Creating Connections at the UEC

Written by Jackie Gonzalez
    Wednesday, 14 August 2019
Creating Connections at the UEC

I started my position as a Visitor Services Specialist for the Menomonee Valley branch about four months ago. One of the best parts of my job is not only having the opportunity to use my first language, Spanish, but also to help my community connect, or in many cases reconnect, with nature and the environment. It also gave me the ability to start that re-connection that my family has with nature and with Milwaukee ecology specifically.

Growing up in California, my family and I had a connection with nature, which was inseparable. We come from peoples that have worked the land and interacted with the land to build community. As a family we have realized sharing and building within nature grows our connection as a family but also gives us a connection through history and to our ancestors.

Camping in the Rocky Mountains, going to the beach at Santa Monica, going to Palmer Park in Glendale, using Forest Lawn Cemetery as a park, and camping in Soledad Canyon are just a few things we loved to do in California. Coming to Milwaukee, it took me some time to find places I can make that re-connection. And I sit here wondering if it’s because I just haven’t explored Wisconsin as much as I should have sooner. Or if I haven’t thought of my surroundings in the city as spaces to make that re-connection. It has been more than 17 years that my family started walking Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi lands. And throughout this time, we never explored our own backyard.

The Urban Ecology Center is a place where we connect people to nature. And not only was it possible to make this re-connection with nature due to being a member, but it is due to the fact that we have the Equipment Lending Program to take advantage of. It’s a great program that gave me the ability to go take my family on a kayak trip here at the Menomonee River.

Being a member of the Urban Ecology Center is a beautiful thing when you can share it with loved ones. It was amazing to share and bring together my sister and cousin because it was something new that they never tried. To them it was exciting, because it is a new activity we were doing, nerve wrecking because they thought they would fall into the water, and scary because a few of us don’t know how to swim. Of course, it was very funny trying to get though the Watercraft Lending Orientation (WLO) before the trip with my family. Overall, getting through the Orientation made them feel more comfortable with kayaking.


We kayaked through the Menomonee River right in the early evening on the 4th of July. It was a memorable experience because as we finished kayaking, the fireworks at the Mitchell Domes started. We could see the reflection of the fireworks in the water as we raced out due to how dark Three Bridges Park was getting. This was also the first time that they had been within Three Bridges Park and they loved it. All of us growing up together, and we never explored what was below the 35th and 27th street bridges!

You and I have the ability to keep creating connections to nature. Becoming a member to the Urban Ecology Center means giving back to the community, and allowing youth and adults to also make that connection. Within that process, members have the opportunity to participate in the Equipment Lending Program. It’s a great program that allows you to take equipment out of the Milwaukee area and explore alternative areas.

Here are a few questions, food for thought:

How do you connect and/or make that re-connection back to nature? Where are your favorite places to go for that (re)connection? What does it mean to you to do activities alone within nature? And/or with family?

Join our community! Become a UEC Member today.

Jackie Gonzalez

Jackie Gonzalez

Jackie Gonzalez is a Visitor Services Specialist at the Urban Ecology Center's Menomonee Valley branch.


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