The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hopes to lure visitors to the state’s natural spaces this weekend by offering open houses and “license-free” fishing.
The Milwaukee County Parks system is taking a different approach to highlighting its green spaces.
It will host a party Saturday at McKinley Park, kicking-off the parks system’s 105th anniversary.
The event will also launch a “passport” program designed to focus attention on the Oak Leaf Trail. It carries bikers and hikers to numerous county parks.
WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence hit a piece of the trail to witness one person’s approach to selling a parks system.
Our bikes converge in Lake Park - at the top of a Lannon Stone waterfall.
The water plummets 30 feet toward Lincoln Memorial Drive.
“It’s wonderful and part of its purpose is when we get a heavy rainfall, the rainfall comes off of the golf course into openings that drain into this waterfall.”
A petit, energy-packed Cheri Briscoe is my guide.
She’s determined to promote every intriguing facet of Milwaukee County Parks and the Oak Leaf Trail that threads through them.
“I believe it’s one of the secrets that we need to advertise that will bring tourists from around the state and outside of the state,” Briscoe says.
Briscoe cultivated her advocacy prowess in the 1970s when she threw herself into recycling programs.
Recently, when she learned about the passport project and the fact it was losing steam, she pounced.
“The idea of the passport is to encourage people to explore all or our parks. A lot of people don’t know that we have 144 different parks in Milwaukee County on 15,000 acres,” Briscoe says.
The passport – the exterior of which resembles the official U.S. document in size and color – opens up to brief descriptions with corresponding black and white images of 14 park features – from Brown Deer to Whitnall Park.
Briscoe says it sells for a few dollars.
“The reason we’re selling them is we want people to value them, but for people who can’t afford them, we’ll be looking for people who want to buy a bunch of them to give to people,” Briscoe says.
Briscoe jumps on her recumbent bike every chance she gets to promote the system.
That’s how she ran into, and sold a passport to, real estate agent Jim Harris.
The downtown Milwaukee resident does a lot of pedaling on parts of the Oak Leaf Trail with young daughter in tow.
His bike pulls hers.
“There are some really, really nice parts of the trail; the primary part we use is along the lake behind Alterra and up to about Hampton,” Harris says.
Harris calls the biking experience is less idyllic when he and his 4 year old venture off trail.
“In some places where it’s connecting current trails, it’s pretty rough– pretty bad, rough. There’s time when she’s in the back in her little seat and she’s yelling for me to stop because of the roads being pretty bad,” Harris says.
Passport promoter, Cheri Briscoe acknowledges that Milwaukee’s parks are compromised by limited funding and staffing, but cringes at talk of crumbling infrastructure.
“The trails coordinator is very much aware of some of these concerns and is looking for all different ways to get money,” Briscoe says.
We pedal south – and yes – traverse weatherworn stretches.
But, at South Shore Park a tree canopy shades a smooth surface and offers glimpses of sand and Lake Michigan.
Briscoe honks her cow-shaped horn whenever she spots children on the trail.
We glide minutes later into Warnimont Park, home to a county golf course.
Briscoe points to where a kiosk will be positioned in the clubhouse.
That’s where passport holders will be able to self-stamp their Warnimont page.
“There will be a kiosk in here; like I said, most of them will be by the men’s and women’s rooms or near the candy bars that they have here,” Briscoe says.
Back on the trail, we meet Mitchell Butschle.
The 16-year-old is hard at work with a small construction team. He’s completing an Eagle Scout project – erecting a place for hikers to rest and regroup.
“Right now I’m building a kiosk. It’s looking nice,” Butschle says.
“He made the benches as well.”
Scoutmaster Jeff Pucel prompts Butschle.
“We have our three benches that we made too. We have a boot brush that we’re putting in right now also,” Butschle says.
“What’s the boot brush for, Mitchell,” Scoutmaster Pucel prompts.
“You can clean your feet off, so you don’t get all the – oh I forgot what they’re called – mustard seeds - so you don’t get them all over the trail and spread them,” Butschle says.
We gradually peddle our way south into Grant Park.
That’s where we meet Ian Marquardt – in a magnificent spot overlooking Lake Michigan.
Marquardt is tinkering with his bike; his two year old daughter stands quietly at his side. He used to live a few miles from here.
“Oh I came here almost every night after work, I used to come to these trails,” Marquardt says.
Now, it takes more effort - Marquardt lives in Sheboygan, still......
“ It’s one of our favorite biking spots; she loves biking,” Marquardt says.
Cheri Briscoe beams.
The Marquardt’s obviously don’t need a passport.
“This young lady is getting a nice introduction to our Milwaukee County Parks with her daddy; what better way to be with your children,” Briscoe says.
So Briscoe sidles up to a couple she spies.
“We’re having an end of 105 Years party on September 15 at Estabrook Park,” Briscoe says.
They pull out a few bills.
“Let’s see if I have change, I think I do,” Briscoe says.