Stewardship Means Caring for the Natural Part of Our Community

Lou Agnew of the UEC Burdock Brigadeby Jim McGinty

In Aldo Leopold’s classic book, he writes eloquently about the Land Ethic and man’s relationship with the land. We can learn much from his writings including, as indicated in the quote above, expanding our view of community to include the natural world. Community is about relationships. We all have a relationship with the land through the water we drink, the vegetables we eat and the air we breathe. Regardless of whether we grew the food or hauled the water, we need a healthy natural world to exist. As residents of the urban environment, often our connection with the land is limited and connecting to it can be difficult. With over 600,000 people living in the City of Milwaukee, the importance of green space in our community becomes very important for these people to “connect” with on a regular basis. Although this connection or relationship with the land is critical, it does not come without impacts. Imagine what happens if even a fraction of all these people walk along the river, pick a flower in the forest, or ride their mountain bike through the woods a few times a week. The cumulative impacts on the plants, animals and the land are significant. This is why stewardship of our precious natural areas in the city is so important. Last year, the Urban Ecology Center obtained a preservation lease from Milwaukee County. The lease covers the 15 – acre natural area that lies between the Oak Leaf bike trail and the Milwaukee River. Now, the Center is responsible for taking care of all the trails and the land management in this part of Riverside Park. With this added responsibility the importance of the Burdock Brigade, a volunteer stewardship group, is so important. This group formed in 1992 to begin the job of caring for this small natural part of our community. The work to remove invasive, exotic plant species, help with prescribed burning, plant prairie plants and otherwise help implement the 100 year Biotic Plan for the area. This year, the Urban Ecology Center received a Besadny Conservation grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. This generous grant allowed the Center to purchase tools needed to work on the Habitat Restoration Project in Riverside Park. We are now able to provide equipment for volunteers that do not have their own equipment. Lou Agnew, a Riverwest resident, has been involved with the Burdock Brigade through the Center since 1994. Below are some of his responses to an interview conducted on an evening in mid-November. An Interview of Lou Agnew, Burdock Brigade Volunteer — Riverside Park Q. Why did you get involved with the Urban Ecology Center’s Burdock Brigade group? A. I got involved for a number of reasons including idealism, concern for nature, wanted to help preserve some space for plants and animals and always enjoyed working with plants. Man has made a tremendous impact on the land. Despite some people’s claims that nature will heal itself, it won’t get better all on its own. Also, when I first started volunteering, I brought my 8 year old daughter, Natasha. It was a great activity for us to do together and to help make a difference with the local plants and animals. Another reason I got involved was that I was interested in learning the amount of discipline or work it takes to take care of a piece of land. Even with a relatively small piece of land, there is a lot of work involved in taking care of it. Q. What are the benefits of participating in the Burdock Brigade? A. You get to learn a lot about plant species and a whole lot of other natural history topics. There is a diversity of knowledge among the staff and other volunteers and they are all willing to share it with all the other volunteers. I have found that there is no teacher like experience. If you want to learn how nature works, you need to spend the time out in it. Other benefits include the social with the other volunteers and that, by working with other people, you can have a greater, more satisfying impact. The Burdock Brigade meets the first and third Saturday of each month plus every Tuesday morning at the Urban Ecology Center from 9-10:30 a.m. Tools and gloves are provided if volunteers do not have their own. If you would like to join the effort to provide stewardship in Riverside Park, contact the Urban Ecology Center. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 11 – December 2002
by Jim McGinity