The Urban Ecology Center’s Land Stewardship team is currently responsible for improving habitat and increasing the quality on over 70 acres of urban land, thereby increasing the opportunities for outdoor science and recreation. This volunteer, community engaged restoration work and careful and thoughtful stewardship has helped reclaim hundreds of acres of preserved and restored land along the Milwaukee River Corridor, in Washington Park, and along the Menomonee River. By removing invasive species, planting in a greater diversity of appropriate native species and mitigating erosion, the Center is restoring the ecosystem to support more wildlife and create a healthy outdoor classroom where urban children, families and residents can learn about their natural environment.
The Center’s land stewardship team engages thousands of volunteers in its efforts, and in the process, participants are able to take ownership of our shared public places while providing for ecological health and dynamic recreational opportunities for our local community. Volunteers learn how to heal the land, rehabilitate degraded and damaged ecosystems, and the importance of native plants and plant communities as habitat for birds, mammals and important pollinators. We are witnessing the return of a wide variety of species. These improved natural areas in turn have greater historical, educational, and inspirational value. Restoring and managing natural areas to better represent the diversity of life forms and communities once native to this region serve to enrich outdoor learning experiences for students of all ages. For more information on volunteer opportunities. click here.
Riverside Park and the Rotary Centennial Arboretum
Over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in biodiversity and habitat quality in Riverside Park and along the Milwaukee River Corridor. Hundreds of species of native Wisconsin plants now thrive in what was once an abandoned park with a degraded forest. Where invasive species such as garlic mustard, Canada thistle, burdock, honeysuckle, and buckthorn once dominated the landscape, a diverse array of native species now supports improved habitat for mammals, birds, and butterflies. Children can experience the authentic splendor of walking through a prairie, oak-savannah, or maple-basswood or oak forest. Thousands of volunteers are engaged through hands-on land restoration projects each year, helping to foster a greater land ethic and more positive relationship with our environment.
The 40-acre Rotary Centennial Arboretum expands Riverside Park with 25 additional acres. The additional land includes land along the Oak Leaf Trail and the Milwaukee River bluff from Locust Street to North Avenue as well as six acres of postindustrial land that were converted from brownfield to a natural park.
Using black landscape fabric to smother invasive species – instead of chemical sprays – our land restoration experts cleared Reed Canary Grass from the river flats along the Milwaukee River, preparing the foundation for later planting of a wide variety of native wet-mesic prairie species. This area earned designation as a Primary Environmental Corridor from the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Joining our resident year-round critters, wildlife species of all kinds use this stretch as an important migratory corridor each spring and fall.
The project also recovered six acres of barren postindustrial land and converted it into an important entrance to the greater 800-acre Milwaukee River Greenway. The piles of rubble gave way to an area populated by more than 100 native species, representing various native Wisconsin plant community types, for the enjoyment of animals and residents alike. A series of accessible paths allow visitors to venture down to the Milwaukee River to fish, canoe, and observe nature. To learn more about this project and the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. click here.
The 124-acre Washington Park was once the site of Milwaukee’s zoo. Along with Riverside Park, it was designed by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Over the past few decades, this park has served as a traditional park, with scattered trees and mowed grass. One of the wonderful features of the park is the lagoon and its two smaller wetlands. Since the Urban Ecology Center’s Washington Park branch opened in 2007, the Center’s Land Stewardship team has been working with volunteers to improve the habitat areas by removing invasive species from the wetlands and wooded areas and planting a variety of native Wisconsin species, a process which has restored the lagoon’s shoreline edges, established the Lloyd Street Prairie, and enhanced the woodland understory. Along with an edible natives forest, an orchard with native companion plantings to attract beneficial predatory insects and rain garden designed to absorb surface run off, native habitat provides a home for hundreds of species of butterflies, insects, birds, and mammals and fostering endless enjoyment for our visitors.
The Urban Ecology Center opened its Menomonee Valley branch in the fall of 2012. Twenty-four acres of land were transformed from brownfield to outdoor recreational greenspace along the southern bank of the Menomonee River, with a spur of the Hank Aaron State Trail running through it. Where once a series of train tracks and piles of rubble stood, now native plant species flourish and the birds, mammals, frogs, toads, butterflies and dragonflies that utilize these food sources call this park home. We are grateful for the contributions that many dedicated partners such as the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Menomonee Valley Partners, and others made to the success of this landmark project. Our Land Stewardship team in the Menomonee Valley has been working to remove an influx of invasive species from this previously degraded and abandoned site. Native Wisconsin species typical of prairie, oak-savannah, and oak-hickory woodland and wetland areas continue to be planted in the newly transformed soil. Volunteers from nearby Menomonee Valley businesses and the surrounding neighborhoods have been engaged in this exciting transformation process. Click here to read more about this joint-project, Menomonee Valley – From the Ground Up.