The land we call Riveredge Nature Center was long inhabited by Native American tribes, and is part of the territory of the Menominee and Sauk People, who have stewarded this land over generations. We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land, and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example.
Oscar Grady purchases the land that would become Riveredge Nature Center. He begins building recreational facilities on the site out of stone along with an observation tower, several concession stands, and a round platform for dancing, hoping to establish an amusement park. The ruins of these structures still remain today.
Isabel Lillie, with support from Lorrie Otto, Marge Reisinger, and Donna Hodgson of the Whitefish Bay Garden Club, begins advocating for an environmental facility to serve the North Shore area of Milwaukee. These women want to find a place where urban visitors are able to experience and be transformed by the natural world. They envision a preserve that could be established for generations to come.
Riveredge is founded as a nature sanctuary with the purchase of 72 acres along the Milwaukee River. With a $15,000 down payment, one of the first nature centers in Southeastern Wisconsin is born. The very first visitors begin to experience natural beauty on the trails.
Naturalist and educator Andy Larsen is hired at Riveredge to continue development of the center’s educational offerings. In one of the first newsletters, he states, “The goal to which Riveredge must dedicate itself is the development of environmentally literate citizens.”
Andy Larsen’s instrumental Riveredge legacy begins as he forwards his unstoppable passion and vision for environmental education. He starts training a team of teacher-naturalists and creates hands-on programs to teach children with an experiential, inquiry-based approach to learning.
Riveredge acquires additional acres of land on the south side of Highway Y, including a barn and farmhouse facilities for class space, office area and storage room. This new space is greatly needed, as educational programs have now expanded with over 10,000 children participating in programs annually.
Riveredge debuts a large-scale ecology conference for adults under the name of Eco Focus, beginning a celebrated history of adult programs that offer education, community, and opportunities to participate in meaningful environmental efforts.
The popular Summer Camp at Riveredge begins its first year operating at full capacity for children in preschool through the teenage years, a program that is still thriving today! Similar to today’s campers, the 1980’s kids enjoyed outdoor activities, monitoring wildlife, walking the land, and finding new ways to appreciate nature.
Staff and volunteers move into the new Education and Visitor Center, which still acts as the central hub of all that Riveredge does. The building’s design embraces the natural landscape. This same year, the long-running Habitat Healers volunteer group is formed.
The first annual Riveredge Bike Ride is held (then known as the River Valley Ride), the beginning of a tradition that will span many decades! Over 500 riders roll over the local roads and experience the natural beauty of Riveredge on two wheels during the inaugural ride.
The MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) Bird Banding Site is launched at Riveredge. This national bird banding research program, still active today, studies the nesting success of songbirds with banding observations open to the public.
The Milwaukee River Lake Sturgeon Streamside Rearing Facility is installed and the first volunteers are trained to operate the facility. In fall, the first 27 imprinted lake sturgeon are released by Riveredge and the Wisconsin DNR into the Milwaukee River. This is the beginning of a project that will ultimately release tens of thousands of fish and continues today to help restore the species to the Lake Michigan Water Basin.
Planting begins on permaculture design for the Woodland Harvest Project, which is known today as the Riveredge Farm. The site produces organic food, serves as a setting for education, and focuses on sustainable, holistic farming methods that follow the principles of natural ecosystems.
The Scientist in Residence program is established. This cutting-edge program places fully-funded science educators from Riveredge Nature Center directly into schools with partnering districts throughout the region. The Scientist in Residence works with educators and students in the schools over a five-year partnership to inspire, inform, and reduce barriers to outdoor education.
Riveredge Nature Center celebrates its 50th Anniversary, becoming one of the longest-operating nature centers in Southeastern Wisconsin.
A new school, a new Sugarbush House, and a new River Outpost! Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School is established on-site, becoming the first nature-based public charter elementary school in the region. The Sugarbush House opens, becoming a beautiful maple sugaring and community gathering space. The River Outpost is also completed this year, providing an innovative location used for teaching, learning, and as support space for the Milwaukee River Lake Sturgeon Rehabilitation Project.