Three Festivals Unite to Celebrate Milwaukee’s Rivers: 2021 Sturgeon Fest News

It’s time to celebrate the return of Milwaukee’s rivers with three organizations committed to their restoration! On Sunday, September 19 2021, Harbor District’s annual street festival Harbor Fest will expand, combining the celebration of Milwaukee’s harbor with the Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade and Sturgeon Fest by Riveredge Nature Center.

Harbor Fest celebrates all things fish, water, and boats. Attendees can expect food and drink, live music by Caché, art, a fish petting zoo, activities for families like learning how to clean a fish, shopping from local makers, and information and goodies from our business tent featuring Milwaukee’s Harbor District businesses.

In the spirit of collaboration that guides environmental groups in Southeast Wisconsin, we are delighted to partner up with Riveredge and Milwaukee Riverkeeper – two groups that really know how to celebrate water and will make Harbor Fest better than ever,” said Lilith Fowler, Executive Director of Harbor District, Inc. “And, we can’t wait to bring people back to the waterfront and share new plans and progress from the past year.” This will be the Harbor District’s fifth annual Harbor Fest. In 2019, over 3,200 people came to Milwaukee’s Harbor to celebrate the rich history and culture of this special area of Milwaukee.

Picture of 2019 Harbor Fest from the School of Freshwater Sciences. Photo Courtesy Harbor District.

Sunday, September 19 Schedule of Events

Harbor Fest starts at 11:00am and also encompasses Sturgeon Fest and Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade 

11:00am Harbor Fest Begins

12:00pm Sturgeon Blessing and fish release begins at Harbor View Plaza

12:30pm Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade begins at Harbor View Plaza

4:00pm Harbor Fest completes

A boat in the 2019 Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

The Milwaukee Boat Parade is a twist on the traditional holiday parade featuring floats – that actually float! Local artists, groups and performers are commissioned to create installations celebrating the return of Milwaukee’s rivers. Watch it LIVE from Harborfest, or find a spot anywhere along the riverwalk to take in this unique sight.

This year, Harbor Fest attendees will have the opportunity to release a Lake Sturgeon as a part of the 15th year of the Return the Sturgeon Program. Event attendees can pre-register to hand-release Lake Sturgeon into the water, or donate the opportunity for others to have the experience on the Sturgeon Fest website.  Sturgeon Fest has previously taken place at Lakeshore State Park and for 2021 Riveredge is trying out a new location with Harbor Fest.

“For 15 years Riveredge has partnered with the Wisconsin DNR to raise Lake Sturgeon and welcome the community to hand release this species back into the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan during Sturgeon Fest,” said Jessica Jens, Riveredge Executive Director. “I greatly appreciate our downstream partnerships with Harbor District and Milwaukee Riverkeeper in welcoming us to be a part of Harbor Fest this year.”

The Return the Sturgeon program is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Riveredge Nature Center. Since the mid-1800’s, Lake Sturgeon populations throughout the Great Lakes have been decimated between overfishing, collection of their eggs as caviar, and dams blocking their ability to return to spawning habitat (Lake Sturgeon will only spawn in the river in which they were born). The Return the Sturgeon restoration effort imprints a new population of Lake Sturgeon on Milwaukee River water. This effort reclaims the habitat range of this prehistoric fish species and returns a spawning sturgeon population to the Milwaukee River for the first time in more than 100 years.

As Milwaukee Riverkeeper heralds the resurgent return of Milwaukee’s rivers, Milwaukee also welcomes the return of Lake Sturgeon to our rivers.

“So much work has gone into restoring Milwaukee’s rivers. We are seeing a renaissance happening, people are returning to the water to find community and share joy after a long time apart. The Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade is a celebration of our collective connections to water. We see this as another opportunity to bring people together and down to our rivers,” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda, Executive Director of Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

Harbor Fest takes place outside of the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences at 600 E. Greenfield Ave. Greenfield Avenue will be closed at Barclay Street to make way for the festival and pedestrian traffic. Attendees are encouraged to ride bikes to the event. An event schedule and map, including the location of free event parking hosted by Rockwell Automation, will be available leading up to the festival at Harbor Fest – Milwaukee.

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