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

  

Diversity Outdoors

 

Dear Riveredge Family,

On June 5, we shared our reflections and solidarity on the movement to end systemic racism in our society  on our social media channels and website

“As a historically and predominantly white-led environmental organization, we realize there is much ground to cover in diversifying the outdoors, and many reasons why Black Americans and People of Color haven’t always felt welcome in wilderness spaces. We support the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for systemic change in our society. Riveredge Nature Center is a sanctuary where each person can embrace, celebrate, and revel in experiencing the wonders nature has to offer. We pledge to continue to improve the way we make these opportunities available to better serve our communities.

Black Lives Matter. Black Birders Matter. Black Experiences Matter.

Education is an ongoing process, and in-step with the Riveredge inquiry-based philosophy, we’re always trying to improve our understanding of our place in the world and how we can better serve the outdoor adventure community.”

Since that time, we have all continued to reflect on our beliefs, personal biases, privileges, and the realities of experiences that are unfamiliar to us. To be part of a community of change, we must first change ourselves. 

The environmental and outdoor fields have struggled, and continue to struggle, to engage and serve Black people and People of Color. The way our society arrived at the outdoors and nature being inherently NOT a privilege for all extends back to the very moment these remarkable tracks of wilderness and wild spaces were created as such, and for whom they were intended to serve at that time. We encourage you to visit Diversify Outdoors to hear for yourself stories from those who have been distanced and separated from the natural world. 

James Edward Mills, climber, journalist, author, and Madison, Wisconsin resident briefly outlines some of the reasons behind this legacy in his book The Adventure Gap:

“Historical reasons may also account for why some African-Americans don’t take pleasure in outdoor experiences. After four hundred years of slavery and forced outdoor labor, African-Americans migrated en masse to major US cities after the Civil War and the end of slavery. Even more left the rural communities of the South during the Great Depression. Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination restricted movement and segregated minorities to urban enclaves until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. White supremacist groups typically perpetrated their acts of violence against minorities in wooded areas beyond city limits. Given this legacy, it’s no wonder that African-Americans have often preferred to remain close to home.” 

Mills elaborates on how these factors influence current day demographics: 

“A 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation survey conducted by the Outdoor Foundation reported that of 137.8 million US citizens engaged in outdoor activities, 80 percent were Caucasiona, a trend that is also reflected in the demographics of those who chose wilderness protection as a career. The National Park Service reported in 2010 that white men occupied 51 percent of positions at that agency and white women, 29 percent. These numbers are similar to those of other land and resource management agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. 

These statistics become significant when compared against the demographic profile of the nation as a whole. According to Dr. Nina Roberts, an assistant professor and social scientist from San Francisco State University, though African-Americans represent 12.6 percent of the US population, they typically make up a lower proportion of national park visitors (around 5-6 percent, depending on the region). Even with a sharp increase since 2006, “minorities still remain well below the number of visits of their white counterparts in proportion to their population across the United States,” says Roberts.”

At Riveredge, we work every day to connect our communities with the outdoor world, and we know that we must do our part to help bridge this gap. 

We do not yet have a complete list of specific action steps that we will take to correct our own struggles in serving communities of color. But we do want you: our neighbors, members, and friends, to know that we have begun this work. Over the past year, the Riveredge staff team has engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training with the intent to create lasting organizational change in the coming months and years. Within our staff and Board, we are working on plans to further accelerate and prioritize this overdue work. Our goal is to create change within our organization and contribute to change within the culture of outdoor access and environmental education  in the coming year and years to come. 

We know we can do better. We will do better. It will take all of us. And the time is now. 

We will continue to keep you apprised of our progress, invitations for involvement, and action to further our growth as an organization and continue our work to serve our communities more effectively each and every day. 

 

With Great Gratitude,

Jessica Jens, Executive Director

Elizabeth Larsen,  President, Board of Directors

Giving thanks for the Riveredge Family

Dear Riveredge Family,

I wish I could invite you all over for a gigantic Thanksgiving Feast. I’d make a huge pumpkin pie served with lots of hand-whipped cream. I’d raise you the best heritage turkey and serve it with Riveredge grown butternut squash. And for our vegetarian friends, I’d make sure to have lots and lots of Riveredge beets, potatoes, apple cider, and hazelnuts on the menu as well. We’d top it all off with maple syrup, and maybe a side course of pancakes…of course!

The magical world of Riveredge Nature Center only occurs because of the Riveredge Family. Thank you for being part of that family. If you volunteer…thank you. If you hike the trails…thank you. If you join the fun of the Frothy Forage, Pancake Breakfast, or Farm-to-Table Dinner…thank you. If you spend your days learning, growing, and exploring at Riveredge…thank you. If you choose Riveredge as a recipient of a charitable gift…thank you.

For, you see, we can’t do any of this alone. We can only change the world, and make it a bit brighter every day, through joining hands and doing this work together.

If I was able to pull off a gigantic Thanksgiving feast for the Riveredge Family, I’d need a really, really, big table. In the year ahead, we’d like to make that table even larger!

So as a way to further inspire folks to choose a nature-rich life outdoors, we are opening the trails at Riveredge from Thursday – Sunday free of charge. As this holiday season begins, we invite you to celebrate great company amidst the scent of cedars, the tussle of tumbling leaves, the calming flow of the Milwaukee River. Invite the poeple in your life to experience this magical nature preserve made possible by YOU, the Riveredge Family.

So, after you are done passing the pumpkin pie, spread the word and share this little piece of heaven on earth. Come for a hike at Riveredge and bring the entire extended family, friends, and anyone else who has a seat at your Thanksgiving Table.

And, most importantly, please know the incredible gratitude we have for YOU not only today, but every day of every year. You make a difference!

 

With great gratitude,

Jessica Jens
Executive Director
Riveredge Kid Since 2013

 

 

Opt Outside this Weekend!

Riveredge Nature Center buildings will be closed Thursday, November 28 and re-opening Monday, December 2. As always, our trails are open sunup to sundown and for this Thanksgiving weekend we’re thanking our community by inviting everyone to opt outside and explore Riveredge free of charge! 


With more than 379 acres of land and ten miles of meandering trails, wild Wisconsin is closer than you imagine. Lose yourself in one of the most beautifully restored natural sanctuaries in southeastern Wisconsin. With prairies, woods, ponds, and over one mile of Milwaukee River shoreline, you’ll always have something new to explore at Riveredge.


Wisconsin’s gun deer hunting season takes place Saturday, November 23 – Sunday, December 1. Riveredge Nature Center does not permit any hunting on the grounds. We are, however, located in a rural area and surrounded by other rural farm and forested properties. For sake of safety, we encourage everyone to wear blaze orange and bright colors while exploring the outdoors, throughout Wisconsin, during this time of year.

Riveredge Announces Artist Sally Duback for River Outpost Artwork

Original architectural rendering of The River Outpost facility at Riveredge Nature Center.

Riveredge Nature Center has selected Mequon-based artist Sally Duback to create community-based artwork for display surrounding its new River Outpost Building. Duback has spent the last 30 years creating her own artworks, as well as engaging in community art collaborations throughout the region. Some of her prior community-based artworks can be seen at Virmond Park, the Niederkorn Public Library, Prairie Springs Environmental Education Center, Messmer Elementary School, and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Artist Sally Duback

For this project, community participants are invited to mold and paint clay artworks that relate to their experiences with the Milwaukee River and Watershed, which Duback will then fire, arrange, and incorporate into sculptural pieces to be installed permanently near the River Outpost Building. “I am so pleased to have the opportunity to create this work with the Riveredge community and to engage participants in the project as a visual conversation about the Milwaukee River watershed. Any time I am able to create a work of public art that deals with environmental issues is a win/win for me,” said Duback.

A recent collaborative community artwork by Sally Duback, on display in Virmond Park.

This opportunity takes place through a Mary L. Nohl grant awarded to Riveredge to create and display community-based artworks at its River Outpost facility, the focus of which is water-related education. The Mary L. Nohl Fund, among the largest funds created at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, invests in local arts education programs and projects.

Upcoming Public Community Art Engagement Events

Riveredge and Duback welcome people to participate in creating artworks during community events, and which can eventually be displayed along Riveredge’s Milwaukee River trails.

Currently scheduled events include the following dates and locations:

River Outpost Celebration at Riveredge | Friday, September 20

Sturgeon Fest in Milwaukee’s Lakeshore State Park | Saturday, September 28

Music in the Mushroom – A Historic Riverside Celebration at Riveredge | Saturday, October 12

Woodland Pattern Book Center | Saturday, November 9 at 2:00pm

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!

The Importance of Playing Naturally

As Riveredge celebrates 50 years of connecting kids with the natural world in 2018, we want to be a continued part of spreading this movement throughout our local communities. That’s why we’re excited to be launching a new Playing Naturally Initiative, offering our assistance in creating simple and cost-effective, yet proven, nature-based play areas that bring the health and happiness benefits of time spent in the natural world to our local schools, parks. and neighborhoods. In this blog post, Phyllis McKenzie, our Playing Naturally designer, reflects on what this initiative means to her. 

It’s Saturday, and I’m feeding Glitter, an ornate box turtle, when a flash of white catches my eye, and I look up from my work. I look again and begin to chuckle gleefully, for there on the Crow’s Nest in the Natural Play Area is a young girl in a long white taffeta dress half-way up the cargo net. Then I see the boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, in his crisp black suit, straddling the webbing right at the top of the net. Another boy, also in black, is standing atop the platform, cheering them on. I wish I had a camera.

For me, it’s a beautiful sight; it reminds me that the desire to play knows no bounds. Fancy clothes and big events can’t stop it. It is a kind of innate need, something that we all do from birth – we crawl, we climb, we explore, we challenge ourselves, we strive together, we lead, we follow, we laugh, we fall, we splash, we persevere. Playing freely was once part of most children’s lives; it is a way of learning about ourselves in the world. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist says that time spent playing in nature allows children to learn balance, to know how far their body reaches, and build core and upper body strength. It helps them burn off excess energy allowing them to be able to sit more still and focus better in the classroom.

The Crow’s Nest is an adventure element in our Natural Play Area, an area that includes a small pond, a man-made creek, prairie plants, tamarack trees, a sand play area, a mud kitchen, and a stump walk among other things. In 2016 and 2017, Riveredge partnered with the Kettle Moraine YMCA to create two other nature-based play areas used by students in the West Bend School District 4-year old kindergarten program. As a natural playspace designer, it is fun to see kids in action in these spaces. Better yet, are the words of the teachers whose students spend time here. One of the teachers says that she and her 4K students can meet nearly all the assessment criteria of the school district in their natural playspace. Parents with students in the program are excited that the kids are encouraged to play and get muddy.

Natural playspaces exist on a spectrum from bits of grass with added logs or loose parts to truly wild landscapes like woods or prairies. Each is uniquely fitted to its surroundings giving the children a sense of place. Designed with the help of the teachers, caregivers, and children who will use them, these spaces evolve over time.

I grew up playing Pooh Sticks in irrigation ditches and lobbing cottonwood seeds at my friends. I loved to follow the animal trails down the banks toward the water and the burrows. How many times did my mother have to bring dry clothes to school because my tights were covered in red-brown clay? Where did you play as a child? Where do your children play? If you want to see more natural play areas in Wisconsin, or wherever you live, please visit the Playing Naturally page. Send me a note. Together, we can make nature-based playgrounds a reality.

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Phyllis McKenzie has been a naturalist and environmental educator for over 25 years. With a background in theatrical stage design and home construction, she is well – suited to design engaging and effective playspaces.

 

 

 

 

 

From My Riveredge Family To Yours – Thank You!

It’s because of you.

On behalf of my own Riveredge family (seen here getting fishy at Sturgeon Fest!), thank you for making 2017 Riveredge’s biggest year yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Riveredge family,

The child catching a crayfish…
The woodcock protecting its young…
The grandparent explaining the woodpecker hole…
The young sturgeon swimming free…
The student comparing prairie seeds…
The family laughing in the woods…

These moments were brought to the world this year because of you. Because of you, the world is a bit brighter, a bit healthier, and definitely a bit happier.

That’s how change happens at Riveredge Nature Center. Our family works together to make amazing things happen. Our family is made up of members, donors, schools, students, volunteers, and staff. Only together would we have the perseverance, the power, and the hope to help our world bring nature back into focus.

This past year, over 40,000 people of all ages chose nature through classes, programs, and events hosted by Riveredge – hosted by you. Hundreds of acres, 379 to be exact, of wild Wisconsin were actively preserved – cared for by you. During its 49th year, the Riveredge family grew to its largest ever – and you are part of it.

On behalf of the rest of the family, thank you for being part of our world in 2017.

Here’s to more nature and an even bigger family in 2018.

Keep Smiling & Get Outside!

 

 

Executive Director
Riveredge Nature Center

P.S. Riveredge will celebrate its 50th birthday on January 16, 2018, and the celebration will continue all year long! Please consider a tax-deductible, year-end gift to help bring a record number of people into nature during the 50th year. We can’t do it alone. We can only accomplish change together.

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.

Share Your Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart of Canal Street is Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s signature community program that raises funds for children’s charities – and Riveredge is in the running to be a beneficiary!

Heart of Canal Street has raised nearly $17 million for hundreds of area children’s charities since 1994. The program honors the Potawatomi tradition of nurturing younger generations so they grow to lead healthy, productive lives.

Half of each $3 or $7 Canal Street Bingo game purchased goes to the Heart of Canal Street fund, which totaled more than $1.1 million last year! Share your heart by playing the Canal Street Bingo game now through Dec. 14. Visit paysbig.com/heart to learn more.