Diversity Outdoors, Part 2

July 23, 2020

Dear Riveredge Family,

We promised to keep you updated on our work in decreasing systemic barriers for communities of color when accessing the outdoors. 

Since sharing our last reflections with you, we’ve had friends of Riveredge ask us to communicate the work we are already, and have been, engaged in to ensure access to Riveredge for communities throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Others have asked us to clarify our position. We have appreciated hearing all of these comments. Our intent is always to be transparent, honest, and work to build bridges, through nature, within our communities. 

Riveredge supports our local communities and values our strong partnerships with a wide variety of organizations, municipalities, institutions, and community members. We are grateful for the dedicated work of our local police and county sheriff departments, and thankful for all they do to serve not only Riveredge but all of our neighbors and communities.  

Our mission-based work on better serving diverse audiences is centered around equitable access to the natural world. Access which currently has many barriers for communities of color.  We are working to identify and address these barriers at Riveredge. 

For more than 20 years, Riveredge has been involved in transformative partnerships to provide access to many urban Milwaukee schools for learning, engagement, and exploration. Through several different partnerships, over 1,500 students in 65+ different classes come to Riveredge each year. As with other school partnerships, students engage in inquiry and science-based learning explorations in the prairies, forests, and rivers. 

One of the many goals of these partnerships is to help people develop a broader sense of community and sense of place through immersive experiences in the fully restored natural world at Riveredge. Exploring the Milwaukee River and natural world in a non-urban setting and comparing these observations to those in an urban setting leads to further learning in multiple subject areas. In fact, one of our goals at Riveredge is to also develop partnerships with rural and suburban schools to support the same, yet reverse, experience for their students. The beauty of the Milwaukee River as it runs through an urban environment can be just as inspirational for students who have only been exposed to nature in less populated areas. Additionally, what is discovered downstream toward Lake Michigan is an accumulation of everything that makes its way into a river upstream.  The parallels between learning about nature in both urban and rural environments can help us all draw better understandings about commonalities in our urban and rural communities. 

Partnerships have been fundamental at Riveredge to better serve populations who have barriers to accessing nature. Our partnership with the Ozaukee County Aging & Disability Resource Center has resulted in a nature-based “Memory Cafe” for individuals with memory challenges and their caregivers. This program  has introduced time in nature as a healing tool for this community. Similarly, we were elated when Access Ability Wisconsin reached out to us to place an all-terrain wheelchair at Riveredge so that all people, regardless of physical ability, could access the beauty and adventure of the 10-miles of trails at Riveredge. Both of these partnerships have provided more equitable access to nature for many people at Riveredge.

Our pledge to do better in providing equitable access to Riveredge for communities of color is a further step along this path of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Specifically, we are currently….

  • Making plans for an organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion audit to help us better understand the current environment at Riveredge and our strengths and opportunities for improvement in this area. We are hoping to continue our work with Cream City Conservation on this effort and are currently seeking funding to support the implementation of this audit.
  • Pursuing regional discussions about how the Milwaukee River can be used as a conduit to address the urban – rural divide in southeastern Wisconsin. As an organization which strives to connect our communities to the Milwaukee River Watershed, we believe the work to use this natural resource as a figurative and literal connection between communities can be enhanced and further developed.
  • Seeking meaningful partnerships with other organizations to better serve communities of color both at Riveredge and through programming efforts within the communities of southeastern Wisconsin. Just as with all of Riveredge’s significant efforts, true partnerships create greater impact. We do not pretend to be experts in this area, yet we look forward to discovering ways that the beauty, inspiration, and education at Riveredge can be better shared within our communities. 
  • Identifying ways to further our education about diversity, equity and inclusion topics for our staff and Board of Directors team. Education is an ongoing process, and we pledge to continue this journey in the months and years to come.

We can not do this work alone, and we can not do it effectively without working with others. We look forward to the months and years to come with optimism, opportunity, and hope, and inevitably some of this process will be a struggle. We strive to continue the work of better serving our community through the act of listening, dialog, and relationship building. 

Thank you for being part of this Riveredge Family. Thank you for believing in the importance of the natural world and in the critical work to ensure it is accessible for everyone.

With Great Gratitude,

Jessica Jens, Executive Director


High School Internships

We are no longer accepting applications for Summer 2019.

The Riveredge High School Internship Program offers a chance for upper high school students, who have completed at least their sophomore year in school, the opportunity to work at Riveredge Nature Center while experiencing many elements of a nature-based nonprofit organization.  Interns will become part of our summer staff team while building positive relationships with Riveredge’s year-round staff, volunteers, and families.

The values of the High School Internship Program are:

  • Mentorship: developing impactful relationships with professionals in the conservation field
  • Mastery: learning new skills that support academic and career advancement
  • Generosity: learning the power of volunteerism, philanthropy, and nonprofit work
  • Belonging: serving as part of a high functioning team that is making a difference in the world; understanding the importance of differing skills, traits, talents, and backgrounds

We are hiring two high school students to serve in these 20 hour/week, 9-week internships this summer (2019)! Work times and dates are flexible. The positions will be open until filled.

Please view the complete Riveredge High School Internship position description for more details about this opportunity and directions on how to apply!

Sugarbush House

For 50 years, maple sugarin’ has been not just a program at Riveredge, but a way of life. Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the mix of whimsy, fun, learning, and natural wonder that makes Riveredge, well, Riveredge…than the eyes of a child. Imagine a child who has just connected the maple syrup on a steaming pancake to the sap from a tree she just helped tap. This sense of wonder comes to us thanks to hundreds of people who, for five decades in early spring, have devoted themselves to making it all happen; including folks with interesting names like The Big Sap, Father Fire, Picklepuss, Sap Queen, and Maple Madman. And now this year longtime Riveredge supporters Mal, Jill, and Jamie Hepburn (Jamie being a Riveredge Kid himself), have teamed up with the Hepburn “Bootstrap” Foundation, and Ozaukee Bank’s Gift to the Future Fund to make a coordinated gift to Riveredge. A gift which will fund 100% of the cost to construct a new, but still rustic, lodge style Sugarbush House.
The Sugarbush House is being built on the vacant site of Ernie Pochert’s (aka “Father Fire”) house in “Ernie’s Woods.”  This fitting location is in the heart of Riveredge’s best Sugarbush and Ernie (who passed in 2014 and was a long time iconic maple sugaring volunteer at Riveredge), embodied all the fun and dedication that makes this “fifth season” all that it is.
 The dedication plaque will read: “This Sugarbush House is being built expressly for all the Riveredge Kids who will visit this wondrous nature sanctuary in the years to come. It is dedicated to Andy, Don, Lefty, Ernie and to hundreds of others…who worked tirelessly to reestablish the surrounding forest. And at the same time helped to build Riveredge Nature Center’s 50 year tradition of honoring the land.”
 The Sugarbush House was designed by Architect Don Stauss of Mequon and is being constructed by Sauermilch Contractors of Sheboygan.
 We thank the Hepburn family and all the many people who are making this new facility a reality. The Sugarbush House will allow the expansion of not only Riveredge’s maple sugarin’ programs enjoyed by thousands of students and community members each year, but also will be used as a year-round classroom space expanding capacity to meet the needs of Riveredge’s growing  educational programs. Construction on the Sugarbush House has already started, and we plan to have it open in time for next season’s sugarin’ celebrations!
If you are interested in being part of this or other upcoming building projects at Riveredge, please reach out to Jessica Jens, Executive Director.  We invite you be part of this exciting adventure — for without generous partners and incredible kindness such as this, Riveredge would not be here today!

Andy Larsen, A Riveredge Legend, Has Passed

It is with heavy hearts we share with our membership the news that Andy Larsen, Riveredge’s first Executive Director and naturalist, passed away on Friday evening. It is no stretch to say that Riveredge, as we know it today, would not exist without the immense sacrifice, passion, and devotion of Andy and his family.

Beginning his time at Riveredge just one year after it was founded by daring dreamers from the Whitefish Bay Garden Club in 1968, everything you see at Riveredge today can be traced directly to the work of Andy and the dedicated group of volunteers he inspired and led.

From time spent walking along railroad tracks throughout southern Wisconsin in order to collect remanent prairie seed used to establish the prairies at Riveredge to pioneering the inquiry-based education style that still is used today at Riveredge to engage the curiosity of children and adult learners alike, his legacy will forever continue in every living thing on this land and in every person that comes to be awed, renewed, and inspired by those living things. Andy’s motivating drive was inspiring a deeper understanding and appreciation for our planet in those around him. He succeeded mightily; hundreds of thousands of people have developed a closer relationship to the natural world because of his life and his work.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff, and the volunteers at Riveredge, our deepest sympathies and never-ending gratitude are with Andy’s wife, Judy, his children, Eric and Libby, and the rest of the Larsen family, as well as the many, many people who loved and were impacted by Andy.

Please enjoy this touching tribute to his dad that Eric Larsen posted for a look at what made him such a special person.

Andy’s obituary is now posted online.  A public celebration of life will occur on Saturday, November 18th from 1 – 5 PM at Mequon Nature Preserve.

All memorial gifts received by Riveredge for Andy will be placed in a designated fund to financially support full and partial school field trip scholarships. This will allow countless classes of children the opportunity to engage their curiosity about the natural world on the Riveredge land Andy so loved. Many of the schools most in need of this financial assistance come from urban locations, yet the funds will also be available to schools from any geographic region.

Thank you, Andy. You will be greatly missed.

New Forestry Curriculum Available

With gratitude to the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, Riveredge is happy to provide our forestry management curriculum as a resource for other environmental educators, parents, and institutions.  We also thank our older homeschool students who, perhaps unknowingly, helped us fine tune and create this curriculum last school year!

This 5 week curriculum engages middle and high school homeschool students (6-12th grade) in inquiry based education programming that examines forest health and land management through the lens of a professional forester and/or land manager. This curriculum uses the most current technology/tools in forestry management to engage, inform, and teach students about Wisconsin forestry and forestry management concepts.

For a copy of the curriculum, please visit our Homeschool Ed-Ventures webpage and look for it on the right hand side of the page.

This curriculum was produced, and is available to you, under a 2015-16 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board.  It is copyrighted by both Riveredge Nature Center and the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board. Please properly acknowledge both parties when utilizing the curriculum for your purposes.

Oh, the places we went…

[av_one_half first min_height=” vertical_alignment=” space=” custom_margin=” margin=’0px’ padding=’0px’ border=” border_color=” radius=’0px’ background_color=” src=” background_position=’top left’ background_repeat=’no-repeat’]
[av_image src=’https://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/from-my-family-300×300.jpg’ attachment=’14289′ attachment_size=’medium’ align=’center’ animation=’no-animation’ styling=” hover=” link=” target=” caption=” font_size=” appearance=” overlay_opacity=’0.4′ overlay_color=’#000000′ overlay_text_color=’#ffffff’][/av_image]

[av_one_half min_height=” vertical_alignment=” space=” custom_margin=” margin=’0px’ padding=’0px’ border=” border_color=” radius=’0px’ background_color=” src=” background_position=’top left’ background_repeat=’no-repeat’]
[av_testimonials style=’grid’ columns=’1′ interval=’5′ font_color=” custom_title=” custom_content=”]
[av_testimonial_single src=” name=’Jessica Jens’ subtitle=’Executive Director’ link=’http://’ linktext=”]
From my Riveredge family to yours, thank you so much for an incredible 2016.

[av_hr class=’default’ height=’50’ shadow=’no-shadow’ position=’center’ custom_border=’av-border-thin’ custom_width=’50px’ custom_border_color=” custom_margin_top=’30px’ custom_margin_bottom=’30px’ icon_select=’yes’ custom_icon_color=” icon=’ue808′]

[av_textblock size=” font_color=” color=”]
Dear Riveredge friends,

The Winter Solstice recently passed and with it the longest night of the year. In a way, it marked the end of a truly remarkable 12 months at Riveredge Nature Center–a year that you were part of and YOU made possible.

This was a year full of…

  • songs by the campfire
  • squeals of joy on Trailblazer island
  • family laughter at Family Nature Clubs
  • 4th graders carving hiking sticks
  • college students conducting research on the land
  • over 1,000 little baby sturgeon swimming free in Lake Michigan
  • students and teachers learning outside at their schools with the Scientists in Residence
  • community building at the Memory Café
  • joyful learning in the new public school, nature-based 4K classes
  • new family traditions for many at the hunt for the Yule Log

It was a year that saw an increase of 12,000 new youth and adults in Riveredge programs, and a year which marked record high membership in this 48-year-old nonprofit.

Oh, the places we went in 2016. Oh, the places we’ll go in 2017!

And we could not have done it without you. Without your support, kindness, and friendship, the Riveredge family would be smaller. Without your membership and generosity, all of our neighbors would be less inspired about the natural world. Without you, the world would be a little bit darker and certainly less great.

Join me in reveling in the success of 2016, because it’s not just Riveredge’s accomplishments, it’s YOUR accomplishments! I invite you to view our newly published two-year annual report, now online.

And, join me in the joy of longer days and the greatness that is to come in 2017! End your year by making a gift to Riveredge, or becoming a member, and enjoy the magic of bringing nature to families, schools, and communities.

Together, we can make 2017 another breathtaking year. For, without YOU, there would be no us.

Happy New Year!

Jessica Jens
Riveredge Executive Director

Holiday Building Hours

The trails at Riveredge will continue to be open from dawn to dusk every day.

Please use the self check-in envelopes on the front door of the nature center to provide your trail fees if you are a non-member.  Trail fees are used to help continue the upkeep of the trails and land for your enjoyment and continued high quality wildlife habitat.

To allow our staff time with their families and friends during the holidays, the building hours will be adjusted on the following days:

  • Friday, December 23: 9 am – 4 pm (Come get your last minute Christmas presents from the Nature Store!)
  • Saturday, December 24 & Sunday, December 25: Building CLOSED
  • Monday, December 26: 9 am – 4 pm
  • Friday, December 30: 8 am – 12 noon
  • Saturday, December 31 – Monday, January 2: Building CLOSED

Year-end gifts:

You may make a year-end gift by calling Riveredge during building hours (262-375-2715) or at any time through our secure website.  Donate today; bring the great outdoors to families, schools & communities!

Happy Holidays from all of us @ Riveredge!

You covered this boy in mud!

[av_image src=’https://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Nature-32.jpg’ attachment=’11244′ attachment_size=’full’ align=’center’ animation=’no-animation’ styling=” hover=” link=” target=” caption=” font_size=” appearance=” overlay_opacity=’0.4′ overlay_color=’#000000′ overlay_text_color=’#ffffff’][/av_image]

[av_textblock size=” font_color=” color=”]
Dear Riveredge Family,

You did this! Yes, that right, you covered this poor kid in mud. And, look, he’s loving it!

Truly, nothing at Riveredge happens without your volunteer time, your contributions, your passion. And this year, YOU went all out.

  • You made getting outside easy for fourth graders and their families through an ‘Every Kid in a Park’ partnership with the national park foundation to provide families with fourth graders free access to Riveredge!
  • You put elementary students in waders and gave them buckets as part of the pilot Riveredge Scientist-in-Residence program at the West Bend School District!
  • You set field stones and shored up the banks of the Milwaukee River where more than 9,000 students learn about the watershed and its role in the larger ecosystem;
  • You took families down trails surrounded by prairie flowers on a warm autumn day as part of the pilot Family Nature Club sponsored by Riveredge.
  • You raised and released over 1,000 baby Lake Sturgeon that will one day produce even more Lake Sturgeon in the Milwaukee River – for the first time in over 100 years!

I could go on, by sharing news of three new people you hired to make a difference

Carly Swatek, Educational Technology and Evaluations Specialist, secured grant funding to conduct an evaluation of student impact on outdoor learning during the 2016 school year which will help inform the role that educational technology can play to extend hands-on experiences.

Matt Smith, Land Manager, started an initiative to remove vegetation hindering the growth of the large oaks on the property thus re-establishing the presence of an oak savanna habitat.

Cassie Bauer, Community Programs Manager, brought Riveredge expertise to the Milwaukee Zoo, Betty Brinn Children’s Musuem, and a number of Milwaukee’s summer festivals.

YOU are on a roll to ‘Redefine the Role of the Nature Center.’Forty-seven years ago, we set out together to preserve a slice of ‘wild Wisconsin’ and to use that land to connect children and adults to the natural world. Now, we are going beyond the nature center to expand our impact and meet the needs of families and communities today. Together, we are creating deep partnerships with schools and organizations to transform the culture of our formal education systems, communities, and lifestyles so that nature isn’t something we LOOK at, it’s something we LIVE.

As all good Riveredge Kids know, everything is connected to everything. If you haven’t already, please join the movement to bring the great outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods. Continue making a difference by renewing your membership or make a gift to the Riveredge end of year campaign by December 31st.

Thank you!

A National ‘Natural Leader’ In Training

Riveredge Nature Center is thrilled to announce that we have a national ‘Natural Leader’ heading off to training camp at the end of June. Cassie Bauer, our new Family & Community Programs Manager, was one of only 50 diverse young leaders chosen to participate in this transformative program.

Of the program and her involvement, Cassie says: “I am thrilled to share that in the last month I have applied for and been chosen to attend a community leadership training through the Children & Nature Network initiative known as Natural Leaders. In just 30 days I will pack my bags and head to a US Fish & Wildlife National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The Natural Leaders Network is helping to build the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and environmental stewards by fueling a grassroots network to reconnect children, families, and communities to the outdoors. Diverse young leaders are selected through a competitive application process to participate in the Natural Leaders Legacy Camp, where they are trained to create change within their communities to promote outdoor nature-based experiences. The training curriculum focuses on four key skill areas that prepare young leaders to return to their communities and create lasting change.”

Cassie will be instrumental in helping Riveredge use our resources, expertise, and passion to bring the great outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods in the coming year.  She’ll help launch local Family Nature Clubs, Riveredge’s part of the national Every Kid in the Part program, and starting a Children & Nature Alliance of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Cassie expands, “I look forward to absorbing knowledge from the 49 other attendees, fully participating in all this camp has to offer, and sharing my experiences with Riveredge and our community upon my return. Happy Trails!”

Good luck and best wishes Cassie as embark on this exciting path toward becoming a national Natural Leader!

A Special Broadcast


with John Gurda

premieres Wednesday, April 22, at 8 pm on Milwaukee Public TV/Channel 10 

Riveredge was fortuante to have John film parts of this documentary during our 2013 & 2014 Sturgeon release event – Sturgeon Fest.  We encourage all to learn more about Milwaukee and the historic significance of water in our home region.

Water was the resource that put Milwaukee on the map.  It ensured that there would be a harbor here — the best on the western shore of Lake Michigan — and that settlers would come here to earn a living.  The city’s rivers were harnessed to grind flour and saw lumber, to tan leather, cool machinery, and brew the residents’ favorite beverage.

Water has been an important resource for play, too.  Our waterways have hosted canoe clubs, beer gardens, swimming schools, ice races, and amusement parks.  In 1929, Lincoln Memorial Drive debuted as one of the most spectacular stretches of shoreline on the Great Lakes.

MILWAUKEE: A CITY BUILT ON WATER, written and hosted by historian John Gurda, tells the full story of our relationship with local waterways in a fast-paced one-hour documentary, richly illustrated with rare film and photos.  

I thought you would have a special interest in the program, and invite you to join us for its premiere broadcast this coming Wednesday, April 22, from 8-9 pm, only on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10.  Here’s a preview: http://support.mptv.org/site/PageNavigator/Celebrate_Earth_Day_Milwaukee_A_City_Built_on_Water.html.

Gurda takes the story up to the present day, documenting how we have developed the areas along our lake and rivers, the history of abuses of our waterways, and today’s efforts to revive and preserve this most important resource.  He recently wrote about the production in his column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/milwaukees-watery-past-b99473488z1-298642701.html.

MILWAUKEE: A CITY BUILT ON WATER reunites the production team of Gurda and producer Claudia Looze, who were primarily responsible for the multi-Emmy Award-winning MPTV mini-series THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE.

Produced in cooperation with WisconsinEye, MILWAUKEE: A CITY BUILT ON WATER  has been funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Lynde B. Uihlein, the Brookby Foundation, the Fund for Lake Michigan, Badger Meter Foundation, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

If you are unable to watch the premiere broadcast, you can catch these repeat airings: Thursday, April 23, at 9 pm on Channel 36; Friday, April 24, at 3 am on Channel 10; and Monday, April 27, at 4 am on Channel 36.  You will also be able to view the entire program after its initial broadcast at mptv.org.

Become a Member

Take advantage of all the benefits of a Riveredge membership year round!

Learn More