$276,000: thank you volunteers!

12,000 hours.

That’s the amount of time almost 1,000 volunteers have given to Riveredge in just the past nine months alone.

Those numbers are incredible but want to hear a really amazing number? $276,000. The group Independent Sector currently puts the value of a volunteer to a nonprofit organization at $27.03 an hour, meaning Riveredge quite literally could not do so much of our work of bringing the great outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods without the help of these dedicated and tireless volunteers.

This National Volunteer Month, we want to recognize and thank our volunteers for the huge difference they make not just on our organization, but on our community as well. There’s our Board of Directors who put countless hours each month into making sure everything we do at Riveredge is effective, innovative, and properly supported. There’s our Teaching Naturalists, Interpretive Naturalists, and summer camp counselors who spread the joy and wonder of nature with children on a daily basis and who often have such an important lifelong impact on those children. There’s our Habitat Healers, sturgeon rearers, water quality monitors, and population counters who are the number one reason Riveredge’s sanctuary stays as beautiful and healthy as it does and that our research and conservation projects continue to make such an impact on threatened wildlife and natural resources. There’s the special event volunteers that let us have thousands of families in the community come together to celebrate everything from physical outdoor activity to the joy of maple sugarin’. There’s the building volunteers who ensure each visitor to Riveredge is greeted with a smile and that every question is answered. And that’s just the start.

Thank you, volunteers. We don’t know where we’d be without you.

Want to join these incredible people in giving back? We’ve got opportunities for folks of every interest and schedule availability. Check out our volunteer page for more details and don’t hesitate to give Pat Fox-Schindler, our Manager of Volunteers and Special Events, a call at 262-375-2715 or an email at volunteers@riveredge.us with any questions! And don’t miss our special Earth Day Service Fest coming up on April 23rd for a day of opportunities to work side by side with Riveredge staff on on some informative and fun service projects.

You covered this boy in mud!

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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!

You are rockstars.


Riveredge had a big goal this #GivingTuesday to help fund some big plans to expand our natural playground, buy a new fleet of kayaks to get folks out on the water, sustain our sturgeon reintroduction project, and continue putting a Scientist in Residence in the West Bend School District focused on expanding outdoor learning for students.

We had a big goal. And the Riveredge community came through BIG. We met our goal thanks to contributions from a huge range of people- including many new donors to Riveredge.

You helped prove what nature has long shown us- when individuals work together, incredible things can happen. 

Thanks to you the movement to bring the great outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods continues strong. You are rockstars! 

Bringing science straight to schools

We absolutely love having school groups come out and visit us for field trips, but Riveredge’s mission has always been bigger than just our nature center and land. Riveredge is constantly looking to pioneer methods of redefining a community’s relationship to a nature center and their natural environment, and our new Naturalist In Residence program is a prime example of this innovation and expansion in our mission.

The Naturalist in Residence program is an exciting project being piloted this year in partnership with the West Bend School District. At a time when today’s kids spend less and less time outdoors (becoming known as “Nature Deficit Disorder”) and more and more research continues to confirm the serious consequences this lack of exposure has, this cutting-edge program will place a fully-funded environmental educator directly into schools for five years. The Naturalist in Residence will partner with school staff to inspire, inform, and reduce barriers to their use of the outdoors as a teaching tool.

Making the program responsive to the needs of the schools we partner with is a key component of the project. In that regards, Megan Johnson has been a perfect fit for the West Bend School District’s “Scientist in Residence”, a Naturalist in Residence position focusing their attention on expanding science teaching through outdoor learning and classroom space. Megan has previously taught environmental education at a number of leading institutions and as the Director of Nature Center at a camp in Northern Wisconsin was responsible for designing the curriculum for over 25 lessons. She has passion for the scientific research and discovery she’ll be teaching as well; Megan has contributed to research on bat populations in Eastern Iowa, management of invasive species, and even traveled to Paraguay to study amphibians, birds, fish, and vegetation.

Already, in her first two months as the Scientist in Residence, Megan has taught over 500 sixth graders a lesson on prairies, held a special insect field day for second graders, and had all K-6 teachers in the District on a hike in their district’s outdoor classroom to generate and brainstorm ideas for the teachers’ utilization of the space.

According to Megan, “The reaction from students and teachers has been amazing. There are many teachers who are enthusiastic to get their kids outside and out of the classroom. The kids are engaged and excited to do something out of the norm. For some of them having the chance to explore freely outside is not regular and it offers a unique experience.”

We can’t wait to keep you updated on Megan’s progress and to see what differences can be made working in a true partnership with our local schools. In the meantime, check out the Naturalist in Residence page for more information on the program, and we would love to hear from you if you interested in learning more about the project or have interest in contributing to help us keep expanding and growing its reach.

Meet Eric

Meet Eric Larsen. Polar explorer and expedition guide. Completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history. The first ever person to reach the North Pole, South Pole, and the top of Mount Everest in a single year. May be the last ever person in history to complete an expedition to the geographic North Pole. Riveredge Kid.

Eric says he “spent as much time outside at Riveredge as a kid as I could.” He participated in almost every activity available, from maple tapping to volunteering at summer camps. And that time at Riveredge had a huge impact on his future adventures.

“It gave me an opportunity to explore, learn. I discovered a lot about myself at Riveredge. I discovered what I love, and I love being outside, and it’s something that is with me in a really strong and huge way to this day. I discovered the freedom to discover, to explore, and equally important, to make mistakes. I was able to learn a lot of the skills that I know now, here.”

Eric is a perfect embodiment of a Riveredge Kid. Passionate about the world around them. Always seeking to discover, learn, and explore new things. Willing to challenge themselves and learn from both what works and what doesn’t. Finds peace in having quiet moments in the outdoors.

“We need wild places. We need quiet time to not be stimulated by all these other things that are in our life. And if we feel connected to a place, we’re more apt to protect it.”

If you think we need more Eric’s in the world, please consider donating and help us get more future Riveredge Kids out there exploring and learning today. 



Things are going to get a little fishy in Milwaukee! Show us your sturgeon face for a chance to be the first ever ‘Sturgeon General’ at this year’s Sturgeon Fest on September 26th in downtown Milwaukee. The winner will be invited to release a ceremonial sturgeon at the opening ceremonies with other event dignitaries AND receive a free membership to Riveredge Nature Center for the chance to adventure, explore, and learn all-year round on 400 acres of restored wild Wisconsin.

What do you have to do to receive such fame and recognition? Just take a selfie, of course! Riveredge wants to see your best sturgeon selfie.  The process is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  • Take a sturgeon selfie: find a sturgeon to pose with, show us your sturgeon face, or come up with something entirely your own!
  • Upload it to Instagram.
  • Tag @riveredgenaturecenter and add #ShowMeYourSturgeonFace.

Then all you need to do is kick back, follow @riveredgenaturecenter on Instagram, and wait for the winner to be announced there on September 22nd.  We’ll be picking the most creative selfie, so make it good!

(Note: if your account is private and you don’t follow us, we aren’t able to see your picture and unfortunately can’t count your entry!)

Riveredge will also be traveling around the community with props and even some live sturgeon to help kick your selfie-taking game to the next level.  Join us at:

  • Discovery World Fish and a Flick 8/26 5pm
  • Betty Brinn Children’s Museum 9/11
  • Port Explorium  9/12
  • Colectivo Flushing Station TBD

And of course, we’ll see you at Sturgeon Fest on September 26th from 11 AM to 3 PM at Lakeshore State Park.  Help us release actual sturgeon into Lake Michigan in our effort to reintroduce sturgeon to the Milwaukee River, enjoy a plethora of fun activities for the whole family, and see a free presentation from Dr. Scott of PBS Kids’s Dinosaur Train! Get all the details here!

Riveredge Native Plant Sale

The Riveredge Native Plant Sale is going on now. A selection of woodland and prairie plants are available as well as some rare plants like leatherwood and ginseng. More varieties will be added during the summer. So, if you don’t find what you are looking for, come back for another look throughout the summer growing season.

You can plant potted plants until mid-September as long as the ground is not frozen.

Please note!

These plants are not like commercial plants. Their dormancy period may vary and be especially noticeable toward the end of the summer. So, when you purchase the plant it may not appear as it would at the peak of its growth. Just plant and enjoy it – you will eventually have a beautiful plant.

Water freshly planted plants weekly if there is no rain. Do this the following year as well. Water until the ground freezes.

Meet Caroline

Caroline grew up at Riveredge, or as she calls it, “the best backyard you can ever imagine”. Riveredge gave her a place to get out and explore nature and simulated a deep love of the outdoors that helped shape her future.

Today Caroline is in Washington D.C. completing a prestigious fellowship with the NOAA and has spent time studying invasive species in Lake Michigan and presenting her research to the entire nation.

Riveredge helped Caroline realize that science was not just a hobby but could actually be a career. 

We’re building a movement to bring the outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods. There’s so many Carolines out there just waiting to be inspired. We need your help to inspire them.

Please contribute to the movement today. Your support means everything. 

A Symbolic Migration

The sturgeon homeschool (grades 6-8) sent paper “symbolic migrating ambassador butterflies” to Mexico as part of an international conservation effort to highlight the importance of the Monarch butterflies to the people of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Last fall, when the monarch butterflies left Wisconsin to migrate to Mexico, each Sturgeon homeschooler created a symbolic paper butterfly with their name, Riveredge’s name and location on it, as well as a large class butterfly folder. These paper butterflies were mixed with paper butterflies from all over the United States and Canada. They followed the real monarchs down to Mexico, where they were “protected” by the children in Mexico that live near the actual wintering Monarch sanctuaries. When the Monarchs left Mexico and returned to the US, the paper butterflies did the same. We received our new butterflies last week, and we have butterflies from 13 different states in the US, Ontario (Canada), and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, Canada), and two butterflies from Saltillo, Coah, Mexico.

This shared symbolic migration is a wonderful way to unite children from the US, Canada, and Mexico, emphasizing the importance of this miraculous migration of the Monarch butterfly that we are all a part of! Over 60,000 students participated in this celebration. This was arranged through Journey North and Senora Rocio Trevino of Mexico. Senora Trevino lived on the monarch migration pathway in Mexico, 400 miles north of the wintering grounds.  Twenty years ago they used to think the monarchs were a plague of invading insects and tried to kill as many as they could. They competed on who had the largest piles of dead Monarchs. Senora Trevino learned of the famous migration and dedicated herself to educating the people along the migration route of the importance of the Monarch. Two of our butterflies came from Mexican students who learned of the importance of protecting the Monarchs from Senora Trevino. It reminds me of Margaret Mead’s famous quote:” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Friday Sturgeon Homeschool Class
Friday Sturgeon Homeschool Class
Monday Sturgeon Homeschool Class
Monday Sturgeon Homeschool Class
Mexico Class
Mexico Class

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.

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