I don't know about you, but I have a nature hike wish list that is ever-growing. Making a decision on where to hike sometimes takes me nearly as long as the hike itself. For someone who has been to a lot of local nature parks and preserves, you'd think I would have better focus. But I truly agonize over the decision some days. So many factors to consider: weather, time allotted, distance allotted, whether or not I'm going solo or with someone else. If going with someone else, it can depend on that person's schedule, location, interests, and more.
Even (as my husband can attest) if I've weighed the options and settled on a decision the day before, there's an absolute chance that by morning I will have changed my mind. So, when I can set a destination, and actually get there, it's an achievement. Fortunately, it's usually worth the while.
In the past couple weeks I've visited several locations that have been on my wish list for some time. Each one was unique, and definitely worth the effort.
FRONTIER PARK - Butler
Frontier Park is located in one of those deceptive locations: behind a business industrial park. When I first turned onto Park Drive, the only bit of green I noticed was a dead end straight ahead. But once I drove down the road, I saw the park sign, and the park itself, off to the right of the road.
The park rests along the banks of the Menomonee River. It looks, at first glance, like a quaint picnic spot, accompanied by a couple baseball diamonds.
But once you walk past the bridge, and along the river itself, you will discover the entrance to a beautiful wooded trail. The industrial park disappears from view, and you are surrounded by trees, and the sight and sounds of the river flowing by. The trail is close to a mile as it loops back around to the parking lot. It's an easy walk. And it's worth it.
SENO WOODLAND CENTER - Burlington
So. Much. Green. I've been wanting to visit Seno for quite some time, and it did not disappoint! The conservancy is over 130 acres of woodland and prairie. There are over 2.8 miles of featured hiking trails.
The trails are beautifully marked with rustic wood signage. Some of the trails are a bit steep, but if I can hike them...This time of year the trees are leaved in green. The prairie wildflowers are in bloom. Song Sparrows call to each other over blooming coneflower and fields of native bee balm.
There is an education center on-site, along with a picnic shelter near the barn and parking lot.
This place is going to be brilliant with color in the fall.
NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK - North Freedom
This park has been on my list for several years. Located outside of Baraboo, it took a day trip with a friend to finally get me there. It was absolutely worth it!
Though we didn't have time to hike much of this 530-acre park, we did make it to its majestic highlight: the Natural Bridge and accompanying Rock shelter.
The trail there and back to the parking area is about a mile. Lots of steps, but not too strenuous. And along the trail, wildflowers in bloom, and wild raspberries ripening on the bush.
For more hiking, there is an additional 2-mile trail across from the parking lot, south of Hwy C.
I heard its song before I spotted it. oh-sweet-canada-canada It called out. Then, in the distance, a few backyards away, I heard another in response. oh-sweet-canada-canada. Such a lovely, sweet tune. And a true sign that the migrating birds were arriving.
I surveyed the backyard garden, and spotted it hopping about. Then it moved down to the grass beneath one of the bird feeders, where I got a clearer view. The White-throated Sparrows have returned!
Bird watching is what started me on TheParkNextDoor journey. And it never fails to thrill me. This miracle of migration may seem nerdy or insignificant to some, but I'm a proud bird nerd. Happily, it seems a more diverse, and younger generation, have discovered birds, and the excitement of bird watching. Bird watching has become cool. This makes me happy. The more people to discover the beauty and necessity of birds in the world, the better the world will be.
Spring migration brings millions of birds, billions, in fact, through our cities and towns. Enroute to their summer nesting locations, they make stops on the way along our lakeshores, in our parks and prairies, along our rivers and creeks, and, yes, in our backyards.
In the past two years spring migration has arrived in our little backyard habitat on May 10. Amazing that the dates were the same! How do they know? But this year they seem to be trickling in over a few weeks. Whereas last year I opened the blinds on May 10 to a rainy backyard filled with migrants. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Swainson's Thrushes, and Catbirds, along with many others flying to and fro' through our garden.
This year the buntings have yet to show up. But some new visitors have!
I've spent the last few weeks making first time visits to some neighborhood and community parks. Once again, I'm impressed by the green space available to us here in Southeastern Wisconsin. The more we appreciate the parks and nature spaces we do have, the more we will see the value in preserving and developing them.
I love how these spaces are incorporated into our cities, towns and neighborhoods. I am all for preserving large portions of land for wilderness. I love our State Parks, Natural Areas, State Forests, and more. But, I think, more and more, incorporating nature into our everyday environments, our residential areas, even our corporate and business parks, can help to preserve our health, our environment, our wildlife, and, ultimately, our planet.
Neighborhood and community parks make spending time in nature accessible. No need to make it an all day affair (unless, of course, you want to). Studies have shown that just ten minutes in nature can boost your vitamin D levels, reduce your stress level, and improve your mood. I can attest to this. Even if I have just a few minutes to stop at a local park, maybe sit on a bench watching the birds in the trees, or ducks in a pond, walk a simple trail, my spirit feels lifted. Connecting with nature, even in such a minimal way, provides benefits to the mind, body, and soul.
Local parks are a treasure. And they are a large part of why I started TheParkNextDoor. So I am always on a quest to visit more of them, and to share them with you.
Lyons Park - Milwaukee
What a lovely neighborhood park! On my first visit here I was pleased to find paved trails, plowed of snow, a running creek, lots of trees, and the sounds of birds singing in the yet bare branches.
This 12.9 acre park, located on Milwaukee's south side, offers walking trails, a children's playground and wading pool, and lots of trees and greenery.
I look forward to checking it out during spring migration this year!
Bluhm Farm Park
Once the farm land of German immigrants who arrived here in 1863, Bluhm Farm Park is a 50 acre community park in Muskego. The park includes walking trails, multiple sports fields, native prairie land, woodlands, a children's playground, picnic areas, and a rentable shelter.
A gravel walking trail is sometimes partially plowed of snow in winter. Woodland footpaths are not plowed.
There is a short boardwalk along the gravel trail leading towards the woodlands. I expect this to be a great bird watching spot come spring and summer.
Calhoun Park - New Berlin
I visited Calhoun Park for the first time before the early spring thaw.
There was still lots of snow on the ground. This 55 acre community park includes something for everyone. Sports fields, walking trails, a children's playground, a pond with a fishing pier, and picnic spots. There's even a sledding hill for some winter fun.
The walking trail is a little less than a mile, but I hear it can be rather hilly. With warmer days ahead, I intend to find out. As with so many of our parks in Wisconsin, this should be a great spot for bird watching as spring and summer come along.
There are three reservable shelters on site, as well as restrooms during the warmer months.
Creekwood Park - Greenfield
Located on S. 43rd street, Creekwood Park is another little gem of a park. It may be small in size, at 4.2 acres, but it's definitely a lovely respite of nature nestled in this Greenfield neighborhood.
You'll find a paved walking path to the picnic gazebo and children's playground, and a natural foot path through the woodlands along a portion of Honey Creek.
The day I was there Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived, along with Grackles, and American Robins. A group of Mallard ducks were swimming in the creek. With the creek passing through here, it should be a nice little birding spot as spring migration continues.
I've always been fond of Valentine's Day. Though it's historically been a romantic holiday, I've always enjoyed crafting valentines for friends and family alike. To me, the romantic aspect of the holiday is overhyped anyway.
One of my favorite things to spot when I'm out in nature is hearts. In fact, a few years back my niece and I ventured out to Scout Lake Park with valentine photos in mind. We found all kinds of fun, natural elements to use in our photos.
With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought I'd peruse my heart shaped finds, share them with you, and feature the parks I found them in. Who says Valentine's Day has to include romantic dinners and extravagant gestures? I think a walk in the park on Valentine's Day with someone whose company you enjoy is a perfect way to spend the day. It's a perfect day for a solo hike as well. Take your camera along and keep an eye out for nature's hearts, and craft your own valentine.
Happy Valentine's Day, Friends...
Falk Park - Oak Creek
Falk Park may be just an off-ramp away from I-94, but this 200-acre park includes enough woodland trails to surround you with trees, birds, wildlflowers, and more.
Woodpeckers call from on high, and, if you listen closely, you may hear a Great Horned Owl as it keeps watch over the habitat. We discovered it watching us as we walked the trails one winter day last year.
Lincoln Park - Glendale
Located on Milwaukee's north side, Lincoln Park is 312-acres of multi-use recreation space. Sports of all kinds are represented here, as well as walking trails along the Milwaukee River, great bird-watching, and connections to the Oak Leaf Trail.
There is also a canoe/kayak launch into the Milwaukee River at 5000 N. Milwaukee River Parkway.
Scout Lake Park - Greendale
At 64-acres, Scout Lake Park is scenic in all seasons and features walking trails, a fishing pier, reservable picnic areas, and a tot lot/play area.
There's great bird-watching here, and a half-mile looped walking path around the lake.
Whitnall Park - Franklin
At 626 acres, Whitnall Park features a diverse array of nature and recreation areas, including Wehr Nature Center, Boerner Botanical Gardens, and Whitnall Golf Course.
The Oak Leaf Trail winds through the park, along with plenty of other walking trails. There's great bird-watching in all areas of the park, woodlands, and native gardens.
I confess, I'm not one of those big fans of winter sports. But I definitely appreciate the beauty, and serenity, of a walk in one of our parks or preserves after a snowfall. There's quiet magic at work in snow covered trees and trails. Winter transforms these spaces with a peaceful beauty. Following are just a few of my favorite winter walks.
Lion's Park - New Berlin
This is one of my go-to parks for a quick afternoon spot of nature. Even in winter there are birds chattering about, and it's a birder's treat during spring migration.
In the meantime, it's a scenic retreat in winter. Particularly lovely and quiet after a nice snowfall. The paved walk is often plowed in winter, as is part of the parking lot.
Greenfield Park - West Allis
Greenfield Park is a beauty year-round. But under a blanket of freshly fallen snow, there's a quiet beauty that cannot be denied.
Generally, the paved path surrounding the lagoon is plowed in winter, though it may take a day or two after a heavy snow.
Deer Creek Sanctuary - New Berlin
I first visited Deer Creek Sanctuary back in November. It was beautiful in those gray late fall day tones. At the time I imagined what it would look like under freshly fallen snow. Our late December snowfall, brought just the opportunity I hoped for. It was quietly beautiful.
Whitnall School Forest - Greenfield
Whitnall School Forest packs a lot of winter sparkle into 17 acres. Snow covered evergreens, a tree fort, and multiple walking trails offer a respite form nearby city streets.
Parking is available on weekends in the school parking lot.
It's a sad Christmas for so many this year. We've got our own sadness happening here, but we will press on and share our love with those around us. We'll do the best we can.
So many people are missing loved ones this year. Whether staying safely apart due to Covid, missing loved ones that have passed on, or simply being too far away to be together.
Though you may be feeling melancholy, please know you are not alone. Reach out to someone in any way you can. Phone, text, email, video chat.
Get outside. Go for a walk. We've got lots of places listed here on our website. Find one that intrigues you and just go. Breathe some fresh air. I was feeling blue today, and just twenty minutes at a park calmed my spirits and helped me to breathe.
And if you're thinking of someone special, let them know. I recently recorded a music video using photos from Spruce Lake Bog. The song is called EVERGREEN, and it reflects on spending Christmas apart from loved ones. Feel free to share it.
Merry Christmas, from Me.
One of the simplest joys of the holidays is also one of the most festive - holiday lights. Though many celebrations this year are overshadowed by Covid-19, at least there are plenty of holiday light displays to bring us out of the dark.
No matter where you live, chances are there is a local, county or city park near by that offers a holiday light display. Some are drive-thru only, some socially distanced walking tours. And, if all else fails, just take an evening walk through your neighborhood, or a drive through your local area, and enjoy the displays of family, friends and neighbors.
Following are some highlights from a few of the holiday light displays I've visited in recent years, along with a listing of some others throughout Wisconsin as well. Be sure to check your local news sources for holiday displays in your area. Put some Christmas music on the car radio and enjoy!
Winter Wonders - Whitnall Park/Boerner Botanical Gardens
This holiday display is back for a second year, with new displays, concert lighting, and a whopping one million lights. Features new dramatic lighting techniques and displays set throughout the forests and fields of Boerner Arboretum and Whitnall Park.
There's even a Mini Drive-In Theater (first come, first serve).
Recommended to purchase tickets online. Peak wait times on Fridays, Saturdays, and holiday weeks. For lower wait times, visit Sunday-Thursday evenings after 7:30pm.
Open 5-pm to 10-pm every night through January 3, including holidays. This is a drive-thru only display. Admission is $25 per carload.
Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival
Downtown Milwaukee at: Cathedral Square Park, Pere Marquette Park, and Zeidler Union Square
This perennial holiday light display in downtown Milwaukee is a perfect way to lift your holiday spirits. Walk or drive-thru to experience the festive displays of over 500,000 lights as animated sculptures, interactive displays, and twinkling street decorations boost your holiday mood.
Admission is free. The displays run through January 1.
Candy Cane Lane - West Allis
This annual event of neighborhood light displays takes donations for the MACC Fund, and has set a goal this year of $100,000 for the fight against childhood cancer.
These festive displays, all created by neighborhood residents, will cheer you and yours. The neighborhood parameters are: 96th Street to 92nd Street, from Montana Avenue to Oklahoma Avenue. Drive-thru this holiday season, the event runs through December 27. See their website for specific hours.
Enchantment in the Park - West Bend
This holiday light treat in Regner Park, in West Bend, has been an annual event since 2009. The displays offer both a walk-thru and drive-thru experience. Your choice.
Sponsored by the local Washington County area Rotary Clubs, this festive display is a fundraiser for local food banks. Admission is a suggested $10 donation, or non-perishable food items (no glass containers, please). The festival runs through December 24, and is open from 5-pm to 9-pm daily. See the event calendar for special features and events.
Holiday Light Show - Rotary Botanical Gardens, Janesville
This brilliant holiday event is held on the grounds of the Janesville Rotary Gardens. Themed light displays, animations, and twinkling walkways will lift your holiday spirits with over one-million holiday lights.
We attended this event a few years back, and it was well worth the drive to Janesville. However, it's a very well attended event. Be sure to check their schedule for details on purchasing tickets in advance to secure a time spot for your visit. Tickets prices: Free for 2 and under. $5 for children 3-12, $10 for those 13 and up.
Dates: Dec. 10-13, Dec. 17-23, Dec. 26-30. Evenings: 4:30-pm to 9-pm.
Reservations/Tickets required purchase in advance.
20 More Holiday Light Events Across the State
Making Spirits Bright - Sheboygan
Beaver Dam Rotary Lights - Swan City Park
Illuminate Ozaukee - Cedarburg
Wonderland of Lights - Racine Zoo
Garden of Lights - Green Bay
Miller Holiday Lites Drive-thru Light Show - Miller Valley, Milwaukee
Holiday Fantasy in Lights - Madison
Country Christmas - Pewaukee
Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights - Jellystone Park, Caledonia
Kids2Kids Christmas Wonderland - Grafton
East Troy Lights - East Troy
Lake Ripley Holiday Lights - Cambridge
Lights in Lincoln Park - Manitowoc
Light the Square - Oak Creek
Celebration of Lights - Oshkosh
La Crosse Rotary Lights - La Crosse
Marshfield Rotary Winter Wonderland - Marshfield
Sam's Christmas Village & Light Tour - Somerset
Christmas Village at Irvine Park - Chippewa Falls
Lakeside Park Holiday Light Show - Fond du Lac
Uncertainty. The past year has been fraught with it. I think it's safe to say that every one of us has struggled in 2020. Covid-19 brought with it so much loss, pain, anxiety, sadness, and even conflict.
For me this was to be a year of deliberate change. My job of 15 years was ending and I was looking forward to taking THEPARKNEXTDOOR down new avenues. Perhaps leading hikes, nature photo workshops, and more. This website and its content are a labor of love for me. I've been building and maintaining it for over 6 years now. I was ready to turn it into something more. Though the pandemic put some of those plans on hold, I have tried to focus even more on the hiking local aspect of the site. And I haven't run out of new green spaces yet.
The value of even a tiny bit of nature has become even greater. A quiet space to breathe, a bench to sit on, a short walking trail, a Robin in a birdbath, a garden path. Just a window view on a rainy day can be a respite of sorts. We are intertwined with this earth.
On a personal level, we've encountered some difficult days this past year. I've had some ongoing health issues, my husband has, too, and our immediate family have had some very close calls. Dropping off a loved one at an emergency room and having to wait in the car is an experience I don't wish on anyone. Not being able to visit a sick and very vulnerable loved one in the hospital has been heartbreaking.
I credit the moments spent in nature as keeping me sane during these times. No matter how brief the stay, I always return home feeling a little better, a little calmer, a little more hopeful. More able to cope.
This year has not been one of long hikes for me. But every moment spent in nature has been priceless.
I'm grateful, too, for readers like you. For nature lovers near and far. For those that find peace in the garden or the wood. For those that love the smell after a rain, or the sound of footsteps in the snow. For those who delight in birdsong and the falling leaves. For those who love a good walking trail, or a run along the river. Don't lose hope, Friends. Remember, we all live beneath the same big beautiful sky.
Tonight I stepped outside to record a song I've been working on. The crickets have finally arrived, and I thought they would be a nice accompaniment. After a hot summer day, I discovered that the temps had cooled, there was a nice breeze, the crickets were fully orchestrated, and the sky was laden with stars. Even from our backyard here in the city, the stars above were twinkling brightly. And so many of them, too!
After I finished my task, I went inside to invite my husband to join me for a glass of wine, and to witness the shining constellations. I brought out a pair of binoculars, too. Most often used for bird-watching, but they have proven very useful for stargazing, too.
Though there are city streetlights on both sides of our block, we could still see the clusters of stars twinkling above. In my experience, you need to head away from the city, to dark skies, to witness that many stars. But not lately.
Back in mid-July, the world was abuzz about the comet Neowise passing through Earth's orbit, en-route back to the outer parts of the solar system. We decided to try and spot and photograph it ourselves, and, surprisingly, we were able to do so. We definitely needed the binoculars to spot it, but spot it we did. It was so exciting! I decided to collect my camera gear the next night and try to photograph it.
I did some research to determine what might be the best settings, and what lens to use, and set up my tripod in the backyard and waited. Eventually, like the night before, it showed up. Once I had tracked it with the binoculars I adjusted my camera view and started shooting. Though the photos are not stunning, like so many I saw on Instagram, I was able to capture it. I'm considering it a success.
Just last week the Perseid Meteor Showers were peaking. Though they often pass through the galaxy at a rate of up to 100 per hour, I was only able to spot two from our backyard. Even so, it was a thrill!
It's a wonder to experience comets and meteor showers, so far from the galaxies they inhabit. But, it's also amazing to look up at the skies on a simple summer evening and witness the wilderness of stars above. When so much chaos is going on in the world these days, looking up can impress upon us a bit of wonder and beauty. It can instill a bit of peace and awe.
Even if Covid-19 prevents us from being with the ones we love the way we'd like to, we can take a bit of solace in the fact that, no matter where they are, we are all together beneath the twinkle of the night sky.
When I decided to build theparknextdoor website it was in an effort to share the bits of nature I found here in Southeastern Wisconsin with Everyone. I wanted all walks of life to find peace and beauty in nature, just as I do. There is so much of it here, after all.
With all of this recent unrest, my eyes have been opened to the sad fact that people of color are often made to feel unwelcome, or even deemed suspicious when out observing nature. It's unfair and unwarranted. Nature should be bringing different cultures and races together, not separating us further.
Recently a group of Black Birders, Scientists, and Environmentalists joined together to create #blackbirdersweek. An event shared on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As a birder, I was excited to follow along and meet some of these amazing birders, scientists, and environmentalists. Their enthusiasm and experiences are both heartening and heartbreaking. It was a fantastic and enlightening event to be privy to.
If you follow theparknextdoor on Instragram you may have noticed that I have been sharing many of their posts and stories to my story feed. I've been following some of them for a while on Instagram, but never realized the adversity they met when simply trying to spend a day on a trail or in a park birding. Spending time in nature should bring peace and awe, not fear or discomfort.
I intend to keep sharing these amazing naturalists along with my regular Instagram story feed. If you are on Instagram I invite you to follow along, and follow them as well. Together we can dispel this notion that nature is for a specific type of person or race, certain fitness level, age, sexuality, or ability.
Nature is for All of us. Black Lives must be included in the All.
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.