An Unforgettable Night Under the Stars

Greetings!

One of my favorite, and most fun, nights of the year at Riveredge is fast approaching, and I wanted to be sure I personally invited you to join me in the celebration.

Our annual Farm-To-Table Dinner on Saturday, September 10 is a chance to feast on incredible local food prepared by a talented chef, to walk in the prairies, to meet and mingle with community and business leaders passionate about Riveredge and environmental education, and to enjoy an unforgettable night of revelry under the stars and swaying trees.

It’s also vital to ensuring we can continue to give 35,000 people meaningful experiences in the great outdoors each year, and that we are able to continue maintaining and protecting 379 acres of wild Wisconsin, a sanctuary that has provided families wonder, relaxation, and adventure for almost 50 years now.

If you believe in the importance of nature and Riveredge like I do, please consider joining us for this night that truly puts the fun in fundraiser. We’ve even got some very special live auction items that will allow you to further your support of our work while enjoying some uniquely Riveredge experiences:

  • Be one of the very few people to experience, in person, baby peregrine falcons being banded by WE Energies before they leave the nest
  • Canoe the legendary Bois Brule River (fished by Presidents and traversed by fur traders) with renowned fly fishing guide Damian Wilmot, including a stay at the Stout Island Lodge, a getaway filled with rustic luxury
  • Spend an evening tasting exquisite foods from Sri Lanka, prepared by board member and native Gaurie Rodman, in a dinner for ten at a lovely country home
  • Go on a guided backpacking trip to your choice of three incredible up-North destinations with the greatest guide of all (me!)

farmdinner

I hope you’ll join me at a night I promise you won’t soon forget. To register, please visit our event page or give us a call at 262-375-2715.

See you under the stars,

jess

Jessica Jens
Executive Director
Riveredge Nature Center

Powering Peregrines

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The youngsters complete with the new bands which will allow scientists to track their progress as they fly away and start families of their own.

When you think of baby peregrine falcons, you might not necessarily think of power plants. But that’s exactly where many peregrines are hatching and (quite literally) learning to spread their wings these days. While, historically, peregrines built their nests on cliffs alongside rivers and lakes, widespread use of egg-thinning pesticides like DDT decimated the species in the 60’s until they were nearly extinct east of the Mississippi River.

It was an out-of-the-box idea by peregrine researcher Greg Septon to get falcons into boxes that has really made a difference for this species. When Greg approached We Energies to build nest boxes at some of their power plant sites, they quickly agreed. Captive-born peregrines were released at the plants and quickly took a liking to the new nest boxes. The program remains a rousing conservation success and today, 45-50% of all peregrines in Wisconsin are born at power plant sites.

The work is far from over, however, as peregrines remain endangered in Wisconsin. To continue the progress made, each young falcon born at these sites is banded by scientists so their progress can be tracked and studied throughout their lifetimes. These banding events are harmless to the birds but, in addition to the future scientific value, offer members of the public a rare chance to see this powerful species up close. When two of us at Riveredge received an invite to a banding at the Port Washington Generating Station, we were awed by the adorably ferocious power of these young falcons and in all the Riveredge connections we noticed in the room that day.

Take Mike Grisar. Mike, We Energies’ Principal Ecologist, works hand in hand with Greg to monitor and oversee the peregrine project and to take the work into classrooms as a conservation teaching tool. Mike also sits on Riveredge’s Board of Directors and is a key advisor for our research and conservation work. In a story similar to those we hear from many Riveredge Kids, Mike first visited Riveredge on a class trip in first grade grade and credits his time here as part of the foundation for his love of the outdoors, a love he has dedicated much of his work and personal and life to.

Fittingly, Mike succeeded Noel Cutright as Principal Ecologist at We Energies. Noel, who passed away in 2013, was foundational to the creation of the peregrine project, in addition to a huge range of other environmental initiatives throughout the state and beyond. He’s also a beloved member of the Riveredge Family- Noel, who was recently inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame, sat on our Board and, in addition to many other efforts here, helped create the Bird Club that today bears his name. Noel’s legacy was well represented at the banding by members of the Wisconsin Ornithological Society, an organization he headed as President twice, and by four Noel J. Cutright interns the organization is sponsoring who will be joining Riveredge for the summer to research and contribute to the statewide Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II initiative. 

Vivian Kolosso, Riveredge Kid, examines the falcons and the banding process up close.

It’s the last Riveredge connection that might have most inspired us that day, though. It came in the form of Vivian Kolosso’s beaming face as she shook with excitement about her chance to witness the birds and banding in action. Vivian’s grandmother won two spots to the banding at Riveredge’s annual Farm Dinner fundraiser and knew it would make the perfect unique gift for her granddaughter, a Riveredge Kid who loves wildlife and science. “This is an amazing experience, and it just makes you feel good to see this live and in action,” Vivian told us after the banding.

That’s the Riveredge spirit- one Riveredge Kid inspiring another. Don’t be too surprised when you see Vivian featured here again some day. A talented writer with a love of Jane Goodall, Vivian told us she thinks she might one day want to be a wildlife writer. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

Meet Ted

Meet Ted.

As Superintendent of the West Bend School District, Ted Neitzke is directly responsible for supporting the transformation of thousands of students into active and engaged citizens of the world.

Ted had a transformation of his own in middle school as he stepped off a bus into the wild world of a Riveredge summer camp.

Riveredge for me is a place that is transformational. For the first time, I threw on waders, got into a pond, learned about the ecosystem, and learned about all the things in the water that I could not see with my own bare eyes. It just opened up my mind to all the different things in nature I was walking past every day.

Ted’s summers became ones filled with digging in the dirt, scooping up and examining wacky water critters, and pulling up logs and searching for signs of life.

“It set me on a direction where I became very exploratory, very curious about the world in which I lived. It’s one of the pinnacle experiences in my life that set me into education.

Today, the lessons learned from these early transformative experiences affect not only the West Bend students Ted supports on a daily basis, but the thousands of kids, families, and adults touched by Riveredge each year. As Riveredge’s Board President, Ted is giving back and providing the time and visionary leadership needed to ensure Riveredge continues to touch lives today.

Perhaps most important, these experiences are shaping something even closer to Ted- his family. His children, Charlie and Grace, have been coming to Riveredge since they were 5.

“Now that 5 year old is 13 and gets upset if he has to miss part of a day of camp. And now they teach me about Riveredge. They’ll show me things I never saw before. We’ll come out in different seasons, and it’s just fun to watch them explore and take risks I would have loved to be taking when I was their age.

They understand that they’re a very small piece of a very big world and that when you come to Riveredge and you walk through this or you go the trails, or the river, or the ponds, or go to an event, you are participating in something bigger than you.

Ted’s story is a perfect example of the old Riveredge mantra: “Everything is connected to everything.” Past to present. Generation to generation. Summer camper to future community leader.

Start your Riveredge story by today by becoming a member or consider making a donation to allow us to continue to turn today’s young explorers into tomorrow’s future leaders.

Andy Larsen’s Legacy

Our friends at the West Bend Daily News recently wrote a great profile of Andy Larsen, Riveredge’s first naturalist, educator, and Executive Director. Andy was such a vital part of Riveredge’s founding and presided over decades of its early excellence. His ideas and passion still hugely influence what Riveredge is today, and we’re so happy to be able to share this profile with anyone who might have missed it in the paper!

andylarsen

It seems so natural

Area man at Riveredge from the beginning

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT, Daily News

CEDARBURG — His walk may be a little slower and his voice softer, but Andy Larsen’s passion for Riveredge Nature Center appears as strong as the day he was hired as the center’s top naturalist in June 1969.

Larsen’s ideas and passion helped shape the nature center into what it is today. Current center leaders agree Larsen’s hiring was a key in the center’s history.

“Andy Larsen was hired in June and began work on Aug. 1, (1969,) and the fun began,” the center’s website said in detailing its history.

Larsen said in one of his first newsletters after joining Riveredge: “The goal to which Riveredge must dedicate itself is the development of environmentally literate citizens.”

“That’s a goal as vital now as it was then,” Larsen said. Larsen’s wife, Judy, said her husband’s retirement from Riveredge was in 2001. He served as naturalist, executive director and now is executive director emeritus. Riveredge began with the purchase of 72 acres. According to its website, the center now covers about 379 acres.

“The center’s mission of environmental education and natural area preservation continues,” Larsen said. “I did anything and everything in the early days, but our mission has stayed the same about educating the public about the environment and how to preserve it. We laid out the initial plans for the center then.”

Riveredge Executive Director Jessica Jens said it would not be an overstatement to say the “Riveredge Nature Center is what it is today because of what Andy did here.”

“He still calls us on a regular basis to offer ideas and suggestions,” Jens said. “He’s gone out with me into the back part of the property and told me and showed me things about nature that most people don’t realize or notice. He can’t travel as much as he used to, but his mind is still sharp and shows his great intelligence.”

Jens said Andy is well known for his collection of walking sticks.

“He uses them to point at things when he’s showing people around the nature center,” Jens said. Larsen said he has more than 30 walking sticks he’s gathered during his wide travels.

Larsen’s family has long been involved in protecting the environment and teaching others about it.

“My father, Gilbert, was a friend of Gaylord Nelson,” Andy said. “He worked with him and others in preserving the Apostle Islands.” His sister Mimi was also interested in environmental issues. Judy and Andy said their two children, Eric and Elizabeth, are also interested in the environment.

“Eric is an arctic explorer and Elizabeth works with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission,” Andy said.

Andy and Judy acknowledged they’ve met many people and made many friends during their decades of involvement with Riveredge.

“To be able to teach young people and adults about the value of nature and the environment was a lot of fun,” Andy said.

The idea for a nature center was originated by the Whitefish Bay Garden Club in early 1965. A committee first inspected the site that became Riveredge Nature Center in the fall of 1965.

By January 1968, the Riveredge Foundation was formed. The immediate goal was to raise the funds necessary to buy land, which was identified as filling the needs for a center. The land, the Grady tract, was located near Newburg on the Milwaukee River.

An eager group arrived at Riveredge in October 1969 to begin careers as volunteer- teacher naturalists. Andy said one of the biggest joys he has from his work at Riveredge is the “number of critters and the natural prairie and grasses that have returned to the land that had been turned into cropland and is again in its natural state.”

Riveredge offers curriculum- development assistance to schools and teachers, continuing education courses for teachers of all grade levels, an outreach program to serve urban and rural areas, and a range of educational programs for the general public.

“Many of those programs were started by Andy,” Judy said. “River-edge programs offer students the opportunity to experience and investigate the natural environment under the guidance of skilled environmental educators.”

The biodiversity of the land provides a teaching tool for understanding interconnectedness, development of specific sustainable systems for energy, shelter, food, waste, water and land management.

Andy was diagnosed in 1988 with Parkinson’s Disease. Despite health issues, he continues to meet and talk with people who are interested in the environment.

$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!

You are rockstars.

THE LOW DOWN

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. 

#showmeyoursturgeonface

#showmeyoursturgeonfest

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!