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 to learn more. 

Restoring Our River’s Edge

River entrance point for river programs.

River entrance point for river programs.

Shoreline area used for sampling, pre-restoration.

Shoreline area used for sampling, pre-restoration.

Hands-on water quality education programs have been a cornerstone of the educational offerings of Riveredge Nature Center for its entire 49 year history. Each year, over 2,100 students don a pair of waders and explore the macro-invertebrate life and chemical parameters of the water in the Milwaukee River at Riveredge.   These students represent schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin and take part in partnership programs with the Urban Ecology Center (the River Connections program), Testing the Waters (regional high school science program), and Determining Water Quality classes. Although Riveredge includes over a mile and half of Milwaukee River frontage, one location is by far the most ideal, and safest, for this type of education. Due to the high use of this program area, the shoreline had become severely degraded.

Planting native vegetation along river bank.

Planting native vegetation along river bank.

With help from several funding organizations (Fund for Lake Michigan, Brookby Foundation, and Sweet Water), the River Restoration Project was conducted. The project consisted of stabilizing approximately 120 feet of Milwaukee River shoreline with rip rap, planting native vegetation in highly impacted areas, as well as the installation of a floating EZ dock to re-direct foot traffic.

In spring 2017, customized railings were added to the dock to allow safe access to the river, specifically during high water seasons and for ADA accessibility.  In addition, interpretative signage was created to educate visitors on our water programming and restoration initiative.

The shoreline stabilization, installation of the dock, and planted native vegetation will allow the shoreline to heal as well as allowing visitors the opportunity to venture out onto the River.


Completed dock with railings!

Curiosity and Nature: A Nature Center’s approach to incorporating technology outside

It’s a beautiful irony, right? A nature center promotes getting outside, a.k.a. being “unplugged”,” yet also supports digging into your pocket for that smartphone to enhance your experience. While we are certainly a pro-hands on, mud-under-the-fingernails kind of nature center, we also recognize that there is a great opportunity to enlist technology to further learning, make connections, and spark curiosity among today’s digital learners (ah-hem, let’s face it, if you live in the twenty-first century, you are one, too).

So, how do we balance technology and nature as a force for good to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards? Our short answer: Meet ‘em where they’re at.

In today’s world, this means, both, (1) acknowledging how the digital revolution is changing learning and (2) exploring how technology can be used as a tool to strengthen our connection with the natural world.

There is lots happening in the research and education community to explore the first question, but less is known about the role of technology and nature.

Josie Haley Sophie Comic Book  Comic Book1

(Pictured: Students in the Homeschool Ed-ventures program study plant succession through direct observation while working together to share their understanding using a ComicBook app).

Curiosity as the App

For nearly fifty  years, Riveredge has subscribed to an inquiry-based method of learning in which investigation starts with asking good questions. Students from K-Gray explore queries like, how can you tell the health of a river, how is a forest like a prairie or pond, or even how do our actions impact the land. While these are just a small sample of what is studied at Riveredge and in our schools each and every day, no matter the scale, we believe that the most powerful tool for investigation is our mind, and the power of asking good questions is what we as parents, educators, and mentors are tasked with teaching our kids. In other words, we believe that curiosity is the driver of learning and technology (both digital and nondigital) is a tool that can be used to capture, explore, and create new ways to deepen our connection with nature.

Try it out!

So, whether you look to nature as a digital detox or you are looking for new ways to appease your curiosities through technology, we hope you’ll join us in this conversation. Keep an eye out for some of these events starting this summer and into 2018.

  • There’s an App for That program series: A spin on traditional nature programs that includes all the fun hands-on experience but leaves you with some resources you can take home as your own “pocket naturalist.”
  • Take it with you Packs: Explore Riveredge through a new set of eyes by renting one of our (free) packs that each feature some our favorite themes, scientific tools, and downloadable field friendly apps.
  • Parents be on the lookout for a nature tech blog series that features ideas for incorporating technology outside that you and your family can try out in your own backyards and nearby parks this summer.
  • We also have some technology and nature-themed special events in the works to highlight how technology and robotics are  helping us better manage land and conservation.

Do you have thoughts or ideas about nature and technology? We’d love to hear from you! Please contact Carly Hintz, Educational Technology & Evaluation Specialist at Riveredge. Reach her at or 262-375-2715.

ilLUMINating the natural world

planting16 1 (1)

From the beginning, one of Riveredge’s core beliefs has been that everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the benefits and wonders of the great outdoors. You already help make that a reality for tens of thousands of kids each year, and thanks to incredible support from The Robert and Josephine Piper Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and many generous individual donors, that’s also a reality for nearly 1,200 Milwaukee students who attend a Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative (LUMIN) school each year.

Through this partnership, students at five LUMIN schools are able to experience a Riveredge field trip each of their elementary years. Not only can these students connect what they are learning in school with real life concepts and experiments in a living laboratory, they can build and connect their knowledge from year to year to gain a deep understanding of the world around them. Perhaps most importantly, for many of these students, Riveredge is often their first experience in a true outdoors setting. By transforming students who are initially wary of being outdoors surrounded by nature into young adventurers who dig through the dirt for soil samples and splash through the river for macroinvertebrates, this partnership is helping train the next generation of environmentally literate citizens to explore, appreciate, and protect the natural world in their own backyard.

You can learn more about the impact you are having on the lives of these LUMIN students by checking out a spotlight on the program at the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee’s website!

Everyone can be a Riveredge Kid

Everyone can be a Riveredge Kid: A Nature Center’s approach to Inclusion

As a fan of Riveredge Nature Center, you may have already heard, we are committed to reimagining what it

Rachel “Rach” Hoffman, Inclusion and Accessibility Intern, poses with her brother during a 2002 Nature Detectives Camp. Nearly fifteen years later, Rach was reunited with Riveredge through this internship experience.

Rachel “Rach” Hoffman, Inclusion and Accessibility Intern, poses with her brother during a 2002 Nature Detectives Camp. Nearly fifteen years later, Rach was reunited with Riveredge through this internship experience.

means to be a nature center in today’s society. And, while we know that “You’re Always a Riveredge Kid” because of the transformative experiences you’ve had with this special place, we recognize that today’s society, and our connection to the natural world, is changing. That is why recently, Riveredge decided to partner with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (funded by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation) to employ one young adult with special needs to complete a part-time internship whose sole focus was on assessing our commitment to inclusion and accessibility in our environmental education programs.

A few short weeks after the position description was posted, we knew that we had found our girl, and in turn, we not only reunited another Riveredge Kid, but also discovered that everyone can benefit from strengthened relationship between nature and people.  Read more

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.

Our 2015 & 2016 Biennial Report is Here!


The last two years at Riveredge have been an incredible journey. Because of you, thousands more kids, families, and adults got outside and experienced hands-on environmental education and learning. Because of you, brand new partnerships were formed that are radically redefining the role of a nature center in the community. Because of you, an incredible natural sanctuary continues to be protected and maintained and to serve learning laboratory for dozens of future scientists and educators through our unique internship programs.

Want to learn more on the impact you had? Check out our just released 2015 & 2016 Biennial Report for some amazing stories of success and innovation. Thank you for all you do!




Latest Riveredge Ramblings e-newsletter!

Hot off the press! It’s the most recent edition of our Riveredge Ramblings e-mail newsletter chock full of reasons you’re so awesome (yes, you! don’t blush!), all the amazing events we still have coming up before the year is over, incredible pictures from space, and… a guide to all the breweries in Wisconsin. Yep! That’s just how we roll.



If you want to get these occasional email updates and stay up to date on what’s going on at Riveredge (and other fun happenings in the community) you can signup right here!

Water World

We’re water rich in Southeast Wisconsin. The Midwest contains 20% of the world’s freshwater supply and, in a world where dwindling water resources are a growing concern, the city of Milwaukee has recently staked its economic future on being a “World Water Hub”. However, resources are only as sustainable as the dedication of individuals to use and manage them wisely. That’s why Riveredge is devoted to being an area leader in water education and outreach.

It’s hard not to see a bright water future in the faces of young scientists pulling on waders and splashing into the Milwaukee River to examine phosphate and PH levels. For 27 years, Riveredge has led Testing the Waters, a partnership program with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District (MMSD)  that brings together local organizations and schools to teach students the importance of water quality and provide them with the tools and training to perform the same water quality tests as professionals. Over these past 27 years, 34,000 students have become scientists in their own watersheds and come to real world conclusions about the impacts of land use.

 A similar impact can be found in our River Connections partnership with the Urban Ecology Center. After learning about and testing the quality of the Milwaukee River at UEC, an urban site, Milwaukee students get the chance to come to Riveredge and perform the same tests in a rural stretch of the same river. Through this program, students get a unique opportunity to study the interconnectedness of the natural world firsthand and examine how impacts of human activity in one part of an ecosystem can have on another part miles away. This broadening of horizons serves students well not just as future potential scientists but as future citizens of a globally connected world.

It’s not just students we’re working to reach. Our sturgeon reintroduction project, a partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, serves not only to help bring back a vital species to our waterways but also to celebrate the positive effect we can all have on our natural world when we dedicate the time and effort. In a time when most environmental news is about destruction and the negative impact of humans, seeing thousands of people gather on the banks of Lake Michigan at our annual Sturgeon Festival at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee to celebrate a prehistoric fish and the importance of healthy waterways is certainly something worth celebrating.