Monday, September 28, 2015

Kenosha Parks in Fall

I wrote about the new Dream Playground having its grand opening October 10, and I know some of you are wondering whether the drive will be worth it.  I'm here to tell you, Kenosha is a great family destination, especially in fall.  Once you've visited, you'll be back.  It's full of fun stuff to do, both indoors and out, all year round.  And I have to mention that most of it is FREE!  I love FREE and I'm sure you do too.  Kenosha does a great job of advertising all the fun you can have.  In fact, here's the updated fall list of 101 things you can see & do for under $10 in Kenosha. Be sure to try the electric streetcar.  For only $1 you can get around the 2 mile loop and have an adventure.  Kids love it and they only pay 50 cents.

Electric Streetcar/Trolley
For fall color and lots of outdoor activities, visit Petrifying Springs Park.  This is one of the best parks I've ever visited.  It has multiple playgrounds, a river running through it, several hiking trails, a golf course, dog run, squirrel playground, a real artisan well where you can fill water jugs, owl boxes, sledding, and lots of picnic spaces.  It reminds me of our Whitnall park. There are grills available if you want to bring charcoal and plenty of picnic tables- both covered and in the open.
A river runs through Petrifying Springs Park

One of the playgrounds at Petrifying Springs Park
The lakefront is beautiful.  There is a long beach at Simmons Island Park.  Though you may not want to get in the water, it's still a nice place to go.  This park also has a playground and a historic beach house.  Just around the corner is the History Center and one of the very few cream city lighthouses in existence- Southport Light Station Museum.  It has been completely restored and features all kinds of nautical information.  The tower is open for $10.  You can visit both buildings to learn more about the area, but watch the hours as they are seasonal.
Beach at Simmons Island Park

The beach house
Cream City Brick used to build this lighthouse
You can do picturesque Harbor Park which has plenty of waterfowl, a walking/biking trail, sculptures, lighthouses to see from a distance, fishing, boats, and a playground.  During nicer weather there's a splash pad, so keep it in mind for the summer.  You'll also find two museums (Public and Civil War) and a lovely flower garden here. I went to Harborside Common Grounds to get drinks and sandwiches before we hit the parks.  It's right at the beginning of the Harbor park area.   It has outdoor patios and an interesting decor, plus it's a good stop for bathrooms if you plan to walk the park.
A whimsical giraffe is one of the many sculptures

The playground at Harbor Park
Still need a pumpkin or some apples?  You have probably passed Apple Holler many times on your way to Chicago, but few know about Jerry Smith Produce & Pumpkin Farm.  It's much more than a garden stand.  They offer hay rides, pumpkin displays based on popular movies and books, a corn maze, playground, petting zoo where you can feed goats, and much more.  This place is full of photo opportunities. Check out the website attractions for hours and costs.  It's free just to look at the displays though.

Little Mermaid


By now you've probably realized you may not have time to do it all in a day maybe you'll decide make a weekend of it.  If you do, check the Visit Kenosha website for deals.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A New Accessible Playground in Kenosha

Kenosha Dream Playground
I visited Kenosha this week to see the new Dream Playground which will have its grand opening October 10 at 1:00 in Petzke Park (at 31st & 14th).  This is an amazing new play space, built by volunteers with a million dollars in donations. I spoke with Tammy Conforti, the lady behind the dream, and she was very humble about the project.  She said she just wants everyone to know that Kenosha welcomes people of all abilities. I know this is going to get lots of use.  There are  nautical structures and swings, including one that can hold a wheelchair.  You'll also find accessible new bathrooms.  It's just a beautiful project.  I hope you'll go and see it for yourself.

I'll be posting about other fun spots you can visit in Kenosha Parks over the next week, so check back for more ideas and make a day of it.  This fall is the perfect time to go visit Kenosha!

These playgrounds are becoming very popular and what community would not want to have one? It takes donations and lots of help from many people to see them get built.  There's a group in St. Francis raising funds currently.  When they are successful, that playground could be built at Green Park. Like the St. Francis All Abilities Facebook Page to keep up to date with their progress.

There are additional playgrounds which are accessible in the Milwaukee area.  Check out my Best Playgrounds blogpost for more information on Hart Park and Wil-O-Way.  Port Washington has Possibility Playground too.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Every Kid in a Park Initiative

Arches National Park is free to 4th graders and their families

This is a great time to be a 4th grader or have one in your family. President Obama 's administration is behind an effort to get every kid into a federally owned park.  It began September 1, and it's called "Every Kid in a Park". You can read more about it at the link. Go to the website to answer just a few questions and then print your pass good until next August 31.  It allows free access to the 4th grader and family to every national park.  It sounds like this will continue on an annual basis so when your kid reaches 4th grade, you can apply.

Though we don't have any national parks in Wisconsin, this might be the best time to plan a vacation during Christmas break, Spring break, or next summer.  You can find a park at the National Park Foundation. Thought most people visit our national parks only in warmer weather, you can visit many during the winter.  The photo above was from a trip we made to Arches National Park in winter.  And of course, some parks are beautiful and warm all year round- like the San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico. You can download several interesting guides at the National Park Foundation's website for some inspiration.  All are free.
San Juan National Historic Site has places to explore with kids
Locally, Riveredge Nature Center is adding another layer of benefits.  Any 4th grader can apply for a year of free all access membership at their website.  What do you get?  Year round access to trails, free programs, snowshoe use, admission to over 140 nature centers throughout the country through their reciprocal membership program, and day passes to share. This is the place my son had a great time climbing trees and I know you'll enjoy it too.  This Saturday they host the annual Sturgeon Festival at Lakefront State Park (by Discovery World).  Because it's the tenth anniversary of the festival, expect a great show.  They've invited Dr. Scott Sampson (Dr. Scott from PBS Dinosaur Train, and also author of "How to Raise a Wild Child", a favorite book of mine) who will do a 2:00 show and book signing afterwards.  You can sponsor a sturgeon and release it into the lake.  There will be displays and food.  Lots of fun from 11-3. We'll be there.  Hope to see you too!
Baby sturgeon

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Your Fall Outdoor Fun Checklist for Milwaukee

Greenfield Park wooded area

I went on a bike ride today and noticed that EVERYONE IS SMILING!!!  It's a great time of year to focus on the NOW.  Keep those warm memories of summer close and enjoy every day while you still can, even though the calendar says it is officially fall.

Any of the county parks will be pretty right now.  Lots of asters and black eyed susans in bloom.  Squirrels scurrying around to find acorns.  Ducks and geese are plentiful on the ponds and in the rivers.  The complete listing of county parks includes a GPS link now at the park system website, which can be helpful if you want to find biking and hiking connectors.  For a paper map, go to the Park People website and submit a request or stop by a golf course shop and some have them.  They cost $5, but the funds go to maintain trails so it's a good thing.

Not sure what to do?  You can always go to the County Parks website for events being held in the upcoming days or weeks.  If that isn't enough, here are some ideas to get you outdoors during this lovely season. You know how I love a good checklist!

Fall Outdoor Fun Checklist

1. Take a fall hike.  There are an abundance of places to hike in the parks both near and far, if you click on the link. Try to get over to the Ice Age Trail at least once. Eddee Daniel recommends finding Mangan Woods.  Though he did it in spring, I'm sure it's just as interesting and enjoyable in fall.

2. Ride a bike.  You can rent a Bublr bike through early December if weather allows.

3. Jog along the lakefront starting at Veterans Park.  Plenty of parking here by the kite shop or along the roadway.  Somehow the air just smells fresher at this park because you're away from the algae that often comes at this time of year.  All you need is a little ambition and a pair of good shoes.

4. Fly a kite at Veterans Park.  Stop by the Kite shop for an ice cream afterwards.

5. Swing on a tire swing at the Swing Park. It's covered so it's a great place in all weather.

6. Enjoy the view from the top of Kilbourn Reservoir Park- at the corner of North Ave. & Bremen.  Bring a picnic and you can soak up the sunshine and the sights.  Or for a spectacular view of the entire area, drive out to St. Luke's Hospital (2900 W. Oklahoma) and take the elevator to the Healing Garden on the ninth floor. No food allowed at the Healing Garden though you can go to Leon's Custard just across the street afterwards.
Gorgeous view from St. Luke's Hospital at sunrise

7. Walk along the Milwaukee Riverwalk and admire the wildlife, boats, and art work. You can still get outdoor seating at many places if you get thirsty.

8. Take a walking tour in the city with Historic Milwaukee Inc. You'll enjoy strolling the city and learn a lot in a couple of hours. Become a member of HMI and the tours are free!

9. Get in a canoe or kayak on the rivers through mid October.  Try Milwaukee Kayak, the Urban Ecology Centers, or Clearwater Outdoors. Washington Park has canoes for the lagoon too.

10. Take the stairs to get some exercise.  Of course Atwater Park in Shorewood is my favorite at this time of year.  The hillside was planted in natural grasses and flowering plants- very pretty.

11. See a sunrise from any of the beaches. Just because it's too cold to swim doesn't mean you can't get your toes in the sand.

12. Join a Fall weedout for a few hours on a weekend.  They are held at a variety of parks until early November.  Wear long pants and bring gloves if you have them.

13. Throw some rocks in the lake at Grant Park at the south end of the city or Doctors Park at the north. Both require a bit of a hike and the view of the lake will be your reward. At Grant Park you are able to park at the beach, but why not hike through Seven Bridges Trail?
Seven Bridges Trail

14. See some outdoor art by doing the Milwaukee Mural Map or the Monuments & Statues Tour through the city.

15. Borrow a dog and go to Lynden dog days or to Mequon's Catherine Kearney Carpenter dog park. It's my favorite. No leashes required and plenty of wooded trails. You may want to bring a towel because many dogs love the water here.

16. Play disc golf. You can pay a daily user fee for some parks or just use the free practice courses. These are all set in parks with beautiful foliage once fall really comes.

17. Try your feet at a game of foot golf with friends.  Pay extra for the golf cart if you need more adventure.

18. Stroll through Boerner Botanical Gardens to see the colorful mums and fall perennials in the trial garden.  There's been some construction going on at the garden so look for the new Whitnall Park Rotary Circle- a new accessible trail.

19. Try kiteboarding or just go watch them at Bradford beach on a windy day.

20. Eat an enormous pretzel at a beer garden.  Hubbard Park in Shorewood also has a beer garden and when the salmon are jumping this is a prime location to have a spot on the river. Often there is live music and it's free to listen.

21. Swap books at a little free library

22. Buy fresh food at a farmer's market. Most go until mid October.

23. Do the walking tour through the old Soldiers Home or Forest Home Cemetery.  Both have some interesting historic sights and pretty trees. You can download the self guided maps.  At Forest Home there's a new option which includes Civil War veterans.  
Forest Home Cemetery, home to beer barons and Milwaukee heroes

24. Go geocaching.

25. Unicycle at Red Arrow Park Tuesdays and Wednesdays as long as weather allows. Check the schedule or visit the Facebook page for more information.

26. Oktoberfest. It's all about brats, music, and beer. There are many events with some in parks.  OnMilwaukee put together a guide that will help you choose. Barktoberfest is this weekend.  Don't miss it if you love dogs!

27. Check out Villa Terrace gardens.  You've probably driven by those beautiful wrought iron gates.  Pay the admission and see the inside and walk down the hill through beautiful plants.
Villa Terrace

28. Take some photos of family, friends, or just cool nature.  Here's a blogpost about some great sites to try in the parks.

29. Go to the zoo.  There's a new baby giraffe and all the animals are peppy in cooler weather. The fall colors are pretty on the lagoon.
Milwaukee Zoo

30. Watch the salmon jump at Kletszch, Estabrook, or Hubbard Park. There's also a good spot near the North Avenue pedestrian bridge over the Milwaukee River.
31. Take a guided walk to look at nature and birds with the Urban Ecology Centers.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Milwaukee River Revitalization- What's Up with That?

We've heard for years that Milwaukee is the reason for poor water quality in Lake Michigan all the way to Chicago.  Turns out Chicago has a few problems of its own making the rivers unsafe to use. People made jokes about how the Milwaukee rivers were too toxic to enjoy.  Yet quietly, there's been a small army of people doing some great stuff to make our urban water trails useable and beautiful. Eddee Daniel wrote a feature in Milwaukee Magazine yesterday about how Milwaukee is so much like Portland and we really could be a green destination.

Have you been out on the river lately?  I encourage you to take a hike along the river or better yet, put in a kayak or canoe and enjoy paddling while the views go by.  I found some happy people on the river near Milwaukee Centennial Arboretum this week and talked to them briefly.  A couple of cousins had taken out a kayak from the Urban Ecology Center.  You know if you join, you can use everything in their lending closets at three branches for free all year long?  It's a great way to try a variety of outdoor activities without investing too much money.  Memberships start at $35 for an individual, which also includes one guest.  It's a bit of a hike down to the river from the UEC, but they have a wheel to put under the kayaks to make it a bit easier, which you store in the kayak while you paddle.

Kayaking cousins enjoying the Milwaukee River
Milwaukee Riverkeeper has been doing testing of the Milwaukee rivers and is working towards having cleaner, even swimmable rivers one day.  They are always looking for volunteers to help restore river banks and do testing.  You can follow their activities on Facebook.

The Milwaukee rivers are part of an urban water trail. Maybe you've noticed signs along the river at county parks?  If you have your own watercraft, you can download the map at the Riverkeepers canoe & kayak guide link  which will show you where you can launch, where you'll have to do portage, and can even offer a few ideas about where to eat.

The River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) is a land trust that acquires land where it would be beneficial to make connections along the river.  While the Riverkeepers work on the water itself, the River Revitalization Foundation works on the land adjacent.  The open space next to their building used to be an abandoned restaurant which they are restoring to natural habitat for all to enjoy. This property is the connection point between the downtown Riverwalk and all the trails in the Milwaukee River Greenway.

RRF recently hosted Americorp members who did some major clean-up and planting.  You can see photos of the work on their Facebook page and follow events.  I've copied a few photos from the before/after of a trail creation- what an amazing transformation! If you enjoy working outdoors and meeting likeminded people, join one of the volunteer sessions where you'll be removing invasive species and planting prairies and river edge properties.  You can be part of a lasting legacy with your involvement.  They have open hours on Monday from 2-4, Friday 1-3, and Saturday 10-1.  They own a couple canoes and kayaks that volunteers can use for free after you volunteer 10 hours.  There's a boat launch on the river near their headquarters building.  This is the organization which helped get a beautiful pedestrian bridge built near North Avenue and worked with property owners to make the Milwaukee Centennial Arboretum a reality.  Check it out when you're up for a hike.
These guys had their own canoe and put in behind the River Revitalization Foundation building

You can see the RRF building with some work they've been doing 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Butterfly Hikes

This is beautiful weather to get outdoors, and it's still light enough you can do it after work. excuses!  I hope you'll enjoy some of this lovely Indian Summer weather we're having.  I've written previously about Fall Hikes in Milwaukee and there are a few on that list that will be really lovely once the leaves start to change.

In the meantime, I wanted to focus on late summer flowers.  The asters, thistles, and black-eyed susans are in bloom and a variety of wildflowers are full of butterflies and bees.  If you're a macro-camera buff, this is the ideal time for all kinds of beautiful bug photos.
Bees like all the blooming flowers now, including thistle

Pretty aster are plentiful
I liked Kevin Revolinski's first book, Best Easy Day Hikes Milwaukee.  In fact, it was the book that got me into the Milwaukee parks to begin with.  I didn't grow up here in Milwaukee so I needed some help finding great spaces in the outdoors.  Now he has a new book that includes a few of our brand new parks, Best Hikes Near Milwaukee.
I got it out the other day and did the hike through the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. A lot has changed since it was first started.  Everything is growing and in bloom now where there used to be just dirt.  What a fabulous addition to our parks.  This is adjacent to the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park.  You can bike there using the Oak Leaf Trail.  If you do that, take a short detour at Cambridge Woods neighborhood for a few blocks and go see the Boat House (3138 N. Cambridge), something that is pretty unique. You will eventually need to park the bike and walk down to the river as the river trail is not bike friendly.  His hike takes you on the East Bank Trail along the river, then you cross on a new pedestrian bridge just past North Avenue and pick up the Beerline Trail.  The book includes photos, written descriptions, and maps of the 40 hikes.

Have you ever seen a real boat being used for a house?

If you want more suggestions for hikes, look for Ice Age hikes at Every Trail website and a list from Wisconsin Trails of 6 fall hikes within 60 miles of Milwaukee which includes many of my favorites.    For hikes in the county parks, check the Park People website. There are a few butterfly gardens in Lake Park, though they were created with storm water in mind and are called rain gardens. You can read more about them at this link. You'll find a large number of bugs here if you are patient.  Any of the parks with meadows will be likely candidates for bugs and butterflies.
Havenwoods Prairie restoration
Havenwoods State Forest has prairies with huge plantings of milkweed and a field of black eyed susans.  You can even hike there with a dog on some of the trails.  Here's the map so you can check out the miles of trails.  Kids will love taking Smokey for a hike.  You can have a lot of fun with this on instagram, snapchat, etc. Don't miss their Harvest Fest Saturday September 26, where you can take guided hikes with a naturalist, try archery, do nature crafts and listen to music.
Whitefish Bay Butterfly Garden

There is a beautiful butterfly garden, complete with signage at Whitefish Bay's Cahill Park (Marlborough & Chateau).  This garden is tended with loving care by the local garden club.

Don't forget a stroll through Lakeshore State Park with its beautiful rain gardens.  Such a picturesque spot on the lake is great for photos.
The city view from Lakeshore State Park
Every day is a great day to stroll through Boerner Botanical Gardens too.  Now you'll find a variety of fall flowers.  Be sure to check out the trial gardens if you have time. They normally have a few garden walks through October, but I'm not seeing any on the calendar at this time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

South Shore Park's New Pavilion Terrace

New terrace at South Shore Park

South Shore Park is one of the best places to visit on a Saturday morning due to the fantastic vibe of the farmer's market.  You can buy veggies, find breakfast or lunch, pet dogs, listen to some music, and enjoy the stunning views of the lake. The Farmer's market can be followed on Facebook and then you'll know about the musicians and vendors appearing every week.  Go hungry! The last Saturday will be October 10.
Fresh veggies- get your melons and tomatoes now

Have you had a crepe lately?  The line is long but worth it!

So many dogs to pet, so little time!

If you had gone in previous years during the week, it was much more subdued.  Now there is a beer garden featuring Miller/Coors products and a brand new pavilion terrace with lots of seating.  You can get pretzels and popcorn and take a seat around the fire pit with the family. If you need cash, look for the ATM machine by the bathrooms on the lower floor of the pavilion. You should really get over there to see it.  There isn't an estimated date that it plans to close, but you can watch the Milwaukee County Parks website and keep an eye on it.  I imagine it will be weather dependent.  For more photos and information, Molly Snyder did a great piece on it.  Open hours are Wed-Fri 4-10, and Saturday/Sunday 11-10.
A variety of beverages and snacks

Need cash?  Beer garden is cash only

Beautifully painted with lots of tables 

Of course South Shore Park has lots of added extras- one of the oldest trees in Wisconsin, a little free library, playground, sand pit and an exercise machine.  We enjoyed watching the sailboats and kite surfers on the lake as it was pretty breezy.  Parking can be a challenge as the lot is small and most people have to park on nearby streets. Take a look at these photos and make a plan to check out this Milwaukee gem!
Kitesurfers like the wind and protected water here

A great view of the city and the sailboats

The park is fun for the kids