The Impact of UEC Restoration Efforts at Washington Park

Written by Michaela Rosenthal
    Wednesday, 02 November 2022
The Impact of UEC Restoration Efforts at Washington Park

Since the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) Washington Park branch opened in 2007, we have had the privilege to work in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks, Washington Park Partners, Washington Park Senior Center patrons, our neighborhood schools, numerous student and corporate volunteer groups, community neighbors, and a variety of workforce development partners to help care for and activate Washington Park.

In its most recent Annual Report, the Cultural Landscape Foundation focused on “The Olmsted Design Legacy” and included the Olmsted-designed Washington Park on a list of at-risk landscapes.  The Foundation expressed concern that Washington Park’s historic landscape features remain at risk as “myriad local stewards and interest groups balance natural and cultural concerns in planning for the park’s future.”  We appreciate the Foundation’s interest in Washington Park and we wanted to take this opportunity to provide some background about our ongoing work in the park.

wppFrom years of inter-organizational meetings, and walks through the park with Milwaukee County Parks Landscape Architects and local Olmsted historians, a 100-year Restoration and Management Plan was developed by UEC, and approved by Milwaukee County Parks. The Restoration and Management Plan calls for twenty-one acres of land on the north end of 135-acre Washington Park to be restored to native plant communities by UEC.  Park design elements that embody the original components of Washington Park, formerly West Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted Sr. were carefully considered and continue to inform the type as well as the composition of the plant community planned for the landscape.

To date, UEC has restored seven acres of land to native plant communities and planted one acre as a fruit orchard.  The restored native planting areas have provided habitat for mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, and birds while increasing opportunities for high-quality outdoor experiences and environmental education.  Now more than ever, native species are needed within our urban landscapes for ecosystem recovery, bolstering resilience, halting the loss of biodiversity, and restoring ecosystem trajectory in an age of climate change. Through the restoration efforts at Washington Park, native plant species richness has increased within the park by 95%, and bird species richness has increased by 22%.


The Urban Ecology Center hosts botany walks at Washington Park where participants learn about native species. Photo credit: Erin Caffrey 

We are grateful for the support we receive and to be able to help advance Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of “public spaces for all” while striving to achieve environmental justice within the Washington Park community space.  Leading, recruiting, and training people from our city neighborhoods in daily land restoration projects has cultivated a sense of pride and connection to the land and strengthened community connections to allow for more inclusive conversations addressing accessibility, sustainability, and historical landscape preservation.

IMG 3515At UEC, we believe that by inspiring generations to build environmental curiosity, understanding, and respect we can restore hope and heal our urban natural world neighborhood by neighborhood.

We acknowledge that the land and waterways we live on, steward, learn from, and love near Lake Michigan are the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples including the Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ho-Chunk.  Past, present, and future caretakers of these lands and waters include the Ojibwe, Peoria, Sauk and Fox, Oneida, Mohican, Brothertown, and other Indigenous peoples.

Michaela Rosenthal

Michaela Rosenthal

Michaela began her days at the UEC as a volunteer, assisting the Land Stewardship team with buckthorn removal, tree and shrub planting as well as seed collecting and cleaning.  In 2013, she joined the Stewardship team as the UEC Washington Park Branch Land Steward.  Aside from her passion for land management, Michaela enjoys cooking, vegetable gardening and traveling around the United States as well as internationally.  She takes any and all opportunities to explore the outdoors.  When possible, she volunteers with local triathlon clubs with event/race set up, aid station dispenser or simply as the ultimate cheerleader.


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