Environment
10:45 am
Fri July 19, 2013

Three Bridges Create Park and Sparks of Community

After a decade of collecting buckets of public and private funding, a 24-acre park comes to life in the Menomonee Valley.

Saturday, Milwaukee will officially welcome Three Bridges Park. We talk with people who feel the valley’s breathtaking rebirth.

When Katie and Ben Liesch bought their spacious and extremely affordable home on Pierce Street in 2006, they had no idea the valley below would transform like Cinderalla’s pumpkin.

“Like I remember going to the first meeting and thinking it’s a long shot,’ Ben says.

As the family grew by one, two and then three, the couple KEPT going to meetings

“And to be pregnant and have babies and see the whole process and be here now and being able to walk through is incredible. And Ben and I both grew up on farms so this is really important to connect our kids with nature and why is ecology important and why is nature important.,” they say.

Just a few years ago, the valley and river were impenetrable; largely, an abandoned industrial wasteland. Now the Liesch’s ferry their kids by wagon across bridge one into the new park. They look for interesting stuff in the river

Katie extracts something intriguing to the delight of 5-year-old Liesl. After guessing shrimp and lobster, Katie reveals the answer. A crawfish!

The kids send the treasure back into the Menomonee, but their exploring continues.

“I think we have a couple of scientists in the family. Our oldest want to be an entomologist; he’s been on that since he was three. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did,” Ben and Katie say.

Dad Ben admits his greatest joy is cruising through the restored valley on his bike – to work.

“Yeah and with this new section of trail, it doesn’t necessarily make it that much faster, but it’s beautiful and when I get back to city streets I think, oh this is so boring,” Ben says.

Katie half listens to her husband. She wants to entice more neighbors to venture into the park.

“We talk to some of our neighbors and their kids and they have no idea that this is here and we say walk down five blocks, ride your bike down. And they’re shocked ‘really that’s over there!’.”

Michael Krajewski doesn’t live here – in fact he commutes from Mukwonago, yet he spends more time in the valley and its new park than some of its neighbors.

Krajewski has worked at the nearby Falk Corporation for 42 years, starting as an apprentice out of high school.

" I’m a model maker; a wood pattern maker,” Krajewski says.

He vividly recalls the pre-remediated valley.

“Where we’re standing right now used to be the rail shops for the Milwaukee Road; Lot of condemned buildings it was kind of an old ghost town, a dried up industrial area,” Krajewski says.

Krajewski calls its transformation a miracle.

He’s helped.

He’s waiting for his team – they call themselves the “Stew Crew”. Every couple of weeks they clean up. Krajewski stores the gear in his truck.

“Safety vests, number one everybody’s got to wear safety vests and we’ve got equipment to pick up the litter – we’ve got grabbers and sticks and gloves,” Krajewski says.

Krajewski’s involvement doesn’t end here. He’s built birdhouses and benches that now dot the valley landscape.

"I started off making picnic tables; I had a group of interns one summer, we got lumber from the stockyards," Krajewski says.

He loves what this valley is becoming.

"It’s like a second home; I like to see it clean, I like to see the birds. I get here at 4 or 4:30 in the morning, I have a set of cardinals that come by me all the time, I feed them, they expect their seed, so I have have them sort of trained." Krajewski laughs.

He sees the park drawing in fellow workers, too. One bridge lies practically at the factory doorstep.

"People at lunchtime they come out, They walk over the bridge, they utilize it. Lots of health conscious walking, they really enjoy the way it looks," he says.

While Krajewski works to keep the park clean, he notices much more than debris.

"You see tadpoles develop to frogs. You see the fish in spring swimming up the the Menomonee River here. I see people launching their canoes in the river here," he adds, “the trails are so busy, when I walk the trails to pick up the litter, you have to watch you don’t get run over by a bike.

Perhaps by the likes of Ben Liesch and fellow commuters.

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Click here to listen to a Lake Effect interview with two of the Three Bridges Park project leaders.