Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Who’s Clear Cutting The Lake Bluff?

Bluff near Juneau Park looks quite barren, but it's intended to be temporary.

By - Apr 5th, 2024 02:23 pm

Bluff along N. Lincoln Memorial Drive that was clearcut. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Did Milwaukee County Parks clearcut the trees on a bluff near Juneau Park?

No, it didn’t. But someone did.

Just on the edge of Juneau Park, there is a bluff that has been clearcut nearly down to the Oak Leaf Trail running along the west side of N. Lincoln Memorial Drive. At the top of the bluff sits White Manor, an apartment complex owned by Shoreline Real Estate.

White Manor sits just north of Juneau Park. From the bottom of the bluff, it’s difficult to tell where the parkland ends and the private bluff face begins. But, with the exception of a few trees downed on the edge of county property, Shoreline’s contractors only cut down the foliage on the privately-owned portion of the bluff.

The bluff, like others running along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, was likely created during the Pleistocene, the geological epoch when glaciers arrived in what is today called Wisconsin. Most of the coastal bluffs in Milwaukee County are composed of “unconsolidated glacial till and glacial deposits,” according to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).

Why did Shoreline chop it all down?

“The bluff was just completely overgrown with weed trees and dead trees,” Ben Crichton of Shoreline told Urban Milwaukee.

The real estate firm plans to plant “low-growth shrubbery,” such as sumac plants, on the bluff face, Crichton said, adding that this will help stabilize the bluff face and, as important for lease rates, won’t obstruct views of lake.

“I know, right now, it doesn’t look good,” Crichton said.

Shoreline is bidding the project out right now, Crichton said, and expects to be planting this spring and summer.

A second Shoreline property a few blocks north, 1504 N. Prospect Ave., also saw its bluff clear. But it’s less noticeable. A handful of other property owners along Prospect Avenue have pursued similar projects in years past.

Were it parkland, the county’s parks department might not have greenlit a clearcutting of the bluff face. Clearcutting and herbicidal removal of invasive species is typically discouraged, according to a 2003 SEWRPC assessment of bluffs in Lake Park. While such practices can improve lake views they can also destabilize the bluff slope.

Vegetation protects bluff slopes by reducing the water flowing over the top of them, and soaking into the soil; and roots create a frame holding soil in place and reducing erosion.

However, it’s possible this section of slope is held together by the roots of trees on either side. Tree roots can spread far beyond the radius of their leafy canopy. This is doubly, or triply true of the fine feeder roots, which sit approximately a foot beneath the soil. These feeder roots can spread two or three times further than the tree canopy, and according to Parks, “roots of different trees of the same species can graft together forming a strong lattice with great soil-holding capability.”

Sumac, which Crichton mentioned, is one of the native species that were planted to stabilize bluffs in Lake Park in the 1930s. The plant tends to “fill in really nicely,” Crichton said.


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Categories: MKE County

7 thoughts on “MKE County: Who’s Clear Cutting The Lake Bluff?”

  1. B says:

    Glad to hear that some planting will be done to keep the bluff stable. I appreciate the article map.

    I have always been suspicious of some of the sickly trees on North Wahl Avenue just north of Bradford.

  2. Kate says:

    This is a welcome article. I walk that trail every day and I’ve been wondering who/how . Now am awaiting the erosion that will undoubtedly occur. There already are some areas that look like mini-ravines in the making. The bluff is a man-made eyesore and one more insult to an area that has recently lost so many ash trees — for scientific vs. “view” reasons.

    Sumac isn’t going to be the answer. ( And maybe Michael Horne could explain why the White Manor is assessed at $0. ) Let’s have photos again a year from now.

  3. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Got it done in time for April showers.

  4. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Kate – It is not assessed for $0. A glitch in our system that we are working to correct. The correct assessment is $9.5 million. It is a parcel that includes multiple buildings.

  5. Kate says:

    Thanks, Jeramy. Very helpful and a rapid response. Urban Milwaukee is a tremendous resource for what’s going on in Milwaukee. Grateful for all of you.

  6. Colin says:

    Is there not going to be ANY repercussions against those initiating this work?

  7. Passenger57 says:

    This looks like s***. The bluffs will continue to look like s*** with only low-growth plants. Trails should have kissing canopies anywhere and everywhere possible. The county parks, as a whole, could use about 2,000% more trees.

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