VITAL

  • Rivers, Railways and a Greener Milwaukee

    By Matt Czarnik Milwaukee, a city built on the edge of a Great Lake and fed by the convergence of three major waterways, each supporting its own diverse and extensive natural habitat of flora and fauna, is a land capable of creating and sustaining many forms of life. Follow the ancient formula that gave birth to civilization and you’ll find that where the rivers run and spread streams into the land, people have flourished, formed cultures, developed systems and made their histories along the waterways. But gone are the days when the first settlers forged their existence by maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the earth’s precious resources, and modern humans wince at the lost motto of beauty in simplicity. In remedy, they must work with the concrete world they’ve created. For Milwaukeeans it’s not a secret how the land and waterways have been punished by the industrial age. You need only watch the water flowing through the city during the spring thaw or smell the air in summer when it mixes with the fumes escaping from the rivers and Lake Michigan. But too often, the scars left by commerce are viewed only from a distance by drivers passing over viaducts, not looking long enough to wonder what’s gone wrong and not troubling themselves to learn what’s being done for the future. But when a state’s identity (not to mention economic survival) relies on the health of its natural resources for shaping itself as a vacation destination and sanctuary for wildlife and wildlife-watchers, the idea of the state’s most populous city not guiding the conservation and preservation efforts has motivated some people to act to protect the environment on behalf of the people. Leading the recovery revolution Leading a coup d’etat for the environment is a challenge undertaken by many different, groups, from non-profit entities like the Friend’s for Milwaukee’s Rivers, the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) and Menomonee Valley Partners, Inc., to city, county and state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and local neighborhood associations. Two projects currently receiving funding on the local and federal levels, as well as private donations from partnerships and non-profit fundraising, are the proposed Beerline County Trail as an extension of Gordon Park in the historic Riverwest neighborhood and the Hank Aaron State Trail (HAST) which follows the Menomonee River from the city’s west side to Lakeshore State Park. Both will be located along the banks of rivers, the Beerline along the west bank of the Milwaukee and HAST along the Menomonee. Both are in the early stages of multi-year plans to build paved city trails that will link urbanites to recreational amenities throughout the city. Each is unique in design and location, but similar in what they offer to the revival of the water basin. The Beerline County Trail In 1987, former Governor Tommy Thompson created the Milwaukee River Revitalization Council, which, after extensive research, published the Riverway Plan. This document advises the WDNR, and stipulates that certain actions be taken to […]