Monday, October 22, 2007

Wetlands in the Valley

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.

Hank Aaron State Trail

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.

Menomonee Valley reconstruction
April, 2006

Hank Aaron State Trail
August 2007

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.

Milwaukee Road Shops

Signsrelate the history of the valley, as well as the intent of the various new projects that have gone in.

Hank Aaron State Trail

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!


Dave said...

Additionally instead of building traditional bike lanes i.e. painted stripes on the road we should be out try cycle lanes so getting around the city on your bicycle would be much easier.

Nuclear Art said...

The problems with painted line bike paths on the road is that they are costly to keep and maintain. At most they last one or two winters before the snow plows shave away the paint marks.

The people in charge of deciding the best routes for bikes really do a crappy job as well.

Brendan said...

Have you seen renderings of what the MRV will look like when all of the planned restorations are completed? Though I can't speak to the quality of the bike paths, but the landscapes will be great. Thanks for the early photos...whenever I'm back in Milwaukee for a weekend my schedule is usually really tight, so I never have time to check on the progress of stuff like this.