Top

Exciting Changes In Store For Urban Ecology Center

by Al Josef / photos by Vince Bushell

Evolution. It is a natural process through which all things grow and change. Most of the time these changes are for the better, allowing species to run faster, fly higher, or do things that previous generations couldn’t do. Now, it is time for the Urban Ecology Center to take a step forward in its evolutionary path, and from the looks of things it’s going to be a mammoth one. With a generous donation of $2.2 million from the Trinity Foundation through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and other contributors, the UEC broke ground for its new Resource Center in Riverside Park this past Earth Day. The new two-story structure will be built on the southwest corner of the park, just opposite Riverside High School. The resource center promises to be the crown jewel in the Riverside Park Revitalization Plan that has been in the works for three years. “We have big plans for the park,” said Ken Leinbach, director of the UEC. “And we are really excited to finally be underway.” The new resource center, scheduled to be complete in May 2004, will be a mecca to anyone wanting to learn more about the environment. Essentially, the center will serve as a research station where individuals and classes may continue the work they started in the outdoor laboratory at Riverside Park. Milwaukee’s budding botanists will get a kick out of the solarium for native plants and the green rooftop garden. Those who want to get up close and personal with Wisconsin wildlife can visit the Native Wisconsin Animal Lab or help nurse a creature back to health in the new outdoor/rooftop animal rehab area. Academically inclined individuals will be able to use the Citizen Science lab to conduct experiments and take a look at specimens collected in the field or familiarize themselves with new topics in the Tula Erskine Memorial Library and study. For people who simply want to relax, a climb to the top of the new observation tower gives a nice view of the park. For those who want something more active, they can test their skill against a new climbing wall. “It’s really not as big as it sounds,” points out Leinbach, “but it certainly will be easier to work out of than our old double wide.” The current UEC resource center is a modest, brown double-wide trailer that is home to a classroom, numerous informational exhibits, and a handful of live animals indigenous to the area. If you think that’s a lot to cram into a single trailer, keep in mind that last year the Center helped educate over 16,000 students and adults about conservation and the local environment with programs and lectures based out of that building. “You can see why we wanted to stretch our legs,” laughed Leinbach. The additional space will allow more people to visit and expand the Center’s conservations efforts in the park and Milwaukee. Leinbach hopes that the expansion will allow the UEC to accommodate all high schools within a two-mile radius of the park throughout the year, 36 in all. In addition to the new resource center, the UEC is also building a habitat playground. The playground is unique, with structures meant to mimic the habitat of a native Wisconsin critter. Kids can pretend they’re spiders on the web rope climb, slide on their bellies like otters on the otter slide, or leap like frogs on the lily pad jumper. “We want this playground to be educational,” said Leinbach. “But you can’t forget that you have to make it fun as well.” Some of the implements, like the spider web rope climb, are already installed and in use, but various environmental and political factors have slowed its completion. Instead of a Fall 2003 grand opening, it will be complete around the same time as the new Center in the Spring of 2004. The UEC has taken great care to make its expansion effort environmentally friendly. The Center itself will be built with a wide variety of energy-saving features such as indirect light skylights and a Rumford fireplace to cut back fuel consumption and cost. Instead of being hauled away, the dirt from the excavations will be used to build various glacial formations to help illustrate erosion principals and show how the land was shaped in Wisconsin. Leinbach and the UEC also insisted that all the new grass be seed-grown instead of being replaced by sod. “Sod just tears up the top soil and that leads to all kinds of other problems down the road,” Leinbach said. It’s hard to believe that all of this has grown out of a program that began with just a few teachers taking some kids for a walk in the park. And there’s more ahead. As Leinbach says, “We still have great plans for the park,” including the possible extension of the downtown riverwalk to Kletzch Park near Brown Deer Road, and improving handicap access all the way down to the Milwaukee River by use of the Oak Leaf Bicycle Trail. Many changes are in the works, and they all sound wonderful. Isn’t evolution grand? Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003
by Al Josef / photos by Vince Bushell