This past weekend, Milwaukeeans celebrated the opening of a new environmentally focused center just blocks south of Marquette with guided hikes, bird watching and free rain barrel giveaways as part of a project that hopes to bring people back to nature.
The new Urban Ecology Center, located at 3700 W. Pierce St., focuses on providing the city’s children and families with year-round educational programming that aims to teach people about nature and what they can do to sustain it. In addition to the new location, there are centers located in Riverside Park at 1500 East Riverside Park and in Washington Park at 1859 N. 40th St.
“The huge thing that all of this is doing is connecting the residential neighborhood on the south side of the river to the ecological side on the north,” said Glenna Holstein, the branch manager for the Menomonee Valley center.
The opening of this newest center marks the second Urban Ecology center to be opened near Marquette. Marquette students have had a long-standing relationship with the Urban Ecology Center’s Washington Park branch through the university’s service learning program.
“We’ve worked with the center for over 15 years,” Kimberly Jensen-Bohat, the director of the service learning program at Marquette, said. “It has a great reputation, and a lot of our students are interested in environmental issues.”
Marquette students in the program assist children and teenagers participating in the Young Scientist Club. Activities vary based on the season and weather but include indoor science experiments, stewardship projects, sledding and ice-skating according to the service learning program’s website.
“The Urban Ecology Center is a powerful grassroots organization that connects people in urban environments with the natural spaces that are all around them,” Frank Will Bufe, a service learning student coordinator and a junior in the College of Education, said.
This is Bufe’s third semester in the service learning program, and he recently interned at the Urban Ecology Center’s Washington Park branch.
“Getting to work there this summer showed me that we can bring people together and build communities through outdoor education,” Bufe said. “Everyone should be a member.”
The center’s Neighborhood Environmental Education Project, one of many such projects, serves children in more than 44 Milwaukee schools, allowing the students to take part in environmental activities. Each Urban Ecology center partners with schools within a two-mile radius of the center, Holstein said.
“Research shows that the best way to build an environmental ethic in children is to have them consistently involved in an area and to have a mentor who is environmentally responsible,” Holstein said. “The kids are able to build a relationship with the park and the educators.”
The opening of the Menomonee Valley branch is a long-awaited accomplishment for the Urban Ecology Center.
“It’s a place we’ve been thinking about for over a decade,” Holstein said. “(The Menomonee Valley community) has been completely revitalized both ecologically and economically, and there are so many amazing organizations doing good work there.”
Holstein said she’s also happy to see the benefits the new center has brought those who participate in it.
“I was most excited over seeing the kids out in the park in the river,” Holstein said. “For a lot of kids, it was the first time they spent time in that area, and that’s why we’re here, to activate green space.”
Holstein hopes the opening of the new center will expand the center’s impact and bring a heightened environmental awareness to the Menomonee Valley area.
“We hope there will be a very vibrant use of the park and that people will want to come,” Holstein said.