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Park Adventures - Franklin Savannah State Natural Area

Written by Beth Heller
    Monday, 04 May 2015
Park Adventures - Franklin Savannah State Natural Area

This year, on my 43rd birthday, my husband gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Along with a beautiful map of Milwaukee County Parks, he agreed to visit all of the parks with me before my 44th birthday. That’s 142 parks in one year! How awesome is that?

The green scape of Milwaukee County is part of what I love about living here. At the point of writing this, we are only 8% into the year-long adventure. I could easily write a page about each park, the awe and magic of nature we’ve experienced, their natural attributes and the way people interact with them.

Instead, I’m offering a highlight and an invitation for you to visit as many of the 142 parks as you can so you can create your own stories. Why not start with Riverside, Washington and Three Bridges Parks?

Corkscrew tree at Franklin Park / Franklin Savannah State Natural Area:

Franklin Park, a 164-acre piece of wilderness, lies nestled among farm fields in the southwest corner of the county. It is not accessible by car, but after a short search among road-side ditches we found a suitable parking place. We meandered around thorn-laden brambles and found an opening into the forest. Deer trails and creek-side openings eventually led us to a groomed trail which circumscribes the entire park, leading us through oak openings, along serpentine streams and across the undulating topography of an oak savannah.

It was near the stream that we discovered the “Corkscrew Tree.” No, this was not a Chinese corkscrew willow tree, but rather the strangest configuration of what looked like a black cherry tree trunk I’d ever seen. Upon closer inspection, we could see the cause. A vine had climbed the tree and wrapped around the trunk four times before tracking away from the trunk along one of the branches. The amazing part was that the vine was completely embedded in the trunk of the tree! We could find an entry and exit point, but nothing in between. This means that the tree somehow grew with and around the vine. I can only imagine that it was a dance for survival — the tree trying to keep its nutrient-distributing layers intact and the vine reaching up for an essential bit of sunlight. How lucky were we to have discovered the mysterious tree! Perhaps you can find it, too. If so, let us know how you think the tree ended up that way.

Continuing on, we traversed carefully across log bridges laid over flowing water, feeling like we were in a different world. Leafless trees revealed the shape of an established oak savannah, giving a majestic feel to the late-winter landscape. Prehistoric sounds of Sandhill Cranes rattling their percussive songs filled the air in all directions. Walking in silence, we actually felt part of the forest – the crane calls resonating deep into our own lungs, as we breathed in the moist sweetness of the promise of spring. Coming upon a familiar part of the trail, with boots appropriately muddied, we knew that the adventure was coming to a close. We slowed our gait and made our way back to the car feeling energized by the hike and delighted in having discovered this hidden treasure.

This is just one of the 11 parks we’ve visited so far. Some are charming little pockets with playgrounds filled with children. Others are vast spaces with walking trails or land groomed for sports like golf, disc golf or soccer. All provide much needed green spaces that support healthy lifestyles for nearby residents. This year, they will provide an affordable, refreshing and fun adventure for me and my husband.

Looking for a gift idea? Please steal this one and enjoy the amazing variety of Milwaukee County’s 142 parks!

For more about the year-long adventure, please visit the Urban Ecology Center blog. Next highlight: Kohl Park on the north end of the county.

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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