Over the years, Riveredge has been a home to various communities. From a range of artistic creators, to the memory loss community, to the homeschool and neurodiverse communities, we strive to stretch the definition of who explores the outdoors. In the past year, we’ve overall been working to welcome people who, historically, haven’t spent much time at Riveredge.
Riveredge has recently become more acquainted with the Hispanic community that encompasses more than 6,000 people throughout Ozaukee and Washington counties. Children within these families are often bilingual, speaking Spanish in the home and English at school. All generations in the home may not necessarily be English speakers, however, and organizations such as Casa Guadalupe work to bridge this gap.
We became aware fairly recently of this fact by way of Riveredge member and 2019-20 Riveredge School Governance Council member, Cecilia Guajardo. Cecilia and her family moved from her native Mexico to begin living in Ozaukee County about 10 years ago with her husband’s workplace relocation. Since then, when not parenting, working, or working in the home, Cecilia has spent her time exploring outdoors throughout Wisconsin’s various seasons.
She first visited Riveredge as a field trip chaperone with her daughter’s Thorson Elementary School class. “We walked into the river with waders and it was such an incredible experience!” said Cecilia. “We became members that day and we’ve been Riveredge members ever since.”
“That’s part of what I love being outdoors.
Nobody needs a translator to enjoy nature.”
In one of her many community roles, Cecilia works with Casa Guadalupe, a West Bend organization that works to be the bridge of integration to Hispanics and to the communities in which they live through education and community access.
Cecilia has spent the pandemic outdoors, exploring Riveredge trails daily. “Coming from a sunny climate I like to call it Nature RX – prescription strength nature,” she smiles. “Nature is the best antidepressant I’ve found.” With so many various business closures, she started wondering if extended family health in the Casa community might be suffering throughout the pandemic.
Riveredge and Casa Guadalupe have started a partnership welcoming Casa families who are a part of the Read to Succeed program to explore Riveredge with family memberships. Cecilia graciously translated Riveredge membership materials into Spanish so that all generations could read the text. Our shared hope is to provide healthy outdoor options to Casa families while also welcoming people who might not otherwise explore these 10 miles of trails along the Milwaukee River.
Cecilia realizes that diversity in the outdoors might be new for some. “It’s funny, sometimes, how people respond when they hear an accent different from their own in the outdoors,” said Cecilia. “People sometimes give me that look of surprise, that they didn’t expect to hear my voice out on a trail. But I hike here so much I’m often helping people figure out where they are on their map,” she laughs. “I am the person who moved here and sometimes giving directions to people from this area. That’s part of what I love being outdoors. Nobody needs a translator to enjoy nature.”
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
It’s because of you.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.