available year round.  With water features and grassy spaces, intermingled with winding paths, there's something for everyone.  Bike Polo is played on the old tennis courts.  There are a series of pocket parks, perfect for the climbers in your family.  Near the senior center you can find horseshoe pits- a rarity in the parks any longer.  You will need to bring your own horseshoes though.  And don't overlook the outdoor concerts, called Wednesdays at the Shell, which you can follow through the Facebook link.  As you can see, Frederick Law Olmsted started something with his park designs.  They may not be exactly as he envisioned them, but I think he'd be happy that they were being used more than 100 years out, for recreation by all types of people.
Bike Polo court 
horse shoe pits at Washington Park

Washington Park Urban Ecology Center in winter

You can listen to music here during summer

Pretty lagoon with bridges

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dogs on Beaches

It's probably no surprise to you if you are a dog owner, but we made a list for the Best Cities to Have a Dog recently.  We have a lot of great spaces for dogs.  What we don't have is an official dog beach.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the public beaches, and the fine is just over $200.  I had to get clarification because some people thought it was OK to have dogs on the northern most point of Bradford Beach, but still it is considered a non-dog beach area, though they can be in the grassy area. It is kind of peculiar though that every time we visit the beaches, there will be dogs.  There are plenty of signs posted that have to be passed on the way to the beach, but apparently it's a risk people are willing to take.  The only exception would be a service dog.

Bradford Beach
So where can you take a dog in Milwaukee?  We don't have a dog, but my son loves to pet them, so our favorite place to get our doggy fix is the Oak Leaf Trail.  They are allowed in all the parks that have the trail, as long as it isn't posted, but you do need a leash at all times.  The county parks have a complete listing of all allowed dog areas.  There are few places where you'll find doggy bags, so be sure to have something with you to clean up after your dog.  The fines for not having your dog leashed and not cleaning up after your pet is also $200.50.  It can be quite expensive if you're caught violating the dog ordinances.

ROMP (Residents for Off Leash Parks) is the organization that promotes and helps provide dog runs and exercise areas.  They also have a Facebook page, which you can "like" to stay up to date with facilities and dog events. There are 7 fenced areas for dogs in Milwaukee County- at Bayview, Currie, Roverwest in Riverwest, Granville, Estabrook, Runway, and Warnimont parks.  There are plenty of rules for these areas, which help make them safer.  You need to have current registration from your municipality, current immunizations including parvo, rabies, and distemper, and the dog needs to be free of communicable diseases.  Dogs younger than 6 months are not allowed because they typically have not had their full set of immunizations yet.  You'll have to apply for a county permit, which can be purchased for the entire year at $25 or just a daily pass $5.  You'll find more information about applications and where you can purchase the pass at the county website.  Once you have all that, your dog must be with a human at all times, and it should be friendly.  Aggressive dogs are not welcome in this type of social environment.  Be sure to remove all choke chains while the dogs are in the fenced area.

A happy dog running free at Roverwest 
If you don't mind leaving the county and heading north to Mequon, there's a lovely open area with woods and a creek at Katherine Kearney Carpenter Park.  And don't forget to check the greater Milwaukee area dog parks website for more suggestions about where to play with your best friend.

Doctors Park- the Northern Milwaukee Beach Park

We visited Doctors Park this week on a sunny Saturday.  This is usually the least crowded beach of the Milwaukee beaches.  There isn't a lifeguard here, no changing facilities other than a portable toilet at the beach level, and it takes quite a hike to get to the beach.  You are usually certain to find a place to spread out your towel and have access to the icy water of Lake Michigan, without seaweed.  This beach is not groomed, so you may have to do your own clean-up from things that wash ashore.

I was surprised to see someone had hauled a couple of kayaks down to the beach.  There are 3 ways to get there- one is paved so you could tow a hand trailer.  The other 2 involve stairs.  The kayaking is great once you get there, but you do have to be motivated.  There are plenty of flat stones, if you're the kind of kid who loves to skip rocks.  The sand is good for building.  It's a great beach.
Kayaking is good, but it's a chore to get the kayak down to the water

This is a park that is getting some much needed attention from the Doctors Park friends group.  They are raising money to replace trees, refurbish buildings, and plan community events.  The day we visited was the annual picnic and there were plenty of people up in the park.  The traveling Sprecher's beer garden truck was there, as well as live polka music and games for anyone willing to play.  We tried the cheesy popcorn, hot pretzel, and an ice cream float with Orange Dream Soda.  Yumm!
The Beer Garden travels through several parks this summer

Schedule for the Traveling Beer Garden
You get to keep the glass.  When you visit again, bring it and refill it for a discounted price
The playground is usually uncrowded.  There is a sand base so you can bring your pails and shovels.  The paths through the park are paved, so it's also a good place for bikes with training wheels, scooters, and skateboards, though it's a short pathway.  It helps to see a map of the park for the layout if you want to find the beach.  There aren't good signs to direct you.  The park is right next to the Schlitz Audubon property, which is accessible by beach.  Check it out when you need plenty of exercise.  It's especially beautiful in spring when filled with migrating birds, and in fall when the trees  turn color and you can find chestnuts have fallen to the ground.  There's something here for everyone.
Play area near the parking lot

These old benches used to offer a seat to a beautiful lake view, but now the trees are overgrown

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Walker's Square- Wifi, Farmer's Market and a whole lot more!

We visited Walker's Square last weekend so I could check out the summer activity during the Farmer's Market.  The market is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8-5, though if it's not busy, I've been told vendors will leave earlier.  This is a pretty good market because it features some Hmong gardening experts who tend to have some unusual greens and other produce you won't find elsewhere.  They can offer lots of cooking tips.  The produce is clean, freshly picked, and beautifully presented.  Nearly everything is bundled so it costs $1.  It's easier for them if you bring small bills, but they provide plastic bags if you don't bring your own.

The park just got wifi which is a big deal. Only 3 parks in Milwaukee county system have wifi, that I'm aware of.  A nice perk if you want to relax on a shady bench and check your email.  The park has a great playground with a squishy surface.  One of the pieces has a ladder and an elevator that brings the children back down again.  I had never seen that, and it was a big hit with all the kids.  There's a wading pool, which was packed.  The toilets are open.  There's an ice lolly vendor who sells treats for $1.50, so my son tried one.  Delicious and refreshing!  They even had volunteers at a crafts table doing activities with the local kids.  It was a great place to relax for about an hour.   We'll be back again.

Playground with lots of climbing available

wading pool

vendors set up in the park three days a week

Do try the ice pops!  This one was mango.