One summer evening a while back, I was headed by bike out to the Target near Miller Park, headed west through the Menomonee Valley. Imagine my delight when I found that not only had a very smooth and generously wide bike path been completed alongside the road, but that some of the vast lands of the former Milwaukee Road Shops had been converted into a sort of neo-wetlands park.
Two massive smokestacks are the final structures remaining from the enormous complex that once sprawled over many acres. Intended to be preserved as a tribute to the area's industrial heritage, their future was in doubt for some while. But they have been successfully restored.
The smokestacks form the centerpiece of the new Chimney Park. Around them, the modest and cleanly modern landscaping that has sprung up underneath the 35th Street Viaduct looks great. New holding ponds attempt to restore some of the wetland that was lost in the rush to development over a century ago. Simple curving gravel paths wind among them, complete with small viewing overlooks and scattered benches.
Overall it's a lovely and peaceful counterpoint to the renewing industry that fills the rest of the valley.
Signsrelate the history of the valley, as well as the intent of the various new projects that have gone in.
The signs and the bike trail are part of the Hank Aaron State Trail, an ambitious effort to create a continuous connection from the lake all the way out to Miller Park. From the description on the web site, the east end has a long way to go -- they want you to go through some alley, turn, turn again, turn again... I've been through that area plenty of times and never seen any signage to indicate where this all is supposed to happen.
But west of 6th Street, it's pure biking bliss.
As a bicyclist, I can't overstate how much I appreciate this bike path. It's broad, separated from the street, gently curved and sloped, and freshly paved with smooth asphalt. It runs unbroken for several miles, providing easy passage through an area whose potholed and train track-laced streets can be intimidating. And future expansion plans are exciting -- imagine being able to ride from the East Side on the bike path, down to the lakefront, then all the way out to the State Fair grounds -- all without having to ride on a major road!