Friday, October 20, 2017

Take a Mural Walk

Murals are popping up everywhere in nearly every Milwaukee neighborhood. It's even difficult to keep up with the locations so they get pinned to Milwaukee's Mural Map. I'm pretty sure when the map was created, none of us knew what an urban art space Milwaukee would become.  We can certainly be proud of our local artists and the people who fund their work. The Milwaukee Mural Map Facebook page is updated as soon as a new mural is announced, so to be in the know, follow the page.

A few weeks ago I spent a morning viewing the five new murals on KK, a female artist collection called Street Canvas. The first murals are on walls by Lulu Cafe. It's about a 2 mile walk/bike ride down KK to the last one on the side of Rusty Sprocket. With plenty of coffee shops in between, you could also have a great coffee tour, featuring some of Milwaukee's own roasted brands. Here are a few of them.

Another great walking tour would be to see the collection of painted electrical boxes downtown. All are done by Mauricio Ramirez, in a geometric pattern I'd never seen before.  He also painted Selena at 5th & Bruce. When he was working on the Wisconsin Avenue projects in early summer, I met him and talked about the work he was creating. Though he's not originally from Milwaukee, he certainly has been able to capture the essence of the city through his artwork.

Here's a cut/pasted list of the boxes, which is also at the website link.

800 E. Wisconsin Ave. at NE Wis/Cass (NM Bus Stop)
650 N. Jackson Street SE Corner Jackson/Wisconsin (Across from Fed Courthouse)
401 E. Wisconsin Ave. SW Corner Wis/Jefferson
411 E. Wisconsin Ave. SE Corner Wis/Milwaukee
200 E. Wisconsin Ave. NE Corner Wis/Water
707 N. Plankinton Ave. NW Corner Wis/Plankington (At MO’s Irish Pub)
703 N. 2nd St. NW Corner Wis/2nd
300 W. Wisconsin Ave. NW Corner Wis/3rd
700 N. 6th St. NE Corner Wis/6th (at convention center)
706 N. 9th St. NE Corner Wis/9th.

Each painting depicts someone or an idea from Milwaukee's history. For the complete story behind each box, read this piece from Milwaukee Downtown. 

Maybe you can use the Milwaukee Mural Map to create your own walking tour.  Black Cat Alley and the surrounding neighborhood is full of interesting art.

Gallery Night and Day affords an opportunity to walk around the Third Ward and see some great galleries, as well as public art outdoors. Art is all around us!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

China Lights 2017

Boerner Botanical Gardens again became a magical place filled with colorful lights, Chinese foods, and entertainment. This is the last week to see them. We were there last week and found it greatly improved since last year's show.  There are more parking lots, making the gardens easy to access on foot. The displays are more plentiful. With two stages of performers, the crowds are dispersed, so one doesn't feel too crowded.  I urge you to check it out.  This will not be the last season for the traveling show. They will be back next year. Each year is unique and built from scratch over a 6 week period.

To see China Lights, you'll need tickets which can be purchased on-line or in person, and can be used any night. The last night is Sunday, October 22. Hours are 5:30-10 PM.

Here are some photos from this year. To see this as a slide show, simply click on any one of the photos.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Many New Pocket Parks Coming to Milwaukee

There was a time when Milwaukee had too many derelict homes being used as drug houses. Many of them were since removed, and what is replacing them is both wonderful and welcome for the neighbors who live there. It's been a time of revitalization for Milwaukee, and the interest in growing parks on some of the 3000 empty lots is becoming mainstream by organizations like HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee and MKE Plays. The two organizations have a common mission in that they both create desirable urban spaces for the city, but HOME GR/OWN focuses on creating vegetable gardens and orchards while MKE Plays builds playgrounds. Both are needed.

Fondy Park recently saw the addition of a green space to help deal with storm water. Walnut Way neighborhood added Sunshine Park. Partners for Places has more information about the locations. Since its creation in 2013 after being named a Finalist in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, HOME GR/OWN has created 30 new pocket parks, orchards, and community gardens from over 50 vacant lots. Frankly, it's hard to keep up with all the great spaces being created.  Some are quite subtle, containing a walkway, picnic table, and some flower beds.  Others have murals or planters designed by local artists.  It's been a real community collaboration.

Amani planter

There are 12 playgrounds selected for development stage, and most are still works in progress, but you can follow along at the Facebook page for MKE Plays to find out when and where work is being done. These include Arlington Heights, Foundation Park, Johnie Mae Phillips, DeBack Park, 67th & Spokane, Long Island & Custer, Buffum & Center, Trowbridge, 5th & Randolph, 21st & Keefe, 34th & Mt. Vernon, and Snails Crossing. I've covered Snails Crossing in the past, but here are a few recent photos from my bike ride along the Beerline Trail.  The sidewalk through this park is covered in interesting tiles which can be read.

Artwork by Marina Lee at Snails Crossing
I visited Peace Place at MLK & Ring late in the season, so the gardens still had tomatoes, but not much else.  You could tell someone has been enjoying the raised bed gardens. There were also painted sheds and structures.

The rebuilt DeBack playground won a design award this year. It features a 90-foot zipline, walking track, fitness equipment, permeable pavement basketball courts, challenging toddler elements, and a 10-foot tall rope dome. These photos were taken by Greener Roofs & Gardens.

Climbing structure at DeBack Park

Very unusual climbing frame for little Spider-men/women
Sherman Park was in the news last year because of a fire that took out businesses.  The people came together after that event and celebrated their neighborhood with a mural, crafted by local artist, Tia Richardson, and painted by community members.  It's a reminder of the positive that can come from any negative event.

Sherman Park mural
There's another mural on the south side by the same artist in a corner lot pocket park called, Butterfly Park. This is the wall of El Rey at 1320 W. Burnham St. Now people can buy lunch at the supermarket and eat in the park.

Butterfly Park
The city has more parks in the works, so stay tuned. Maybe you've already heard about or seen the only park at Jones Island? Kaszube's Park, the remnants of a fishing village and site of a former tavern, has just a few trees and a picnic table. Nearby, the Harbor District has 970 acres south of the Third ward. Possibly by next summer, shipping containers will be placed in a park-like setting at the end of Greenfield Ave. for what they will name Slosh Park.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Biking the Beerline

Mural showing rail to trail by Rozalia Singh

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the history of Milwaukee that we have a trail called 'The Beerline." It's not a direct path to anywhere, really. And it is only bikeable by those with a degree of curiosity and a great desire to find it. Type it into your Google map application and you're bound to find a segment.  It's less than 4 miles and runs on both trail and city streets, along the west side of the Milwaukee River.

I began at Estabrook Park Beer Garden, and found the Capitol Drive end of the trail, but I had to get on from an opening at 1st and Abert (look for Central Bark) because of fencing around some of the businesses. From here, I just followed signs or checked again on my map application. This is a scenic route for late summer/early fall with lots of opportunities for food and drink on the way. If you follow my circular route, the total mileage is about 9 miles and you will see 7 parks with an option to add a few more without much effort.  Though this can be done in about an hour, it's more fun to stop on the way, especially if you like art.
Fred Kaems and John Kowalczyk painted this in 2016

John Kowalczyk just finished this hummingbird shelter last week

There are some signs to help you find your way.  When you arrive at the old railroad depot shelter behind Cafe Corazon, you can get a bite to eat, if you like.  This is a great farm to table option in the area. I recommend continuing to Snails Crossing Park to see the artwork of artist Marina Lee, who has her studio on the corner adjacent. This park was a community built effort and includes sidewalk poetry, painted logs, sculptures, along with a few playground pieces.  Every time I visit, I notice something new.
The old train depot at Cafe Corazon

One of the snails by Marina Lee

Continue down Bremen to Locust or any other cross street that will take you to Gordon Park, an old swimming hole in years past. During summer, this park has a splash pad. Kids love the sandbox and play area. With large shade trees at the fringes, you can have a nice picnic here. Near the river's edge, you'll find the paved path. Follow this through the shade of the trees. You'll know you're on the beerline by the turtle a bit further on. I followed this to the street and visited Lakefront Brewery and the Swing Park, then returned to Beerline Cafe for a Chai latte smoothie. Beerline is a vegetarian cafe with outdoor seating. If you're feeling energetic, hike or bike to the top of Kadish Park, or even further up to Kilbourn Reservoir Park. The views of Milwaukee are pretty good all year round, but the best when the trees have lost their leaves. You might notice the outdoor pavilion at Kadish Park, which is the venue for the Skyline Music Series during summer on Tuesday nights.
The trail markers used along the river trails look like turtles
Lakefront Brewery does a fun tour if you have the time.  

Swing Park under Holton Street
Beer line Cafe has outdoor seating, and is just below Kadish and Kilbourn Parks.

Heading back to Estabrook will be on the east side of the river.  Just backtrack to Kiwanis Landing Park.  This project was once an eyesore but volunteers with Milwaukee River Revitalization have cleared the area, put in a boat launch, and planted flowers. There are picnic tables for anyone needing a break here.  A sign at the bridge to the east side shows details about all the parks and trails in the area along the river. Once you cross, the trail is crushed limestone for a while but it is bikeable.

Milwaukee River
On the east side, you'll bike through the Milwaukee Rotary Arboretum, and you can come up to the Oak Leaf Trail through the winding paths near the Urban Ecology Center.  Climb the tower if you have time to look at the view. Then it's a clear shot on the paved Oak Leaf Trail back to Estabrook, passing Riverside Park, and Hubbard Park, which has a nice beer garden. Just before crossing Capitol, there's a new sign showing the details about the railroad in the area.  The bridge lights up at night to show where the train used to cross. The event is called the Ghost Train. 
Tower at Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park

Read about the railroad in Milwaukee

Friday, August 4, 2017

Going Back to Hoyt Pool

Recently I visited Hoyt Pool with Dawn St. George, the new Executive Director of Park People of Milwaukee County. This was especially endearing because Dawn grew up in Wauwatosa and had fond memories of her summer days spent at the pool.  We met with Kit and Michael who head up operations at Hoyt Park, and they gave us a tour and historic overview.
Plenty of bike parking between the nicely landscaped beds

The pool also has a sandy beach for kids to play
The pool is in a county park, but funding is raised by the Friends of Hoyt Park and Pool who manage all aspects of it- maintenance, landscaping, entertainment, and food.  It's an interesting relationship that may become more common as the county budget for parks is stretched further each year. It certainly is successful here. Most of the money comes from pool season memberships and revenue raised by purchases made at Hoyt Landing- the beer garden. The Friends group also partners with the local park & rec department to offer swim lessons and other classes. Members get exclusive access to events held at the park.

The history of Hoyt Pool is outlined in detail. It's a story of a community coming together to rescue a pool that had been closed.  They raised funds to completely renovate the property and signed a 55 year lease in 2007, which ensured local residents would continue to enjoy the watering hole and activities held there.  It's a gathering place for friends, dogs, families, and sometimes even tourists looking for a fun place to get a drink in the great outdoors.

Have you been?  There's still plenty of summer left.  Refresh yourself in the water or stop by for some high quality local entertainment.  Here's the calendar for the Landing. Wednesday through Sunday, the beer garden is open. Try the pizza, enormous pretzels, or even a brat from SA Braii. Here's the full menu. The Landing will be open through late October.

While you're there, check out the historic bridge over the river. You have probably seen it in many instagram photos. Why not add your selfie and tag the park? We'd love to see your photo!