Preserve Our Parks August 2012 Newsletter


There’s strength in numbers and you are one of almost three thousand others who we count among our supporters! Whether you contribute financially, or just offer moral support, it is vital to us to grow our list. To that end please tell your friends about us, send us their names, addresses, and most vitally their email addresses, all with their permission of course! We CAN make a difference if we have large numbers weighing in on issues of importance to our parks. We promise not to divulge our list to anyone, and we will only contact you on park matters of utmost importance.

John Lunz
President, Preserve Our Parks

An open, public lakefront
POP is concerned about the County’s proposal to place a 44-story hotel-and-apartment tower at the lakefront site now occupied by the Downtown Transit Center.  Working with a surveyor and old records, we have determined that approximately 80% of the Transit Center property is filled land – land retrieved from the lakebed. Such land is protected by the Public Trust Doctrine, which does not allow private or commercial use of former lakebed land.

The Trust Doctrine derives from the Articles of the Northwest Territory and is part of the Wisconsin Constitution. Its principle is that our waterways are a public resource and any land retrieved from them must have strictly public use, either for recreation or in aid of navigation. Since 1842, in fact, the lakebed portion of the Transit Center land has had only public use, either as open water, a railway, or as the public property of Milwaukee County.

It’s been suggested the new lakefront tower would be a “gateway” to our city.  Our board member Bill Lynch has an alternate suggestion: “In fact there is land just to the west of the Transit Center site,” Lynch says. “So I think the community should come together and see if we can use the Transit Center site as a green gateway to the city, and a true asset for access to the lakefront, AND encourage downtown development – highrise or not, as the needs dictate.” 

The Public Trust Doctrine has been our lakefront’s best protector over many decades.  In a sense, it’s the reason why we have our rare, open, beautiful, public, accessible, mostly unbuilt, signature lakefront today. We urge compliance with the Trust Doctrine. To ignore it would encourage private development of public waterfronts here and in many other places.

Football fever at Mitchell Park
For some years Journey House, a social service agency, has run a football program for kids on a lawn in Mitchell Park. Under a new agreement with the County the agency has been allowed to accept a gift from the Green Bay Packers of a turf once used on a Packer practice field. It plans to install the turf in the park and build a field around it.

Using gifts and grants, the agency will construct and maintain the field and raise roughly $1.2 million (figures vary) to build bleachers. The field will be fenced and locked, with the public allowed in for a few hours each week. It will need amenities like toilets, parking, etc.

Many neighbors embrace the “superfield” as a character and discipline builder. Some question its scale, cost and near-exclusive benefit to boys. Girls will have a cheerleading squad.

POP appeared before the Parks Committee on June 19th to recommend that the County grant parkland to Journey House under a management agreement rather than a lease. The deeds of Mitchell Park and many other parks don’t allow long-term leases. Our suggestion was taken.  We believe our involvement was a reminder of how deeds protect parks.

Power struggle
Last fall the American Transmission Company (ATC) submitted proposals for power line routes to service a new substation being planned by WeEnergies on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa. One of the proposed routes was through Underwood Creek Parkway. POP submitted a letter opposing this route to the ATC and to the Public Service Commission (PSC), which is responsible for the final decision.

Since that time a coalition of groups in the Wauwatosa area has been very active, not only in opposition to several of the proposed routes, but also providing alternative route suggestions to the ATC and PSC. The leaders of this coalition have met with the CEO of WeEnergies and they report that he was receptive to their ideas.

In a recent meeting the Wauwatosa Common Council described its ongoing efforts to find a solution that avoids Underwood Parkway as well as other sensitive areas. They, too, are providing alternative routes. There is reason for a measure of optimism in all this; however, the decision ultimately remains in the hands of the PSC, which has a record of adopting the least expensive route regardless of other considerations. The least expensive route is through Underwood Creek Parkway.

County officials pay a call
County Executive Chris Abele and Parks Director Sue Black visited POP board meetings lately for friendly discussions on mainly two topics. We asked for open, consistent policies when the County is designing park projects and choosing developers. And we asked for budget relief. Two budget remedies have been proposed: a 1% sales tax for both parks and transit (ratified in 2008 by referendum) and a separate tax district for parks. We made clear we support either one.

Waterfalls await
Promise yourself you won’t let summer slip away without spending some time next to a County park waterfall. 

  • Whitnall Park has two falls, a picturesque cascade near the Rose Garden and a grotto-like falls in the Rock Garden with its own clear pool.  (Watch for frogs.)
  • Lake Park’s new rugged-stone waterfall, a gift from Lake Park Friends, has a steep pitch and a magnificent roar.
  • The Oak Creek Parkway falls is actually a dam built in the 1840s to power the grist mill of early settler John Fowle.  Sadly, Fowles’ beautiful mill pond is stagnant today, although help could be on its way from a Friends of Mill Pond group.

Maybe the most thrilling park waterfalls are the ones on the Milwaukee River at Kletzsch Park and Estabrook Park.  Their stony shelves span the river’s width.  Salmon leap at Kletzsch in the fall. Estabrook Falls sits below the new bluff-top “Estabrook Biergarten.” Beer and a waterfall – refreshing! Google “Maps, Milwaukee County parks” for handy maps of all our parks.

Preserve Our Parks, a nonprofit watchdog group, battles to keep Milwaukee area parks open and green, resists incursions for non-park uses, and fights for funds to properly maintain one of the County’s greatest treasures, its parks system.