Number 44 hit another homer today, immediately behind the Bike Fed Milwaukee office, at the official ground breaking for the awesome new 24 acre park being constructed in the “Airline Yards” section of the Menomonee Valley. Hammering Hank even grabbed a shovel and threw some gravel on one of the future paths that will connect the Hank Aaron State Trail with the new park and the neighborhood to the south.
Just before swinging the hickory (shovel) down in the Menomonee Valley today, the former Milwaukee Braves great told the crowd of about 150 people that he hears positive comments about his namesake Hank Aaron State Trail from people across the country. Mr. Aaron made the point that as a professional ball player he always tried “show young people the right direction.” Surrounded by happy, healthy kids from the south side neighborhood, from the Journey House baseball team, from nearby St. Rafael School and the new Urban Ecology Center, he mused he might be more even effective in retirement than he was as a major league ball player.
While only he can speculate about whether he had greater positive influence as a baseball icon or businessman, listening to the other speakers talk about the positive influence the Hank Aaron State Trail has had on them, it is clear he continues to improve on his record. The first speaker, an employee at one of the businesses that relocated to the Valley, said he bikes on the trail to work and is part of his company “runch” (lunchtime running) club. He said they could not wait to get out and run the new trails and the existing trail has inspired fellow employees to bike to work or “runch.” Their club has logged more than 250 miles in the last couple months.
The second speaker was a teacher from St. Rafael’s, who choked up a bit describing the joy her students get from the outdoor learning they experience at the Urban Ecology Center. The final speaker said he grew up two blocks from the new park, which used to be “off limits” to him as a child. He recalled climbing a fence and dashing across the tracks with a buddy once so they could get to the river, but said he mostly played in alleys and parking lots.
One of the great things about the future park are the new connections to make it easier for people from the nearby neighborhoods and Valley businesses to enjoy the trails and access the river. There will be two new bridges, one just behind Palermo’s at S. 33rd Court, and another over the river up to the Mitchell Park Domes. Combined with the Hank Aaron State Trail and the Valley Passage, more than 400,000 people are now a short walk or bike ride to the river. Kids will no longer have to climb fences or “sneak” to enjoy the wonderful recreational and educational opportunities along the river.
More than giving people access to the river and the park, the redevelopment of the vally and the Hank Aaron State Trail have been a great example of public private partnerships to create business friendly trail oriented development in Milwaukee. To date 37 businesses have located or expanded in the Valley and bringing 4,700 jobs. The Pedal Milwaukee Building, which is home for Team Sports, Inc., and the Bike Fed’s new office is one small example of a combined $740 million invested in the valley.
The trail construction is being managed by the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, and is slated to be finished next year. Part of “Menomonee Valley From the Ground Up,” the $10.6 million project to redevelop the long vacant land is being coordinated by Menomonee Valley Partners, Inc. and Urban Ecology Center, Inc., in partnership with the State of Wisconsin and the City of Milwaukee. The funds for the project have come from a mix of public sector grants, as well as foundations, corporations and individuals.
As a daily user of the trail, I can testify to the improvement the new development has made in my life. Even if it is a mile or two out of my way, I tend to take the Hank Aaron State Trail when I am biking somewhere. As an employee of the Bike Fed who has seen the smiles on the faces of the kids in our Safe Routes to School program when they ride over to our office on the trail, I can further testify that Hank Aaron is still doing all he can to keep kids on the right path. I was happy to be able to personally thank Mr. Aaron today for lending his name to such a powerful, and permanent, force for good in Milwaukee.