Thursday, September 29, 2016

Discovering the Lakefront by Bike

McKinley Beach

Fall is a great time to bike the Oak Leaf Trail, especially the lakefront portion. This can be quite busy on weekends, so you may find it easier to ride on the roadway, especially if you're not biking with kids. I did this last week and really enjoyed it.  You can pick up a rental bublr bike at Discovery World, if you live out of town or don't have a bike.  You won't really need a map for this trail, but if you want to check it out, get the new county parks map at Park People, or see the older city link.
Bike rack in front of Discovery World

Lakeshore State Park has a new system with signs showing codes which can be read by a reader on your smart phone.  It's a nice walk or bike through the park at any time. I chose to hike this portion and listened to the history and a bit about the animals one can see at the park. There are some pretty asters and black eyed susans in the natural plantings across the park, so you may see butterflies and bees enjoying them. There's free parking at the south end of the park, as well as portable toilets, so if you plan to do the trip I'm suggesting, park here. Look for the red lighthouse. Then walk the park, pick up a bike, and ride along the lakefront.

Beautiful flowers
Be sure to take a few minutes to play the wooden benches out in front of Discovery World on the way to the Bublr rack.  Everyone is a musician.  Those tall silvery sculptures are interactive too.  This art installation is called Wind Leaves. Set off on the trail in front of the Art Museum and ride through Veterans Park.  Here you can still get a snack at the kite shop on the weekends. If it's closed, Colectivo at the lakefront is a great choice as you head past McKinley Marina.  If you feel up to it, walk out on Government Pier- that long slab of concrete that goes into the lake. Beware if it's windy though as the waves can splash you right off of it. As I visited McKinley beach, there were only geese. They left lots of footprints. For an extra workout here, cross Lincoln Memorial and go up the stairs which lead to Back Bay Park. There's a new little free library on the street side of this small neighborhood park.
Find your inner musician


From here, you can head up towards Bradford Beach, but stop at the exercise station for a quick workout on the way. Past Bradford Beach is the entrance to Lake Park on the opposite side of the street. Look for the new lighthouse ravine signs which indicate a rustic trail which goes up to the lighthouse. This park has been very busy with Pokemon players, so if you're a fan, play along. You can go up one trail and come down on the other, just for a change of scenery. It's a bit overgrown, but perfectly safe and very pretty with flowers now. On weekends, Northpoint Lighthouse is open for tours, and sometimes you can climb the tower for a great view.
Do a few situps here

rustic trail with stone steps
Northpoint Lighthouse open on weekends
Now you've experienced a few lakefront parks and hopefully enjoyed your ride.  It's time to turn around and get back to your car.  If you still have the time, take a few minutes to climb to the upper side of O'Donnell Park after you park your rental bike. Most people know it because it's in front of Betty Brinn Children's Museum. There's a car park underneath.  You'll have a good view of the Art Museum from up here, as well as the lakefront you've just biked. This park will one day belong to the Art Museum and a sculpture garden may be part of the future.  Watch the Facebook page for MKE Lakefront Plaza to see what happens with the new lakefront development. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Apples, Pumpkins, and Fall Adventure

Every year I like to explore some outdoor places near Milwaukee in Fall. A few years I've done the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. That's always a good choice when color is at peak since it has many places to climb towers, hike around lakes, and enjoy the trees surrounding the roadway. Holy Hill is another place I've visited.  It's fun to climb the tower and look out at the surrounding area which can be full of color in October. Last year I went to Kenosha's parks and pumpkin farm. This year it was Colgate.

Now some of you may not even have heard of this rural town, northwest of Milwaukee, but it's worth a visit.  I'll guarantee you a day of fun in the outdoors. Our first stop was at an organic apple orchard, which is only open on weekends, Peck & Bushel. Be sure to check the link to find out what variety of apple is available and to see hours for the weekend you plan to visit.  You don't have to pick your own apples.  Next to the field where you park is a building full of apples already picked, as well as juice, honey, and some other products. The price seemed to be the same for "picked" or "pick your own." You purchase a bag and walk the short trail through the woods to the orchard where you'll find trees planted by varieties.

The trees that are not pickable will be roped off. It only took a few minutes to pick our own.  If you've never picked organic apples, you may be surprised that the apples do not resemble those you find in the supermarket.  Many are misshapen, discolored, or spotted. Don't be alarmed.  These are better for you and look prettier once you've washed them at home. We make our own apple juice and these came out tasty as juice. The apple experts are on hand to advise you about which varieties are better for cooking vs. eating.

From the orchard, we drove to Monches Farm.  This is combination gift shop, pumpkin farm (in fall), and nursery. We bought some squash and pumpkins for cooking, and even picked up a few gifts in the shop which has a wide selection of very cool things.  Allow enough time to browse.  You can get perennials and mums here.  Ask for chicken feed and let the kids go find the chickens, which come in many colors and varieties.  They are really fun to watch and feed. This weekend is their Fall Festival from 9-5, so you will find lots of interesting craft vendors, music, and produce for sale. It will certainly put you in the mood for Fall.
Happening this weekend

So Many Varieties!
The last stop was at Spectacular Sculptures.  I have been here a few times before.  Every time I've visited, I see he's done more amazing work.  The entire place is the artist, Paul Bobrowitz's, home and yard, and each part is filled with metal pieces. I have a bird bath and sculpture in my own yard at home. You can browse for free. You may get lucky and find him at work. If you see something you'd like to take home, go knock on the door.  Donations are welcome and you'll see a box for those at the driveway.

Look for the sign and follow the arrows
Where are your favorite Fall destinations?  I'd like to hear.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Villa Terrace Renaissance Garden

If you're willing to pay $5-7 (they discount for military, seniors, and students), Villa Terrace is a great place to see a beautiful garden and get some serious exercise. Known for its beautiful Neptune gate and water stairway, which are seen from Lincoln Memorial Drive, it's a home that was turned into a museum.Though I always enjoy seeing the current art on display, I enjoy the garden even more.
Beautiful lily pads

Neptune gate crafted by local craftsmen

Water cascades down the stairway

Take a look at the stone floor as you enter the courtyard at the front of the museum. Each stone was collected by the children who lived here when it was built.  They would walk to the beach and carry back stones which were arranged in patterns with the plants and statue you see here today. This was obviously long before the arrival of technology which keeps kids inside much more frequently now. I love it.
Stones from the nearby beach

A courtyard similar to those seen in Italy

The Renaissance garden requires volunteers to keep it looking so good, so if you have some free time to spare and enjoy being outdoors doing gardening a few times a year, consider volunteering here. I was here to get some exercise, so I went up/down the stairs a few times...with numerous pauses to reflect on the beauty. Actually I just had to catch my breath and try to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest. It's a good workout. There used to be a working elevator chair, but it's been out of order for some time.
Elevator doesn't work 

Some challenging steps
Every Sunday at 8:30, June through October there's yoga on the terrace. For a suggested $10 donation, join one of the rotating teachers for a good workout.  Some are themed, so check the calendar. This runs through October 30. You don't have to be an expert, just be willing to try. All levels are welcome, rain or shine.

Cafe Sopra Mare begins their winter schedule of monthly classical music on October 2 at 10 AM, with coffee and treats available for purchase. The music is free. This can get quite crowded, and I've found it's best enjoyed in adult company.  Why not check out one of these monthly concerts and see the grounds at the same time? I believe Fall is a great time to enjoy the gardens. It won't be long and all the trees will be turning color.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hiking Mangan Woods

There's a mature woods, set between Whitnall Park and The Rock, that I had heard about but didn't know how to find.  Eddee Daniel of the Urban Wilderness Blog wrote about it in Spring. Eddee has some great blogs about nature and what you can find if you venture outdoors in Milwaukee county. I enjoy reading his posts, and know you will too. He's an artist and author, who uses his photography to make some great books. He offered to take me through Mangan Woods for a short hike this week. What a relaxing, beautiful forest it is.

Eddee standing next to one of the large trees- so big!
He drove and we parked near the golf course. Open the Whitnall Park link above, and you'll see the map with an arrow to Ross Lodge.  That's where the trailhead will be. There are no facilities here, so you'll want to bring water and use restrooms before you arrive. The hike is easy terrain and makes a loop so it would be difficult to get lost. This is one of the trails shown on the Park People list, so if hiking is something you enjoy, check it out to find more options.
Here's a map of the trails posted near the parking lot and also on the Park People website
For mountain biking, there are a couple additional trails in parks.  The Rock closed its downhill bike park last year, in spite of achieving fame outside the region for having the best gravity bike park. You could ride the lift to the top and take the trails down. It just never caught on here with locals to a point where they could make money at it. The hill is still there, but it's not open for business until it snows.
The trails are for bicycling too. Look for the signs.
In just a few short weeks, the woods here and all over the county parks will be full of color.  Keep this hike in mind for then, or try some of these Fall hikes I wrote about a few years ago. If you can go to the Rock's umbrella bar area, they have a great view of the surrounding woods and it is amazing with the right weather.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wave Action in Stormy Weather

Who would have thought there was surfing on Lake Michigan?  I didn't know about that until I lived here for several years and realized that when the weather gets bad, the surfers take to the beaches of Milwaukee.  For the past two Fridays, there have been large enough waves that both Bradford Beach and Atwater Beach were full of kite boarders and surfers.  Though it's not Hawaii or California, there are waves large enough to get a small ride, and they make the best of it.

Not a sight you see every day in the midwest

The toughest part of the sport may be just getting your board to the beach.  Now that all the beaches have ramps, it makes it easier, but a surfer has to be in good shape. You may also see surfers at other beaches, though Big Bay/Buckley Park does not allow any watercraft, which would include a board.
One surfer catches a wave at Bradford
Surfers at Atwater
The kiteboarders seemed to be having a great time in spite of huge gusts that sometimes carried them high into the air.  It sure looked like fun. Next time you see bad weather in the forecast, you might want to check out the beaches to see if the most adventurous boarders are out enjoying the day.
Kiteboarder at Bradford

Even a paddle boarder 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ozaukee Stairs/Hikes

Nearby to our north is Ozaukee County which has several wonderful natural areas.  I visited two of them this week in an effort to do some stair climbing.  It is not only beautiful, but gives you a great workout.
At the bottom of the stairs is a sandy beach- Lion's Den Gorge

The first place was Concordia University.  On their bluff is a winding path that leads to the lakefront trail, as well as a steep set of stairs.  This is a busy place whenever I've visited, no matter the time of year or day of week.  If you're not affiliated with the University, you'll need to check in with the gate guard to get a parking pass. There's no cost for using the facilities.
Something like 200 stairs

Or take the winding path

Once you're at the bottom of the bluff, you can choose to go back up the same way you came down, or walk a bit north to another quite steep path that takes you to the top.  This path does not connect with the other area, except over a lawn.  The entire bluff is a birding site and is planted with wildflowers, so you may see something of interest.  There were swarms of dragonflies while I was there.  Because the bluff is exposed, you will feel the weather.  The sun was beating down during my climb, so I opted to visit another park after a couple times up and down.

About 15 minutes north of this spot is a bluff park- Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve.  This area is quite shaded, but you still have incredible views of the lake.  Go deep enough along the trails and you can take wooden stairs to the bottom of the bluff, crossing the gorge and landing on a sandy beach.  There are numerous trails, but all of them loop back to the parking lot, so don't be afraid to explore.  There are a few which are stroller/wheelchair friendly- they are crushed limestone or boardwalks, while the other trails are wood chips. This is also a place where dogs on leashes are quite welcome.  September is a beautiful time to visit because of all the late summer wild flowers in bloom, but it will be even better as fall comes due to the large number of trees. Parking is available in two lots, with a couple portapotties in the second. Part of this area was once an apple orchard so you will see apple trees filled with fruit now.  You'd have to venture into some tall grass to get an apple though.

Large trees and boardwalks offer shade and easy stroller use

Stairs to the beach 
How do you like them apples?

There is a water feature, but the walkway near it just provides a small viewing point of some very green water. I saw a couple of slimy turtles, but no birds.  With binoculars, you might have more luck.  This is a US Fish & Wildlife waterfowl production area. Bring a snack and sit for awhile on one of the many benches or picnic tables along the trails. Enjoy the views.  I think you'll like it here.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Logging some Laps at a Lagoon

What a glorious day it was yesterday!  I know lots of people made time for the outdoors. Some even went to street parties to watch the Packer game on big screens. I headed over to Estabrook Park and did some laps around the very small lagoon.
Estabrook Park Lagoon
This is always a good option when you want to listen to a podcast or some music. You can't get lost or run into anyone when you're doing a circuit.  My son, Omar, came with me so he put on his headphones and did a few laps too.
Easy paved trail
Most know Estabrook for the disc golf, skateboard park, or the incredibly popular Biergarten. That's all on the other side of the park near the river. The lagoon is tucked away across from the dog park. It's only .2 miles, so it's one of the smaller lagoons.  You can find out the length of the trails around the park lagoons in two places.  There's a list at Milwaukee Health Department with some of the lagoons and malls too. You can also click on the Milwaukee County Parks site and find your park.  At the bottom of the individual park maps is the distance of the lagoon trail.

During the peak of summer and even on some fall weekends when the Biergarten has live entertainment, parking can be hard to find at Estabrook, so I'll tell you a little secret. You can park outside the park and walk through a trail under the Oak Leaf Trail bridge.  This entrance is by Wilson & Diversey Blvd. The trail brings you out right at the lagoon. We went in this way, and noticed the graffiti on the wall of the bridge.
Go underneath the Oak Leaf Trail

As you walk around the lagoon at Estabrook, be sure to look out for the turtles, heron, ducks and even goldfish in the pond.  A few years ago I noticed there were large koi fish- bright orange. It's such an oddity. Then we had a deep freeze two years ago and the koi were gone last year.  This year, there are thousands of much smaller goldfish. You will likely see orange clouds of fish in the water. There are really that many. Now that you've had your walk, you've earned a drink over at the Biergarten.