Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The breakwater: still my favorite spot.

Ah, glorious summertime has descended on Milwaukee at last! After endless months of dark, damp and damnable cold, southeast Wisconsin can now savor four hard-earned months of gently warming sunshine and cooling breezes off the lake. Milwaukee's summers are as picture-perfectly mild as its winters are intolerabley awful, and I treasure every second of them.

(Yes, mild. I grew up in Louisiana. Don't even try to tell me that it gets hot up here, 'cause after six years I can tell you: it doesn't!)

The lakefront comes fully alive on wonderful summer afternoons like this one, crowded with bikers, roller bladers, people out for a stroll, sunbathers, swimmers. I love the lakefront... yet my favorite spot in the whole city is surprisingly removed from all this -- removed from the city itself, in fact.

The Breakwater of Milwaukee's harbor

The breakwater runs out into the lake for half a mile, protecting the marina and the boat launch from the lake's open waters. It's open to the public all day, and is frequented by fishermen and walkers, as well as the occasional jogger. A sign instructs visitors to walk their bikes, but I've found if you ride slowly and gently, nobody seems to mind.

The breakwater - view toward land

The views from the long concrete and steel pier are spectacular. The shoreline stretches away to the north, and due west city skyline can be seen in full, often across a harbor full of sailboats at anchor.

The skyline from the breakwater

It's a fine spot for watching fireworks as well, as dozens of boats make their way in and out of the harbor, and the skyline glimmers beyond. The enormous flashes of light disappearing into the lake's black void make one mindful of just how enormous Lake Michigan is, and the crack of the explosions echos bizarrely off the wall of downtown skyscrapers. One can clamber out onto the piled rocks near the breakwater's end and find many comfortable spots to nestle for the show.

Fireworks from the breakwater

Even in the wintertime it offers some entertainment, as the waves pounding against its vertical sheet metal pilings throws water as much as ten or fifteen feet in the air. In the cold months, the water freezes and piles up, building ice mounds that cover the entire pier to a height taller than a man.

Ice on the breakwater

It's a unique place, never mentioned in the tourist guides, and not immediateley obvious despite its central location. But it's well worth seeking out, especially with Milwaukee's grand summer now in full swing. On a fine day, it's always full of people and life.


Bill said...

How do you get out there? Where does the path start? I had no idea you could do it.

Robert Powers said...

It starts from a parking lot next to the boat launch, just south of McKinley Beach. There's no sidewalk leading to it; you have to go through the parking lot to reach it.

Anonymous said...

I would love to make it out to the lighthouse on the breakwater. I would love to see some close up photos or photos from inside of there.

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