Sunday, May 31, 2015

Beautiful Seven Bridges Trail at Grant Park

Covered Bridge at head of Seven Bridges Trail
This trail in Grant Park is one of my favorite places to come, no matter what the season.  It's a lovely place to see spring wildflowers, deer, fall color, and get to the beach without walking too far, if I have my son along. Someone told me when they were younger, there were actually seven bridges, but now there are 10.  I suppose it's not worth it to change the name over a bridge count.  If you watch Around the Corner with John McGivern, you'll know that John Gurda is the area historian.  He did an hour long program about his favorite historical places and he included the history of this park and how the original bridges were built.  You can find it on youtube. Grant Park Clubhouse is a victorian home (with some updates) which was originally purchased from the homeowner, Horace Fowle, so the entire area used to be part of that farm.
The clubhouse near the golf course

wild flowers are plentiful in spring
Fall at the park

The bridges have had some work done in the past few years, but you'll still notice trees lying down in the area.  It's best to stick to the marked paths so you don't add to the erosion or damage the wildflowers. Some say the area is haunted, but I never saw anything to indicate that.
Newest bridge replaced
This trail has lots of steps

This 2 mile trail is listed as a National Recreational Trail, one of many in Wisconsin.  Most of the trails on the list are just a couple of miles in length, and doable in a day.  I might mention that this website is a good place to get a listing, but it has a lot of information missing on most trails, so you'll want to check the county parks link or other organization if you need more information.  You'll find a variety of organizations built these trails, and in fact, some are still being developed.  We owe a lot to the volunteers who maintain them.  Usually they are 'friends groups' for the trail or park location who organize work parties.    The details for Seven Bridges Trail, however, is quite detailed and accurate, so I'll include that National Recreation Trail link here.

I had about an hour today to do some hiking, so I traveled through the covered bridge near where you park, and walked to the lake, following the bluff and parts of the paved Oak Leaf Trail south past the golf course, until I came to the beach access.  You can take the driveway to the parking lot at the beach house.  From the beach house, I walked back along the lake.  The sun was shining today, so by doing this, the sun was at my back when I followed the lakefront until I saw the access to Seven Bridges Trail.  This way I had plenty of bird chatter on the way south and the sound of waves heading north.  There were plenty of robins, red winged black birds, and I even heard a woodpecker.
Oak Leaf Trail is paved

Beach View

The Oak Leaf trail portion of Grant Park is a particularly nice place to take a stroller or wheelchair because you can actually go for quite a long way through the woods and experience nature on a paved path.  Of course, you can't take a stroller through the ravines of Seven Bridges. I was surprised by a pair of deer at the restrooms near the covered bridge.  They were eating quietly and didn't seem to be bothered by me.

If you have small children, and you don't want to do the rugged trail, I'd recommend you park at Wil-O-Way Grant Park.  Here you'll find a picnic area, sand box, playground, bathrooms, and a small pond which had a pair of geese on it today.  There's also access to the Oak Leaf Trail here, so you could take a stroller from the parking lot and go as far as you like in either direction.  The Oak Leaf Trail connects all the lakefront trails, although there are some on-street connections.  Grant Park also has a nice large playground with lots of climbing structures.
Wil-O-Way play area
Play area at Grant Park

If you're participating in the Oak Leaf Discovery Tour and need a passport, you can get one at Grant Park golf clubhouse for $5.  This tour includes passport stamps and code words.  If you participate you can win prizes and attend the end of summer party.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Great Outdoor Spots for Photos

McKinley Beach
I wrote about photo shoot sites a few years ago, and it turned out to be the most "googled" entry on the blog so I know there are people out there interested in photographing Milwaukee.  I have learned about many more places while writing my Milwaukee books, so I thought this was worth a rewrite.  I also learned that people are looking for spots year round, not just in summer, so I've expanded to include some fall and winter photos here.

There are locations where you have to pay admission, but will simply have so many choices that I'm sure you'll find something to make the admission worth it.  Try the Grohmann Museum roof top gardenVilla Terrace, Lynden Sculpture Gardens, Mitchell Park Domes and Boerner Botanical Gardens.  The Milwaukee Zoo has some great spots too.
The rose garden at Boerner Botanical Garden

Lynden Sculpture Garden has a pond and a variety of trees

Villa Terrace has blooming flowers, an arbor, staircase, nice patio and fantastic fall color
Then there's Lake Michigan. The sun rises over Lake Michigan all year round.  If you're interested in shooting the beach at sunrise, you can go to any of the lake front beaches very early in the morning.  The sun rises at a different place along the lakefront every month, so don't count on the same sunrise in summer as fall. In winter, the lake freezes and can create all kinds of magic.  Some have old concrete breakwaters still in the water and those can be useful if you want to set up something further out in the water.  You can access them from dry land and walk out to the end. The pier next to McKinley beach is  also a good place to get out into the water and if weather is a bit windy, you'll see wave action there too.  With the right angle, you can get a view of the lighthouses.

Big Bay Park
Bradford Beach in January at sunrise
If you want the sun behind you, shoot early in the day and you can use the bluff as the back drop at Atwater Beach, Klode ParkGrant Park, and Doctor's Park.  If you walk through Seven Bridges trail to the lake at Grant Park, there is sometimes amazing lighting with reflections in the creek and the clouds tend to gather over the lake, though you'll need something to take care of sunspots if you choose to shoot into the sun.  You'll find lots of small rocks at Big Bay, Klode, and Grant Park, so if you need shots of bare feet or younger children, it adds texture and interest.
Lake Michigan at Grant Park
The stairs at Atwater Beach are nice because you can set up a larger group of people and because there aren't any trees, you won't get shade on the faces.  Atwater also has some colorful playground equipment at beach level that will make any shot jump out.  It's also large enough that adults can sit in the dish swing, even 2 people at a time.  There's a structure there that will also accommodate a group that kind of looks like a Christmas tree, and another that is tilted and circular.

Atwater Beach

Atwater Beach

If you like the huge white rocks, Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay is great.  McKinley Beach has some pretty rocks off shore that add to the interest in a lake photo.  You can actually climb on them at McKinley to get both the rocks and the lake.  My favorite park for rocks, water, bridges, and beautiful flowers, grass, etc is Lakeshore State Park.  It has everything you need for outdoor shots.  If you come late in the day, the lighting is awesome as the setting sun reflects on the water side of the park.
Put your model on top of the rocks at McKinley Beach

Rocks at Big Bay 


Lakeshore State Park

View of the lake at Lakeshore State Park

When you want to use the city as a back drop, there are 2 possible locations just off North Ave near Holton- Kadish Park with the pavilion, and on the other side and up higher is Kilbourn Reservoir.  If there are puffy white clouds with a blue sky, this makes it even better.  Lakeshore State Park also has a bit of the city, but you get the Summerfest grounds in the photos.  These parks are probably the best places to see a sunset also, but don't expect spectacular.  Sunrises are much better in Milwaukee.  You can also go to the rooftop of St. Luke's Hospital, at 2900 W. Oklahoma, where there's a place called the Healing Garden.  It has indoor and outdoor space, with plenty of plants and a panorama of the entire Menomonee Valley.  South Shore Park has a nice view of the skyline with boats in it. The bath house is pretty there too, and you can usually get inside if you want indoor photos too.

View from Kilbourn Reservoir Park
View from the Healing Garden at St. Luke's Hospital
South Shore Park
If you want those shots with a shady waterfall or large trees, go to Lake Park.  The waterfall is south of the parking lot at Lake Park bistro.  The lions bridge or the light house are also great locations to set up a shoot.  Large trees are available with the oldest and largest at the northern end of Lake Park.  You'll find large wooded areas in Sheridan Park and Greenfield Park too.   Those are big enough there that you can put a body up against a tree and get lots of interesting texture in the background.  There are groves of trees in the parks if you want fall leaves for a shot.  They are indicated on the county park maps with wording "exceptional native plant community" and you can see examples on both links above for Sheridan and Greenfield Parks.  With the right weather and timing, you can get spectacular color.
Larger trees are fun to use
Greenfield Park
Whitnall Park has the largest waterfall that I'm aware of, though there's another good size waterfall at the south end of Grant Park near the mill pond. You just can't get down into it like you can at Whitnall.  Park at the smaller lot near the golf course where you can see the lake.  Walk down the hill to the lake and waterfall.  You can hear the water from the parking lot, so you'll know you're at the right place.  Estabrook and Kletzsch parks also have the river and somewhat of a waterfall as it passes by.


For bridges, well, you can probably guess that I'm going to recommend Seven Bridges trail in Grant Park.  I also love the covered bridge over the ravine at the trail head.  The bridge over the river between the Holton Street swing park and Lakefront Brewery is interesting and you can get views through it as well as river shots.
Trailhead at Seven Bridges Trail in Grant Park

Stone bridge near the waterfall at the Mill Pond at the south end of Grant Park


Holton Street Bridge
For quirky art and color, my pick would be Cass street park with the boys and girls club mural just across the street too.  If you like what you see at Cass Street Park, the same artist has work at Snails Crossing in Riverwest. For more murals, check out Milwaukee Mural Map.  It's interactive and gives you street locations for lots of colorful places.
Dragon at Cass St. Park

Mural at Boys & Girls Club near Cass St. Park
For all around interest along the river, go to the river walk.  You can get water, buildings, structures, color...no matter what season.  Don't forget the Bronz Fonz is there too.  If you really want to be adventurous, take a boat tour or rent a kayak and take your camera.
River Walk has interesting structures and water

My favorite photo of my youngest son was actually taken at Holton Bridge Swing Park.  That's a good place even if the sun isn't shining because it's covered.  There are a variety of swings and the textures of the bridge overhead make it interesting.
Holton Swing Park
Alice's Garden is mainly a place with garden plots people can rent for vegetables and flowers, but they have a labyrinth of herbs that might be something for you to check out.  Probably the best time to go here is late June through late August when there's something blooming. You may find sunflowers, colorful cabbage, and dahlias in the garden plots.
Labyrinth at Alice's Garden
Trimborn Farm has nine buildings that could be used as a real old time rustic Wisconsin landscape, and Whitnall Park has a bright red barn.
Whitnall Park

Trimborn Farm

Lastly, don't over look the website, Shot Hot Spot.  It uses photos on Flickr to determine the most photographed places all over the world.  Put in Milwaukee county, or anywhere you might travel.  It will list the places and show points on a map.  In many cases, there are sample photos from those points.  This is a lot of fun to use if you're new to an area. In Milwaukee, it includes graffiti, abandoned buildings and railroad tracks.

There are likely many more spots.  Add your great finds in the comments!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Milwaukee's Quirky Parks

Summer is coming and I know you're looking for a few new places to explore.  I wrote about interesting yard art last fall, which you can check out here. This time, I decided to pull together a list of all the most unusual places I could think of which are in the great outdoors.  Put these on your summer bucket list, though they are equally quirky and fun no matter what time of year.  Many have awe inspiring art.  Some feature historic gems.  All will leave you feeling a bit happier about visiting.  I've created a Milwaukee Quirky Parks pinterest board with more information about the places listed here, just in case you use Pinterest.  While you're there, you can check out the Milwaukee travel board I used when I was creating my Milwaukee Bucket List book.  Lots of great adventures can unfold!

Cass Street Park, at Pleasant & Cass streets. features some beautiful work by local artist Marina Lee.  She also has sculptures at the Snail's Crossing, 3500 N. Bremen in Riverwest neighborhood, and a few others on Martin Luther King Blvd where 6th & Keefe meet (Five Points). Her fiberglass creations are fun and whimsical. She also makes mosaic pathways and interesting planters.
Marina Lee's sculpture at Five Points
Mosaic at Snails Crossing

 City Yard is a sidewalk park outside of the Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., which includes old call boxes, fire hydrants, signs, stairs, and other interesting older city artifacts.  I love the lions.  Be sure to look at all of them because each has a unique word.


Interested in history?  Really old, old history?  We have perhaps the oldest building in all of North America right here in a park like setting on Marquette University's campus, though it was originally built in France and moved here.  It's the Joan of Arc Chapel and you can drop by nearly every day of the year to view the interior.  You can't really see it from the street, nor is there parking at the chapel.  You'll need to park on a nearby street and walk to the inside commons area. Students sometimes give tours, and mass is celebrated there while school is in session.  Check the website link for details.
Joan of Arc Chapel
On a historic note, there are other parks with old buildings.  Juneau Park has a replica of the  log cabin home of city founder, Solomon Juneau, as well as statues of Leif Erikson, and Solomon Juneau, and a fantastic view of the lakefront.  If you geocache, you'll find this on the Milwaukee geocaching tourTrimborn Farm, at 8881 W. Grange in Greendale, is a Victorian era farmstead with nine buildings including a limestone barn, granary, and lime kilns.  Hales Corners has Ben Hunt's cabin, which is open to the public once a month. It is located at 5885 S. 116th, which is near the library.
Solomon Juneau cabin
Entrance to Trimborn Farm during winter

Want to hold the world in your hands?  This can make some fun, captivating photos!  The globe at the top of Ogden Ave. stairs is also reachable from the Oak Leaf Trail portion that runs along the lakefront.  While you're in that neighborhood, stop by the Jewish museum grounds to see the Holocaust Memorial at 1360 N. Prospect. Visitors enter through steel sheets that look like pages of a book, each with the name of a concentration camp.  Once you're inside, it's quite private.  A somber and beautiful place.
The globe
Lake Park is historic, beautiful and one of three parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  Look on the map at the Lake Park link for the prehistoric burial mound, one of the last remaining in this part of the state. This park also has beautiful bridges, enormous lions, a waterfall ravine, and is the home of North Point lighthouse.  There's even a storage shed which used to be a Nike tracking station during the Cold war.  The Lake Park Friends website does a good job of telling the history of this park.

Forest Home Cemetery is a rare garden cemetery, from the time when people would picnic and pay respect to family members who had passed on.  It has the widest range of trees planted in the area and is the final resting place for many famous early Milwaukee mayors, beer barons, and entrepreneurs.  The graves are artistic and original.  Go on a weekend tour to get the most out of the visit.
Blatz- a beer baron's grave here

Want to play chess?  There is a single board in what many people call Stone Bracelet Park at 3rd & Walker in Walker's Point.  You can't miss the HUGE stone from which the park gets its common name. Enderis Park has a couple chess boards as well as some amazing huge artificial trees made by artist Nancy Metz White, called the Magic grove. 2900 N. 72nd St.  There's another magical tree by the same artist at Mitchell Boulevard Park, called the Tree of Life. 5115 W. Bluemound Rd.
Bring your own chairs at Walker's Point Park

Chess at Enderis Park
Stone Bracelet

The Magic Grove
Tree of Life
In the same area as Mitchell Boulevard is the Wisconsin Soldier's Home which features civil war era buildings and Wood National Cemetery, complete with cannons at the 60 foot tall Soldiers and Sailors monument.  Download the walking tour at iTunes.

Want a bird's eye view of Milwaukee?  Take either set of stairs to the top of Kilbourn Reservoir Park at North Ave. between Holton and Humboldt.  This used to contain the water supply for the entire city but now it's just a very high park.  Or ride the elevator to the top of MSOE's Grohmann museum with a $5 admission, and see sculptures and flowers too.  The sculptures (all featuring men at work) face out during winter months, and in when the rooftop garden opens. This is also one of the cheapest places to get a drink at the student priced vending machines in the lowest floor of the museum.  Be sure to check out the paintings which are, in my opinion, some of the greatest artworks outside of Europe by European painters.  Want a view of the entire valley?  The best place is at St. Luke's Healing Garden, 2900 W. Oklahoma, which is on the hospital's ninth floor and is open to the public.  You'll see a panorama of the ball park all the way to the Basilica from up there.  Part of the garden is indoors, so don't let wet weather keep you away.
The view from Kilbourn Reservoir park
The Grohmann's sculpture garden

Healing Garden

A gorgeous fall morning view from the Healing Garden
Adults and kids on swings.  Great concept for those who are young or still want to feel young.  Try the Swing Park under the Holton St. Bridge near Trocadero at 1758 N. Water St.  You'll know you're in the right place when you see a mouse on a chimney high above street level, which is pretty unusual too. It has gone through some changes since it was first created by volunteers, but the concept is still basically recycled tires which are really fun.  Since it is covered, you stay dry no matter the weather.  Cross over the river bridge to Lakefront Brewery to see the quirky Stooges made of fermenting tanks.
Swings for all sizes
Walk the river walk to see seasonal art as well as have your photo taken with the Bronze Fonz.  It's a Milwaukee icon!  You may see an old phone booth, Gertie the duck, inset tiles made by local school kids, little free libraries...well, there is so much cool stuff.  You just have to experience it.
The Fonz
The River Walk

Have you ever walked through a sculpture of historical significance?  Catalano Square is the place to be.  Check out Stratiformis, a sculpture created by Jin Soo Kim using knitting machine parts.  Look closely and you'll see wear on the donated pieces or perhaps even a stray piece of yarn.
Cathedral Square Park is a great place for outdoor music and is famous for Jazz in the Park during the summer.  To extend this fun, the city crew painted a piano keyboard crosswalk at the square.

Maybe climbing a rock is more your style?  Try your hands and feet at Jake's Rock located in Hales Corner Park. This is a man made rock and is quite challenging.
Do you like large, old, gnarly trees?  Go to South Shore Park where you'll find a plaque indicating the largest European copper beech in the state.  How cool is that?  For more big tree fun, check out Eddee Daniel's Urban Wilderness blog about a tour of our county's largest trees.




For interesting sculptures, in Brown Deer you can visit Lynden Sculpture Gardens.  This lovely huge garden has a variety of sculptures placed throughout including painted cows, horses made of sticks, and a ladder in the pond. You're sure to find something on the grounds that will make you go hmmmm.....


And lastly, drive by Mary Nohl's house.  It may be moved...or it may not.  There has been some controversy about what will be done with the house since her death. The concrete sculptures in the yard are very interesting, though you are not able to enter the property at this time.