New Life in the Valley

Spring diptych: Rebirth of innocence

I have been commuting to work on the Hank Aaron State Trail since it opened in April of 2006 when Milwaukee DPW rebuilt and realigned Canal Street as part of the redevelopment plan for the Menomonee Valley. That was during my first stint working for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, before the City hired me as Milwaukee’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. Well, six years later, work has come full circle and I am back at the Bike Fed. Our new office is right off the Hank Aaron, so I am still able to pedal to work on the trail.

Around this time of year I start looking for the goslings as I ride to work.  Long-time readers will remember my post about hope rekindled that featured the cute little yellow fluff balls last spring. I was not sure if the geese would nest in the same places this year, as a gaunt coyote pair has been haunting my commutes through the valley all winter. I figured either the geese would be scared away, or the coyotes would have huevos de ganso para el desayuno.

Trickster diptych: Menomeonee Valley coyote pair

As the photos at the top of this post illustrate, I am happy to report that the geese returned to nest and quite a few goslings have survived to date.  Once again, the amazing and bewildering cycle of nature works wonders to reaffirm my faith that with perseverance, great effort and unrelenting care, hope remains alive.

In fact, the greater Menomonee Valley is a case study in how a community can restore natural beauty, economic vitality and urban life from what was once a post-industrial brownfield ghost town.  Government, businesses, neighbors and non-profits, worked together to create and implement a plan that leveraged environmental restoration, a bike trail and passive storm water management to spur economic development. The result is and amazing success story that shows Milwaukee is open for business and recreation.

Weather you want to ride a bike for fun or to one of the thousands of new jobs in the Valley, the Hank Aaron State Trail will take you there. Like me on my daily commute, on your ride you will pass brand new buildings with signs posted advertising family supporting jobs inside. Along the way, you will likely pass people knee-deep in salmon and trout, throwing flies like they are in a Montana stream. You can experience the sounds and smells of summer if you listen for the crack of Ryan Braun’s bat when you take the time to stop and smell the prairie flowers along the river.

At the Bike Fed, sometimes the staff feel like those salmon swimming up-stream when we get bogged down by the daily struggle of bicycle advocacy.  While we can’t afford to stop trying to make the case that when we make our communities a better place to bike, we make them a better place to live and work, it is important to pause to take stock of our accomplishments.  I remember the valley when it was almost entirely filled with long-empty and dilapidated factories.  I remember the struggle to get the Hank Aaron Trail funded more than ten years ago.  I remember arguing with those who thought the green economic development plans for the Valley were a boondoggle.

Open for business diptych: Long-time resident Falk Corp., is getting a lot of new neighbors.

In contrast, today the Valley is an economic powerhouse hosting 33 new companies, 4,200 jobs, and 10 million visitors who come to enjoy the Valley’s recreation and entertainment destinations each year. Guides from Chicago bring clients to fly fish for trout and salmon during the multiple annual spawns. Thousands of people bike through the valley every month and the trail attracts cyclists to Milwaukee to begin 185 mile cross-state tours on the network of trails that begin with the Hank Aaron.  And just as important, families of geese raise their babies, keeping watchful eyes for the resident coyotes.

Worth the effort.



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

5 thoughts on “New Life in the Valley

  1. Nice article Dave. I always tried to see different things on my daily commute for many years to UW-M along the Milwaukee River. My wife gets bored riding on the same trail day after day but I try to tell her to look at the little things that change, day after day. If it rains one day, you know that everything will be a brighter green the next day.

    BTW, we were on the Oak Leaf Trail Tuesday night just south of Blue Mound Rd, and saw the Hank Aaron connector going east. There needs to be a better sign, right at the intersection. If you look maybe a block away you’ll see the blue Hank Aaron sign.

    Thanks for your work,

    • Ron, I think it really helps to take some time to stop, look, smell, and listen. The bike moves at a perfect speed in many ways in that it allows you time to see and is open, so you can hear and smell, but it still moves too fast to allow you to fully appreciate.

      I know the HAST needs a some additional signs. There ARE signs at most junctions, but since the trail is new and in an out of the way location, it could use some more. Unfortunately, the Friends of the Hank Aaron State trail have had to raise private funds more most, if not all, of the signs because the WDNR just doesn’t have any money for them. I will mention it to the trail manager and FoHAST anyway. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • When I first started commuting in 1974 I found it pretty interesting to smile and say hi to pedestrians coming towards me and could tell that some of them didn’t want to respond. Bike commuting makes for friendlier people!

  2. Dave,
    Yes, the trails are nice in the Milwaukee area however I did ask once before “why is the beer line trail so short”.
    The main question that I have about the Hank Aaron trail is why are there not more benches to sit on?
    I also like the “valley improvement prodjects” is there anyway that I could be more involved with the bussiness
    people that are doing this? Please send me a e-mail if you know of any of the above information.
    Joseph Schlaefer

  3. Spot on article Dave. I hadn’t noticed the decline in geese this year until you mentioned it. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of them. I’ve been hissed at too often and once even rushed at by one when it thought I was too close to their offspring. Scared the heck out of me when it flew right at me with its wings spread out wide!

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