Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sculpture Milwaukee on Wisconsin Avenue Begins Today

It took several years of planning, but philanthropist and art lover, Steve Marcus,  is finally seeing his vision of world class high quality art pieces being plucked down along Wisconsin Avenue for the summer. This is no small feat. He and everyone involved deserves huge applause, especially Russell Bowman who is the curator.  You might recall Bowman was a previous director of our Milwaukee Art Museum and he is the reason we have the Calatrava iconic building today.

We're lucky we get to see it for free, and if all goes well, this could become an annual event. The program is being called Sculpture Milwaukee and it will be intact through mid October. Officially there are 22 pieces, though Wisconsin Avenue has other artwork and architecture that make this a virtual garden of eye candy for the soul.

I took a stroll along the outdoor art museum's corridor today and really enjoyed the unique pieces in so many different forms.  No matter what your taste, there will likely be a piece that speaks to you.
Road construction and parking are currently a problem for the downtown.  If you want the sculptures to yourself, I'd advise getting up early to see the sunrise on the lake at the art museum, then walking Wisconsin Avenue. I didn't arrive until 8:30, so I parked at Juneau Park on the street where you have 2 hours of free parking (it's there, just look for it in between metered parking), because I like a bargain. I walked the entire street, got a coffee, talked to artists, took photos and made it back with time to spare.  You could also park in O'Donnell garage for about $5.

I met the new Wisconsin Avenue Artist in Residence, Mauricio Ramirez, who has been fighting bad weather in painting the ten utility boxes he's been selected to paint.  The project adds a layer of urban art to the project.  Using only spray paint and geometric designs to paint famous people of Milwaukee, it's a challenge that won't go unnoticed.

You might recall a few years ago, the flowers planted along this corridor had a bicycle theme.  Those are gone now, but there are still some very beautiful plantings, incorporated into the whole artistic theme.

There were some boxes that had been removed during the Northwestern Mutual building project, streetside to the construction. These were lamp poles with motion detectors which would generate a flip story as people walked by.  You'll be happy to know these have been put back in place now. Be sure to walk both sides of the Avenue so you see all the details.

If you choose to do the walk during your lunch hour, you'll likely find food trucks in abundance.  Stop by to refuel.

Looking for additional urban hikes?  Look at my posts about the Milwaukee Statue Tour, and Summer Walking Tours.

This is also a great time to hop on the Milwaukee Trolley.  It starts this week-Thursday through Sunday. Rides are only $1.  You can find lots of additional fun ideas in my Milwaukee Bucket List book.  Summer is the best time to enjoy Milwaukee.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Birding in Milwaukee Parks

This past weekend was international migratory bird day, which usually signals the peak for bird migration here in Milwaukee too.  If you are inclined to go look for birds in the parks, this is a great time to be sure you will actually find something.  All you need is a camera with telephoto lens or binoculars, and maybe a little patience.  Not sure where to start?

There's a fantastic resource put out by the DNR and other partners, called the Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail guide, that could be very helpful.  It's actually a mapped auto trail that reaches into every area of the state, and it has viewing guides and maps you can use when you're out.  In our part of the state, parks included are: Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, Havenwoods State Forest, Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee Lake Shore Parks, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Doctor's Park, Southern Milwaukee County Parks, Oak Creek Parkway, Urban Ecology Center & Milwaukee River Parks, Whitnall Park & Wehr Nature Center.  You can see by the long list, we have a lot of options.

At Havenwoods state forest, you can use binoculars and a guidebook for free.  They have a number of trails that are bird friendly.  You can also get help from the friendly staff.  You may see warblers, kingbirds, herons, and woodcocks as they return to Havenwoods.  Wear boots or shoes that can get wet or muddy.

Lake Park has its own spring birding program featuring warblers walks and bird counts.  Then in the fall, they have duck watching programs at the lake.  You can visit the Birds of Lake Park Facebook page to see when the next warblers walk will be.  In general, they meet every Saturday morning from 8:30 -10 am. Meet at wooden Rustic Bridge over Locust Ravine near the Warming House and tennis courts on the northern end of the park.  This may be the best way to get started.  You'd be with a group of people interested in birds who can give you tips on how to identify birds and what equipment you might need.  They encourage beginners.

Try the Oak Leaf Birding Trail. You can download the interactive map at the county website, or pick up a brochure or county parks map at Wehr Nature Center.

The local chapter of the Audubon Society meets for bird talks & walks at the Schlitz Audubon Center the 2nd Wednesday of every month from 6:30-8 pm.  Nearby Doctor's Park has a variety of migrating song birds at this time of year.

Bird City Wisconsin includes several of our Milwaukee county communities.  Go to their website for information on making your home and yard more bird friendly and sign up for a team to do the Great Wisconsin Birdathon- a bird watching and fundraising event.

So, as you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to join a group or learn more about birding and go out on your own.  Lastly, visit the Facebook page for Estabrook park to see what birds are doing there. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Plein Air Painters in Parks

We're about half way through the event called Art in the City Plein Air MKE, hosted by the Milwaukee Museum Mile, which includes five area museums on the lakefront. I took a bike ride through the parks and found a few artists working on their projects. There are 60 artists around the city this week painting in the outdoors.

This is an amazing week to be painting outdoors.  Wild flowers, tulips and daffodils are still blooming. Flowering trees are near peak. The annual spring bird migration brings birdsong everywhere.  It's a great time to get out in the parks. If you see an artist, say hi and look at the wonderful pieces they are creating.

Here's the schedule of events left for the week.

May 18 Art In The City Soirée, 6-8:30pm
May 19-21 Public art sales at Saint John’s On The Lake, Fri. 10am-7pm, Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun. 10am-3pm
May 18 Art In The City Soirée:
4:30-6:00pm – First-look members only art sale, hors d’oeuvres, champagne, cash bar, live music by the Chris Hanson Band
6:00-6:30pm – Buy now public art sale, hors d’oeuvres, champagne, cash bar, live music
6:30-7:00pm – Artist awards ceremony
7:00-8:30pm – Buy now public art sale, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, live music
Proceeds benefit the MMM museums

While visiting the North Point Lighthouse Museum, they were hosting coffee with the painters.  In case you haven't been to the top of the tower lately and would like to see the view before the leaves cover much of the landscape below, drop by any weekend to look at displays and go upstairs.

Villa Terrace is going to be very colorful later in the week when the crabapple trees begin to bloom.  There's a new side flower bed going in today, thanks to donations. The gardens are looking great!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

So Many Beer Gardens

Beer. Soda. Food. Good friends. Music. In a park. What is there not to like about that?  Our beer gardens numbered just one a few years ago, and today there are five permanent beer gardens in county parks, a few more in city parks, as well as two traveling Sprecher rehabbed firetruck beer wagons.

It's obvious that people like them, and they bring much needed revenue to the parks. With the profits from sales, a percentage goes back into the parks for building and bathroom updates, as well as general park maintenance. It's definitely been a win-win situation here in Milwaukee County.

So what's new this year? Whitnall Park has a more permanent situation. I visited there prior to opening to check out the setting. With new picnic tables, volleyball court, updated restrooms and a great playground, this is destined to be a popular place. Combine it with a hike through the woods, or visit nearby Boerner Botanical Garden or Wehr Nature Center.

Southshore Park expanded their seating into the building, so rain and cold are no problem.  This is a beautiful setting, both indoors and out.  I especially love the painted murals. And the view of Milwaukee from here?  Stunning! This park has a kiddie play area with a nautical theme and sand pit, little free library, and one of the very best Saturday farmers markets in the region.  Don't miss out on visiting when summer gardens begin to produce. My advice? Go hungry. You'll find food at the beer garden and at the farmers market.

Estabrook Park's beer garden has expanded the menu.  You'll find a cooler of cheese and sausage out front. This park has had more benches added along the river trail, as well as some general maintenance which cleared brush, added stepping stones on the muddy pathways, and upgraded stairways.  You might consider taking a walk along the river before or after meeting friends over a pint. With plenty of resting spots, you can bring binoculars and look for some of the birds which frequent the park.

Humboldt Park's Craft Beer Garden is getting a new roof, so hours will be limited until construction is finished, but then expect it to be better than ever.  Play games in the courtyard, fish in the lagoon, use the playground and splash pad with the smaller tikes. This is a beautiful park with mature trees. The beer garden will often host craft beers, so you might find a new label you enjoy.

Hoyt Park's beer garden has the river, a pool nearby, and live music. Their opening will be May 17. Here you can find craft and imported beers, as well as champagne. The pizzas are terrific, so it can be a dinner destination or after work meet-up spot.

Croatian Park in Franklin opens its taps at the end of May. This beer garden will be open on Thursdays and some Saturdays, so check the Facebook page for more information. I have not visited here yet, but look forward to it.

Though not really a park beer garden, it's a beer place in a park setting. The Bavarian Bierhaus has signs on the Oak Leaf Trail near Lincoln Park.  Seating is indoors.  They host a variety of special events.  If you're thirsty on the trail, stop by.

Lastly, there's a beer garden in Shorewood at Hubbard Park.  This is a shady spot on the river with historic Hubbard Park Lodge serving good food. Be sure to try the Friday fish fry or Sunday family style brunch. This park is accessible from the Oak Leaf trail and has lots of bike parking. They even have loaner locks to keep your bike safe while you visit.

Here's the Traveling Beer Garden schedule:

May 17 – June 11
Greenfield Park, West Allis
June 14 – July 9
Grant Park, South Milwaukee
July 12 -  Aug. 6
Scout Lake Park, Greendale
Aug. 9 – Sept. 4
Doctors Park, Fox point

May 17–29
Juneau Park, Milwaukee
May 31–June 11
Kletzsch Park, Glendale
June 14–25
Froemming Park, Franklin
June 28–July 9
McCarty Park, West Allis
July 12–23
Zablocki Park, Greenfield
July 26–Aug. 6
Lake Park, Milwaukee
Aug. 4-6
Brown Deer Golf Course (pop-up at PHC Classic tournament)
Aug. 9–20
Greene Park, St.Francis
Aug. 23–Sept. 4
Bender Park, Oak Creek

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bike Milwaukee- Tours and Rentals

Milwaukee has become such a bikeable city, and now there are more choices than ever before to get out on a bike and discover the city. Even if you don't own a bike, you can still do this.  Many tours include bike rental. If you want to bike the city on your own, get a Bublr bike and rent by the half-hour or buy a pass for multiple rides. You can even buy a pass that is good all year and can be used in other cities too. What a deal.

If you just want to take a group along the lakefront, Wheel Fun Rentals at Veterans Park offers surrey bikes, which have one, two or three benches. They also have single bikes and tandems for rent.  The difference with these rentals, is that you don't return them to stations around the city. You pick up and drop off at the same location. Rent by the hour or even a full day. You could ride the Oak Leaf Trail from here in either direction. You'll find other bike rental services on Yelp.

So let's find the perfect venue for you to become an urban explorer. Maybe you just want to bike on your own. That's easy to do with added bike lanes going in all over the city. Use Milwaukee's bike map to find your own route. The map we had printed several years ago is now out of print, but you can download Avenza and use the Milwaukee map as you bike. The in-app purchase is $3.99. It also includes southeastern Wisconsin, just in case you want to venture further. You could also use Google maps on your smart phone and choose the bike option for clear mapping and directions.

Do you like beer tours?  Check out a ride with Hopheadtours. This isn't a pub crawl, but focuses on the history and places where beer made Milwaukee famous.  These are on the 2nd Saturday of the Month, May – October. 10:00 am – 2:30 pm
Departure Location: Lakefront Brewery, 1872 Commerce Ave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Join us for this big city bike ride! We’ll meet you at the foot of Brewer’s Hill to begin our history bike ride through downtown Milwaukee visiting historic brewery sites. Milwaukee has a deep German lager brewing heritage and we’re going to show you Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller Breweries w/ history at each stop. After most of the history, we’ll head to Milwaukee Ale House for a beer tasting and opportunity for lunch. Finally, we’ll take you down along the Summerfest grounds, along the lakeshore past the stunning and iconic Milwaukee Art Museum and through the trendy neighborhood of Brady Street to end back at Lakefront Brewery for their famous tour. It’ll be a day you won’t forget!

Spirit Bike Milwaukee  is a locally owned bike tour aimed to show visitors and residents the history, revitalization, and urban lifestyle of Milwaukee. There are two different tours, as well as a custom option. The Cream City Tour is three hours in the city of Milwaukee.  The Valley Vibe ride goes through the Menomonee Valley for two hours. Look for tour descriptions on their website.

For locals and tourists interested in a fun and unique way to see Milwaukee, why not try a tour of Milwaukee on a round, seven seat bicycle that everyone pedals and one person steers? That would be the Seven Seat Bike tour. Again, there are two very different options. One focuses on ghastly historic tales of Milwaukee.  The other is a food tour.  I have done both and loved them equally.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Summer Walking Tours

This would be a great year to join Historic Milwaukee, Inc so you can join in on the fantastic walking tours they have planned for this summer through fall. Walks are free to members and will get you out in some new neighborhoods. Non-members pay $10 per walk. Kids ages 7-17 are $2, and under 6 are free. Membership starts at $25. You'll find more information about costs and benefits at their website.  This is also the organization that hosts Doors Open Milwaukee in September.

Regular Tours include:
Downtown M,W,F, Sa at 10 AM. Tu,Th at 3 PM. May 15-Oct 3
Riverwalk W at 6 PM. May 17-Oct 25
Historic Third Ward Sa at 1 PM. May 20-Oct 14
Brady Street Sa at 1 PM, Tu at 6 PM. May 16-Oct 24
Bay View Su at 1 PM, Th at 6 PM. May 21-Oct 29
North Point Mansions Su at 1 PM. May 21-Oct 29

Then starting June 4, there's a new downtown sculpture tour on Sundays along Wisconsin Avenue. You will also hear about the history and architecture of downtown. This is a partnership with new Sculpture Milwaukee, an outdoor urban sculpture experience which will be in our downtown June-October. This features the art of 21 artists in 22 sculptures.  The pieces will be positioned along Wisconsin Avenue from 6th St. to O'Donnell Park. Some of the artists are local.  Others are internationally known.  Expect both large and small- maybe as tall as 40 feet!

Gothic Milwaukee does Haunted Tours.  Anna, your tour guide, a native Milwaukeean and avid collector of local folklore and legend, is delighted to introduce you to the spook-tacular side of Milwaukee.  Gothic Milwaukee is one of Milwaukee’s most fun historical attractions and we are thrilled to share with you the folklore, legends and macabre tales that lurk on nearly every block of the city.

If you're looking for some new food joints, join Milwaukee Food Tours for one of their walking tours. Go hungry because you'll visit several places on the route.

Historic Forest Home Cemetery does tours throughout the summer on weekends.  Every year they kick it up a notch adding more diversity through the use of volunteers and sometimes costumes.  You'll do a lot of walking as you visit graves and hear about past Milwaukee legends.  Never disappointing.  I always learn something new.

If you're more inclined to do your own walking, here are some downtown tours you can do solo or with friends.

Artwalk- Milwaukee's RiverWalk is home to an outdoor art gallery called RiverSculpture! that includes both permanent pieces and temporary installations that change periodically.
As you stroll along the RiverWalk you'll enjoy making new discoveries, from small, whimsical sculptures such as Gertie, the world's most celebrated duck, to sizable and striking abstract works. There are currently 20 sculptures on display representing national, regional and local artists.

Buy a set of 10 cards with featured walks in either downtown Milwaukee or in Wauwatosa through Gothic Milwaukee or at a local shop like Barcelona or Waxwing.  You'll learn more about the history and architecture of our communities as you get some exercise.

Download four self-guided tours of Forest Home Cemetery and go anytime the weather is nice.  Be sure to visit the Hall of History. The unique museum level of the Halls of History features permanent and changing displays honoring the memories and accomplishments of more than 100 people who built Milwaukee and chose Forest Home as their final resting place.

With the App GPS MY CITY, you can do a portion of statues located in downtown Milwaukee. I wrote more about that here.

There's another app that can be used to guide you through the Milwaukee Soldiers Home on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, west of Miller Park. You'll walk past historic buildings used in the Civil War era. Then you can walk through the cemetery if you wish.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Spring at the Zoo

Spring brings beautiful flowers and greenery at the zoo. There's nothing better than a few hours in the great outdoors to bring a smile to any face.  I visited this week with my granddaughter and we had a great time looking at the animals, investigating flowerbeds, searching out noisy peacocks, and even having a few awkward moments as the animals got friendly during this mating season.
Showing off for the hen 

It's mating season

This is going to be a HUGE year filled with special activities as the Milwaukee County Zoo celebrates its 125th anniversary.  You'll want to follow along so you don't miss out on anything. It would be a great year to show your support by purchasing a membership, which can also be used at reciprocal zoos across the US. We've saved a bundle over the years by visiting zoos wherever we find ourselves, using the Milwaukee membership card.

Do you have a favorite animal? My granddaughter loves the orangoutangs and monkeys. I try to see the latest babies born.  You can find out what's newly born at the ZooBorns blog. Oh my! Be prepared for total cuteness when you look here!

Of course, if you bring a kid along, you must ride the carousel and train.  Older kids like the zip line and challenge course.  Additional fees apply. Some of the attractions and concessions aren't open full time yet. It's a good idea to bring a sack lunch if you visit now, though the cafe in the main entrance is open. The goats weren't outdoors in the Family Farm yet, but the playground with the super fun slides was in full use. Once you get here, expect to sit for awhile.

Spring workshops are being held now, but there are a slew of classes for all ages.  Check the list of classes at the education link, which includes the summer camp schedule. Zoo members get to register first and many classes and events sell out before opened to the public.

Hours and admission are listed on the Zoo website and vary by month. Milwaukee residents receive a discount when showing an ID card with a Milwaukee county address. Bring quarters for goat food and massage chairs.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Milwaukee's Best Playgrounds

Milwaukee has a dazzling array of playgrounds.  You could choose a different park for every day of the summer and find unique play opportunities with every choice.  Why not try a few new places outside of your neighborhood?  If you're in need of a good map, the county parks have a comprehensive map.  You'll find playgrounds, trails, birding spots, and the complete Milwaukee streets system.  You can get it at the Park People website, and soon you'll be able to download a passport for 2017 at the same website. It's a great way to explore the parks along the Oak Leaf Trail this summer.

Milwaukee County Parks have 114 tot lots, with much diversity and older spaces are being updated when funding permits. It's rare to find two identical structures. Often the tot lots are placed nearby splash pads or wading pools.  Find a complete list of tot lots here at the county parks website.

This new climbing structure at Carver Park is right next to a splash pad
Our favorite playground lately has been Kayla's Playground at Franklin Nature Center.  The best part about this park is that adults and children can play together. It's wheelchair friendly. There are so many unique swings and play spaces. It just has to be experienced.  Bring snacks with you and enjoy them under the covered picnic tables. Be sure to check out the nature trail too.

Milwaukee Recreation manages a summer playground experience for free at a number of city parks and schools.  This runs June 19-August.  The link gives you addresses, park names, and a phone number for more information.  You don't need to preregister.  The program is for school age children (6-17).

The Artists working in education (AWE) van will be visiting parks again this summer. They bring art supplies and adults to help kids make some fabulous things.  Follow the truck at this link to plan a meet up. This program is best for ages K-5th grade.
Your kids can do supervised art projects at the park
Look for the truck
Estabrook continues to be a favorite for us because there are two playgrounds with great equipment. and a beer garden that serves soft drinks and pretzels as well as adult beverages.  Last year they added fried foods on the weekends, and the fries were so delicious my son made it our weekly stop. There's a skateboarding area, fishing pond, disc golf course, and dog exercise area within walking distance.  You can walk down the stairs to the river and look for fossils embedded in the stones or watch fish jump the mini falls.  The hiking trail along the river goes for miles, though you should be prepared for some mud. It's 2 1/2 miles from here along the Oak Leaf trail to nearby Riverside park which has an urban ecology center with a hidden slide which kids LOVE!
Slide at Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center

Washington Park has a series of mini parks, called pocket parks, done in a nature theme.  These are mostly climbing structures, so they are for an older child.  There are no swings in the pocket parks, however, there is a larger playground at the opposite end of the park which includes handicapped accessible ramps.  Be sure to stop in at the Urban Ecology Center if it's open.  Lots of interesting reptiles to see there.

Climbing structure at Washington Park

Nature themed pocket parks
Atwater Park in Shorewood has a nautical themed playground at the top of the bluff, which is wheelchair friendly, and some of the coolest equipment at the beach level, which can take adults as well as kids. They normally have county park lifeguards for at least part of the summer.  This is my first choice for family beach time. You have the stairs for exercise.  There is a ramp for strollers. The view is breathtaking no matter when you go.  Sunrise is always a pretty sight.

Just one of the fun structures at beach level Atwater Park

Southshore Park has a nautical theme to its playground too.  You'll find a little free library, sand pit (bring shovels and buckets), and exercise equipment for bigger kids (adults). Be sure to visit here on a Saturday some time this summer because they host one of the best outdoor farmers markets from June through October. Follow the Facebook page for more information about vendors and entertainment.  This park has a beach, which is normally not swimmable due to pollutants, but there's a program happening now to try to clean the soil around the beach and parking lot. This is going to become a premier destination if it can be corrected. The beer garden has been expanded for 2017 and includes indoor tables now.

Nautical themed playground at South Shore Park
Milwaukee Zoo updated the play equipment at the Family Farm area with two age specific play areas. This is one of the coolest playgrounds for kids who love slides. They are long and circular. There's also a ropes course and zipline for older kids. And who doesn't love the train and carousel too?

For the widest variety in one location, check out Grant Park which has 4 playground areas and a lot of other fun spaces.  Hike Seven Bridges Trail through the wooded ravine. Check out the beach concession stand during summer for burgers and custard.
Wil-o-way Grant Park has ramps for wheel chairs

Grant Park
Wauwatosa has an interesting structure at Hart Park.  This is another accessible playground. The downside to this play space is a lack of shade.  Only go here when it isn't terribly hot.  On a hot day, drive a short distance from here to Hawthorn Glen where the playground is shaded and visit the nature center if it's open.

Hart Park accessible playground

Greenfield Parks are really nice.  Rather than list all of them, check out this review done by a mom a few years ago.  She and her kids visited all of the Greenfield parks and rated them on a scale of 1-5.  She includes comments about the condition of the structures and which have restrooms. The City of Greenfield has photos on their website you can view to see what park you might like to try.

If you still aren't sure where to go, maybe you want to go see Cass Park , pretty unique with its art structures made by Marina Lee.  You can play chess on permanent tables constructed at Enderis Park. There's a large artificial rock at Hales Corners Park meant for climbing. Visit Lake Park where your kids can put on their own play at the nearby stage, after playing at the tot lot.  Doctors Park has beach access and lots of interesting driftwood. The swing park is covered so it's a great rainy day destination. Walker's Square has a farmers market, wading pool, and free wifi. McKinley Beach is just across the street from Colectivo (when you need your coffee fix) and has a nice beach. Village of Whitefish Bay has Cahill park with a sand box where all garage sale leftovers seem to end up-lots of trucks and diggers here.  They also have a playground at Klode with beach access (swim at your own risk). I'd love to hear all about your adventures!