Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bike Milwaukee

Every year at this time, young and old alike are looking forward to warmer weather, longer days, and an opportunity to get the bikes out again.  It's the start of bike racing season, as well as recreational rides.  The latest edition of Milwaukee magazine has a feature story about biking that will get you all pumped up.

Wheel & Sprocket puts on a Bike Expo in April every year that is to me the "season opener" for all things bike in Milwaukee.  This year there are seminars on everything you ever wanted to know about riding a bike, no matter what level rider you are.  Learn how to wash your bike, change a flat tire, be inspired to bike more, and find out about the new trail updates.  Of course, there will be a host of vendors and speakers available to answer all your questions.  This is held at State Fair Park April 10-12 and admission is free.  If you have a bike you'd like to get rid of, bring it with you and trade it in for something you like better.  You may never see the selection they bring out for this huge event.  There are truckloads of bikes delivered!

We have a lot of options when it comes to recreational bicycling in Milwaukee.  The Oak Leaf Trail includes more than 100 miles of paved routes through the city- some off road, some on. There is a brand new color map of Milwaukee which includes bike routes and trail links that was put together for the Park People, which will be included in the Oak Leaf Discovery Tour passport this year. Cost for the passport is only $5.  If you haven't done the discovery tour yet, this is a great way to bike from park to park so you'll see more of Milwaukee.  The new map includes places to stop for food and drink.  There is a new KK River corridor mapped out too.  Participate in the passport stamping all summer long and then join the party in fall where you can win valuable prizes to celebrate the parks.  Volunteers from Park People will be at the Bike Expo, but you can contact them directly to get a map or even bulk orders for a reduced price.

Even if you don't own a bike, you can use one for a few hours or more.  Hotel Metro guests have some available for use while they stay in Milwaukee.  You'll also notice bike kiosks about town where you can borrow a Bublr bike using your credit card. $3 will get you a single 30 minute ride from point A to B, and $3 per additional 30 minutes, so ideally you'd bike from one Bublr rack to another where you can pick up another bike once you've enjoyed whatever is in that locale.  They offer another option called Bublr pass. Pay $15 per month for unlimited 60 minute rides.  You can download their app which shows you the location of all the bike racks.
Milwaukee Bike & Skate has multi person bikes and hybrid mountain bikes available to rent by the half hour, and they are open Memorial Day to Labor Day at the Lakefront in Veterans Park. Many of the local bike shops rent bikes, including tandems, so the best place to shop around is through this Yelp link.  The locations are mapped and include addresses and phone numbers so you can call to talk about your specific needs.  

Milwaukee Bikes is an app from Wheel & Sprocket, you can download for your smartphone which includes Oak Leaf Discovery Tour maps, local safety information, and basic biking tips.  

The Wisconsin Bike Fed is a great place for additional information about anything bike related.  You can get a copy of the 2015 Ride Guide through them which includes many of the organized bike rides through the region.  They also have a Facebook page and an event link which is searchable by zip code.  

Maybe you like films and bikes?  Join the Milwaukee Bicycle Community for bike-in movie nights.  During winter, the movies are indoors, but during summer and fall, you can see movies at the Swing Park under the Holton Street viaduct.  This is a social group which includes a variety of other meet ups too.  

Do you have a passion for biking but need some encouragement?  Join a weekly bike ride from one of the local bike shops. Most have some kind of weekly ride so go to the bike shop nearest you and ask or try one of these.  Erik's Rider's Club has a variety of options.   South Shore Cyclery has an event calendar which includes their own rides as well as others. Cream City Cycling organizes rides for all abilities.  Group Ride is a website that has the entire US included and you can search for rides using zip code so if you travel with your bike, or enjoy doing that on vacation, you can find friends. 

Now you have plenty of places to find a bike, ride a bike, and meet up with others.  The motivation will have to come from you.  Enjoy your ride!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A New Skateboard Park in West Allis

Radtke Park has a new skatepark installed
Last November a much anticipated skate park opened in West Allis at the northeast corner of National and 84th Street.  Because it snowed the day after the ribbon cutting, I just visited it this weekend.  They had hoped to build it sooner, but the original design ended up costing much more than they thought it would.  I've been following the project via their Facebook page, which is a closed group one can join to enter the discussion.  The snow and cold weather haven't stopped enthusiastic young people from using it all winter.  They even brought shovels from home to clear the snow.

I spoke with a few, of the nearly 40 people enjoying the park, about their thoughts.  It's very popular with a mix of all ages.  They seemed very pleased with the park and its layout.  It seemed crowded for a cool spring day, so that could be a problem as weather warms up and kids get out of school for summer. It's a good indicator that if more of these were built, they would be used.  There was also a variety of users- bikes, skateboards, and even scooters.  It was fun to watch them in action, but a few times there were nail biting near misses.  Users have to be really observant and watch out for the younger kids.  I'll just leave you with a few photos but encourage you to check it out, even if you're not a skater.  It's fun to watch these talented people in action.  For other skate parks in our area, check out my previous post which includes Estabrook and Oak Creek.

Urban Forest Maple Sugaring

Maple Sugar Days in Milwaukee County include tours of the urban forests
Wisconsinites are a hearty bunch, and those who live in the city are no exception.  We like to "live off the land", even when it's just for show.  Maple sugaring time is a great example.  In spite of having tall buildings and underground sewer, we are known for our urban forests.  In fact, we made the list of the top 10 "Best Cities for Urban Forests" a few years back.  When warmer weather starts to show, the sap runs in the maple trees around the city, and in a few parks, you can experience the art of maple sugaring.  That time is now.

The trees need cold temperatures at night and warm sunshine during the day.  Sometimes spring comes too quickly and we have a bad year for the sugar.  Once a tree has buds, the sap tastes bitter and can't be used.  I visited a couple of our parks yesterday to see how the process is going.

The Washington Park Urban Ecology Center had a group eager to learn more about making maple syrup- both young and old alike.  I met Eric as he took them on a walk through the park.  First stop was just outside the back door where a volunteer was stoking the fire and cooking sap that had been collected earlier.  It smelled kind of sweet, and kind of smoky.  The clear liquid was boiling and Eric explained that it had to remain boiling to cook off the water in the sap.  Though it was a large pan, he said in the end it would make about a quart of syrup.  When the liquid starts to get thicker and has an amber color, it is taken indoors to cook.
The wood stove with a pan of maple sap cooking
The hike went over the bridge to the other side of the park, near the band shell, where there were several maples.  Because there were no leaves on the trees, Eric explained how to identify the sugar maple by its bark, woodpecker holes, and the way the branches grew.  If a tree has branches that grow opposite to each other, it can be an ash or a maple.  The photo below shows one of the sugar maples.  If you are considering tapping maple trees in your own backyard, there's a good video to help you determine if you have a sugar maple.
Look for opposite branches on the tree

Many years ago, maple sap was collected in buckets which had to be washed and stored when not in use.  Someone came up with the idea to use plastic bags which can be tossed after the season is over.  the only downside is that they can blow off if the sap isn't weighing them down and sometimes critters like squirrels will chew a hole in the bag to get to the sap.  Larger healthy trees can support more than one taphole, so you may see trees with 2 bags.
Holes are drilled and bags hung

We went to Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park to learn more about tapping, as they were celebrating their Maple Sugar Days. I found Ken Keffer, Naturalist, tending a pot of sap cooking just before he spoke with one of the dozens of groups coming through this weekend.  He said he used to camp out in the woods as a child and help make maple syrup, but things were historically a bit different.  A handheld drill was used to punch holes in the trees and sometimes the spouts were made from sumac.  He later demonstrated how a sumac branch could be hollowed out using a hot metal instrument. It was hard work, but obviously something he enjoyed and still does as an adult.

Ken Keffer at Wehr Nature Center woods
Though most of the formal events are finished for this season, you may still see maple sugaring happening at Riverside Park, Washington Park, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, and Wehr Nature Center.  This happens every March so put it on your schedule for next year, if you want to experience this in person.  You can support the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center by attending their pancake breakfast April 4th, where maple syrup from the park will be used.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Milwaukee Microadventures

I consider myself an adventurer. I'm a person who likes to plan adventures wherever they can happen.  There are some that take a lot of planning and expense like a hot air balloon over the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, or a trip to Japan during Cherry Blossom season.  Though those are memorable and wonderful, I think it's equally important to have some fun right here at home in Milwaukee.  These close to home adventures are more like "microadventures".  It's not a word I made up.  There's a famous bicycling adventurer, Alistair Humphreys, who wrote a book about it.  He talks about how most of us work from 9-5, but have free time to fit in some fun from 5-9.  He gives examples in his book.  Follow his blog for some great photography and extreme adventuring.

It seems that this time of year (late winter) is extremely difficult for me and everyone else.  We're a bit tired of the cold.  There isn't enough snow in which to play.  We long for summer and sunshine. I'm reminded when I drop my son off at school and am asked, "what's new?", I have no interesting response. Have I become that boring?  Have you become that boring?

I decided to make up a list of some microadventures you can have right here in Milwaukee during the hours you aren't working. Since this is a blog about the green spaces, they will all include some portion of fun in a park or in the outdoors.  With a little brainstorming, I'm sure you can come up with even more.  Feel free to share your ideas and microadventures in the comments.

Pick up a Bublr bike and ride along the lakefront.  The bikes return March 16 to a station around the city. Get the mobile app for more information about locations.  I find it easiest to pick up a bike at Discovery World and then you can either bike north to Bradford Beach or head west to the Domes via the Hank Aaron Trail.

Fly a kite at Veteran's Park. The Gift of Wings kite shop is open year round if you need a kite, ice cream or other goodies.

Join a group outing at Lake Park.  Their events calendar has a variety of choices including bird walks, clean-ups, and yoga.

Learn to make maple syrup or do some birding at Wehr Nature Center.  Ask for a copy of the Oak Leaf Birding Trail map.

Take a picnic to one of the highest points in Milwaukee- there are three I have in mind, but maybe you know more: Sheridan Park along the bluff, Kilbourn Reservoir Park, or Juneau Park.  The views are pretty amazing right now because the leaves are all gone from the trees.  Or watch a sunset from Lakeshore State Park- it's the best view in the city, in my opinion (the sun sets over the city- not the lake).  Or if you're an early morning person, bring your doughnuts to the lakefront and watch a sunrise.
The view from Kilbourn Reservoir Park

The Rock Sports Complex still has a few runs open for skiing because they make snow.  Go strap on some skis and do a few runs.  Stop in at the Beer bar to try out some craft beer.

Take your camera out and shoot some photos.  Here's a blogpost about some of my favorite spots, and Shothotspot has recently developed a map of the best places in the county, which includes many of mine.  This is a site that automatically finds places based on photos posted all over the world using Flickr. Go check it out!

Download the Best of Brew City app to find out about what's happening today in our city.

Go to the Mitchell Park Domes to enjoy the indoor plants, concerts, or Saturday Farmer's Market.  The final concert is March 19 and it's a family beach party!  The Farmer's market is spectacular and runs through mid April. If you have a membership to Boerner Botanical Garden, entry is free to the Domes.

Become a member of the urban ecology centers (there are 3 to choose from) so you can rent seasonal equipment for FREE!  Go fishing, hiking, birdwatching, volunteer, take a class.  They always have something going on.

Sit on a swing at the Swing Park with some friends and be a kid again.  If you're not sure where to find it, put Trocadero in your GPS- 1758 N. Water- and get a bite to eat while you're there.

Feeling energetic?  See how many times you can do Atwater Park stairs or any others in the parks (the link gives you several options).  That will really get your blood flowing!
Atwater Park stairs

Go see the birds of prey at Schlitz Audubon Center and take a hike.  There's something happening nearly every day of the year at the center.

Join a spring clean up at a park or the river.  One of these is fun, huge (50 places to choose from), and very organized by Milwaukee Riverkeeper.  Put April 18 on your calendar now.

The Grohmann Museum's rooftop will open when weather permits.  Grab a 50 cent coffee in the basement, then go to the roof.  You can view the current exhibit, The Art of the Milwaukee Road, until late April for $5. This is a must see for anyone interested in railroads or trains.

Hike a part of the Oak Leaf Trail.  Most of it is paved and easy to access. There's an interactive map on the Park People website. A new printed map will be available with the passport May 1.

It won't be long before the rivers will thaw and it will be kayak season.  The lagoon at Veterans Park will be ready for watersports like stand up paddle boarding.  In fact, for more warm weather ideas, check out my previous blog with the "Not Bummer Summer list".  There should be no excuse for not doing something interesting.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Winter Farmers Market

The market is a busy place!
Missing your summer fix of veggies direct from the farm?  There's still a pretty wonderful place to find everything you need, and it's indoors every Saturday morning at the Domes through April 11.  Called the Milwaukee County Winter Farmer's Market, it is stocked full of vendors, music, gift ideas, and people.  There is definitely something for every taste and it won't break your weekly budget.

Parking is available in the front lot, where you'd normally park when you visit Mitchell Park Domes, but there is also plenty of overflow parking at the rear of the newly built greenhouses.  Traffic assistants are usually at the entrances and can direct you to parking.  Of course, if you need to do a drop off with someone who shouldn't be walking on ice or snow, just speak to one of the friendly assistants and they will allow you to do a drop off in the front of the building.
Park behind the Greenhouses and Domes where you'll find a paved walkway to the front door
The market has recently moved to one of the greenhouses, which makes it wonderful and warm.  Seven new greenhouses were built to grow the county's plants used for the Domes and other parks.  It's great to have all the space for planting and growing at one location. You can read more about the construction at Hunzinger Construction's web page.

As you enter, you'll find food samples, fresh vegetables, canned goods, coffee, and even items from the Friends of the Domes gift shop.  You can come hungry because there are pancakes with maple syrup, sandwiches, and other freshly made food, which you can eat at tables provided at the rear of the greenhouse.  I'll leave you with some photos of the people and goods we enjoyed.  Bags are provided by the vendors, but bring your own reusable bag, if you prefer. We ended up buying more than I expected.  Credit cards are welcome, but cash is preferred.

Be sure to check this out before the snow melts.  While you're there, pop in to the exhibit featuring trains through March 15.  Or wait until the spring floral show, That's Amore, begins March 28.   You will have to pay admission to enter the Domes unless you are already a member of the Domes Friends group, but the Farmer's Market entry is free.
These lovely ladies greet people with samples

Jams, pickles, and even pickled peppers

My son, Omar, always loves the lady musicians

A variety of potatoes

Winter veggies are available

You'll find a variety of mushrooms

An unusual looking mushroom- I picked up a basket to cook with some garlic chicken

They smell heavenly and look so pretty

Quite a variety of cookies- we tried the chocolate chip pistachio

One of our local Valentine baristas will fix you a great cup of coffee