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

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