Ken is a nationally recognized educator and leader in community-based environmental education. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center. With his contagious energy, Ken speaks on a number of topics including: urban education, community organizing, environmental issues, finding abundance, the power of story, sustainable design, the need for "near-by" nature, leadership, fundraising, and green living. Ken holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Antioch College in Ohio, a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Prescott College in Arizona and received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Milwaukee Instituted of Art and Design.
Below is the story of how Ken wrote Urban Ecology: a Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities, and the World. Click here for a short synopsis of the book.
The way I wrote a book was not traditional, but I doubt that is much of a surprise to most.
Wait, did you catch that? I just wrote a book!
This adventure started two years ago when Peter and Jean Storer offered us support for the purpose of writing a book. Without any request from us, they felt that the Urban Ecology Center story needed to be told. What followed was a little bit of luck and some awesome opportunities.
A chance conversation with an old college friend introduced me to Difference Press out of Washington DC.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the Urban Ecology Center is like Star Wars. Wait, I know this sounds like a stretch, but stay with me. One of the underlying themes of Star Wars is that when diverse people come together for the greater good they can create world altering change. Tapping into the diversity of natural and community life here in Milwaukee, the Urban Ecology Center is creating “world altering” change, neighborhood by neighborhood. And we get the excitement of working locally now, not “a long time ago” and “far, far away.”
Can a few words ever capture all that the Urban Ecology Center is? Take this real-life experience on the Milwaukee River, for example:
Full moon. Summer night. A beaver’s tail slapped. The river glistened in the light. Baby ducklings twittered, their silhouettes lined up behind their mother. Bats skimmed the water and two bull frogs competed with a gaa-rumph mating call.
How do you sum up all that? Or how about this memory:
Studying nature is a great way to feel young…comparatively speaking, that is. There are trees that are hundreds of years old as well as turtle and bird species that can easily outlive the humans who care for them. The entire human race is like a newborn when compared to billion-year-old rocks. It’s mind blowing!
Thanks to a generous gift from the Franke family, we’ve created a way to explore this concept of time through nature. We’re proud to introduce a new treasure, a 3 Billion Year Walk through the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.
Have you ever tried to put a puzzle together without looking at the picture on the box? You spend a lot of time trying to figure out if the blue piece is sky or water. Without the seeing the whole picture you don’t understand how that piece fits in.
I was reminded of this idea during a recent conversation with a well-meaning and inquisitive young man who was trying to understand what the Center was all about. “Why on earth are you in the city?” he asked. “I mean, what kind of nature can you find there?”
It was the best “wild ice” for skating that I have found in years. A vast expanse of smooth-as-glass clear ice made not by a Zamboni, but by Mother Nature herself. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all? This “secret gem” wasn’t some hidden lake up state, but it was right here, in the shadow of the US Bank building downtown. I’ve been here over 20 years now and I still keep finding the unexpected. This is why I LOVE living in Milwaukee.
The Urban Ecology Center is a place of “firsts” for many in our community. Some of our younger students see Lake Michigan for the very first time while walking on the sandy beach during one of our Summer Camps. Families have had their very first time ice skating on a cold day in Washington Park. Last winter we had visitors from Nepal who enjoyed their first sled ride down the hill in Riverside Park. A big perk that comes from working at the Urban Ecology Center is being part of those “firsts” – those times of wonder in the outdoors.
Do you remember those little gift books you used to give as a kid? You’d spend hours, carefully creating hand-made “coupons” for someone special. The promise was to take an ordinary experience and add a little extra. One might say you’d do the dishes without complaining. Another would say you’d give your parents a hug or plan a movie night. They were fun to make and even more fun when redeemed ... well, except for the chores, but even those would change ordinary activities into extraordinary experiences as grownups would often join in to help.
It is with great excitement that I get to announce that the Urban Ecology Center has two new directors on staff! Jen (Feltz) Hense is our Director of Development and Jeff McAvoy is our Director of Marketing and Communications. These two fantastic individuals have joined the Leadership Team of the Center, meaning that they are helping to make key decisions and shape the future of the Urban Ecology Center.
Our first-ever fundraising hike, HKE MKE, was on Sunday September 20th and it was a fantastic event! Over 200 people of all ages came out on a beautiful day for our 2.5-mile hike through the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum and the Milwaukee River Corridor.