Celebrating 10 Years at Washington Park!

Written by Beth Heller
    Friday, 22 September 2017
Celebrating 10 Years at Washington Park!

This year the Urban Ecology Center is celebrating 10 years of programming in Washington Park. What an amazing 10 years it has been!

We opened our Washington Park branch in 2007. This was our first attempt to expand our mission outside of Riverside Park. We rented one third of our current home in the Milwaukee County Park’s Washington Park Pavilion with the help of many neighbors, donors and friends.

Our first programs engaged students in learning science on school field trips from nine schools. In our inaugural year we had just over 6,000 visits from children. Fast-forward ten years we have had 20,000 visits by children — more than tripling the volume of children visiting the Center.

How is this possible?

With the dedication of an amazing team of staff, volunteers and supporters, we now partner with 16 schools to provide almost 400 field science learning experiences for school groups each year.

In the summer, students are invited to return to one of the 14 summer day camps.

After school, students can return for a family night, the Young Scientists Club, volunteer opportunities, or they can just come with friends to play in the park.

Community members can rent our beautiful spaces overlooking the lagoon, join in a field ecological research project with one of our community science staff, or volunteer to restore parkland habitat.

In 2012, Milwaukee County Parks approved a renewed lease that allowed us to expand and use the entire building. This was a great opportunity as demand for programming was growing. Now, 5 years after the expanded facility use, we have reached capacity once again. Many community members have provided input into a design for a renovation that will create the space for us to serve 50,000 children!

Summer Camp kids using nets to scoop water invertebrates

Imagine a child skipping down the sidewalk toward her favorite park. She looks forward to climbing up onto a fallen log with her best friend. She looks over the lagoon for other friends who are canoeing, fishing and playing. She is energized: feeling safe, full of curiosity, feeling healthy after the short walk in the fresh air. She felt safe and healthy. Washington Park hasn’t always felt that way.

In our first year, before our programs and staff were well known, we faced quite a bit of crime: so much so that in summer of 2008 in a period of only 3 weeks, we had 12 break-ins!

The good news is that the crime rate dropped by 56% in the first five years and has continued on a downward trend since then. Through the collaborative efforts of many partnering organizations and residents, led by the Washington Park Partners, the community essentially “took back” their neighborhood from crime and we were at the heart of that effort in the park. The Urban Ecology Center’s role is to continue to keep the park activated and unappealing for criminal behaviors.

Now, multiply that child’s experience by 50,000 children! That is our aspiration for the next 10 years in Washington Park. Aiming for 50,000 visits by 2027 is both ambitious and possible! Our first ten years have prepared us well.

Our six 2007 inaugural partners were Trinity (now Burke) Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Harley-Davidson Foundation, Miller (now MillerCoors) Foundation, Milwaukee County Parks and Windhover Foundation. To keep this vision alive over the past decade, these six partners have been joined by more than one hundred donors, members and partners specifically interested in supporting our work in Washington Park.

Outdoor play. Reduced crime. Increased learning. Ecological and human healing. There is so much to celebrate!

Please join us to commemorate the successes of the past 10 years and our aspirations for the next 10 years.

We will celebrate the Washington Park branch’s anniversary at noon Saturday, October 14th during our annual Autumn Celebration.

Beth Heller

Beth Heller

Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning, Beth received her Masters in Business Administration from UW-Milwaukee in 2005, where she received the Outstanding Business Plan award for a plan to launch a branch of the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park. She graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI in 1994 with a B.A. degree in Biology and Education. Beth began working at the Urban Ecology Center in 2000 to combine her love of the city with her appreciation of nature. Beth loves to sail, bike, sing and hike.


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