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River Revitalization Foundation - Milwaukee's Urban Rivers Land Trust

Water - central to Milwaukee's history, livelihood, and experience was also central to the 2016 Rock the Green festival location – Reed Street Yards. We thought we'd share what's going on in the water space in our community by interviewing the leaders who are helping to shape the discussions of Milwaukee as a Water City. This is the second of a series.

We took a walk with Kimberly Gleffe, Executive Director of the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) around the recently revitalized Wheelhouse Gateway, Turtle Park, and new Kiwanis Landing to get a feel for this new gem of the city's green, urban landscape. Kimberly is passionate about the rivers, the city, the community, and the environment. She speaks eloquently and deliberately and with genuine authority as a servant leader. Kimberly truly is an asset to the environmental movement and the city.

We started our walking tour at the southern gateway to the new Milwaukee River Greenway (more info below) at the HQ of RRF just NE of Humboldt as it crosses the Milwaukee River. What was once abandoned junk, derelict buildings, and occluded river access is now a thriving environmental resource, education facility, and recreation area in the heart of downtown Milwaukee.

Transforming disturbed and blighted urban riverfront areas into destination places with neighborhood access and activities for everyone is one of the key missions of the foundation.

The foundation's HQ abuts the former Melenec's Wheelhouse property. Those of you have lived in Milwaukee for a long time might remember the old Wheelhouse Dinner Theater which ceased doing murder mystery dinners in 2005 and had fallen into disrepair. Its riverfront property (650ft of frontage) situated just off the North Avenue dam was one of the last links to create the southern gateway to a six mile long continuous park along the river up to Lincoln Park. In 2009 The RRF purchased the land and MMSD secured a conservation easement restriction on the deed prohibiting future residential and commercial development.

It is an amazing transformation and lovely spot. It has now been reclaimed, restored, and renamed Turtle Park. It is the home to the new Kiwanis Landing (canoe and kayak launch); a new pedestrian bridge across the river; and is rapidly becoming a favorite fishing spot. Kimberly and I chatted with a few jolly anglers as they were setting up.

The RRF HQ is a converted house turned non-profit office on the bluff overlooking the river. Over the past three years the land has been transformed to an urban people as well as fish sanctuary with an ADA compliant easement down to the river launch, a yoga pad for meditation and recreation, a protected fish breeding shoal (they found a 54” sturgeon in there last year), and an extension of the riverwalk open to all. The latest addition will two new bee hives at Turtle park. For a photo journey of the transformation check out Urban Milwaukee's article. Come down to the park this Spring and take a look for yourself.

So who exactly is the River Revitalization Foundation?

The River Revitalization Foundation was founded in 1994 by the Kiwanis Club and Rotary Clubs of Milwaukee as Milwaukee's urban land trust to improve the environmental quality of the Milwaukee River Basin based on recommendations in the 1991 Riverway Plan.

The River Revitalization Foundation connects peoples in the city to the lands along the river and invites others to do the same, through conservation, education, restoration, and public access. They promote extensive habitat restoration through removal of invasive species, planting of native vegetation, with the assistance of Earn & Learn program, UW Milwaukee Service Learning, FORB volunteers and groups, and Americorp. They increase public access to the Milwaukee River and estuary of Lake Michigan for paddling and fishing. They address erosion control and river bank stabilization through stormwater management and floodplain protection. They create enhanced connections to the river valley system of trails through River-Quest, Take-A-Hike, and the Milwaukee River Greenway master plan.

River Revitalization Foundation is serving as the urban rivers land trust in Milwaukee, caring for the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Land trusts are established to protect land and water resources for the public benefit. They focus on conservation and protection of riparian corridors. This is done through land acquisition, easements, connecting green space, creating a parkway which provides public access to the river valley, and landowner education.

Check out some of the service learning opportunities they provide in this video.

They actively work with city, state, and federalservice learning programs to foster better care and understanding for the environment and opportunities for youth. Sometimes this work involves removing invasive species and planting native plants in order to restore the ecosystem to increase biodiversity, enhance wildlife habitat, and filter pollution. In the past two years they have removed 500 lbs of invasive species and planted over 2,200 native plant species.

Milwaukee River Greenway:

  • 6 Miles of River;

  • 878 acres of Urban Wilderness;

  • 515 acres of primary environmental corridor;

  • 148 of river;

  • 12 public parks; and 28 miles of hiking, biking, and water trails to explore!

The Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition, of which RRF is a part formed out of a grass roots effort in 2006 to protect six miles of urban river from environmentally insensitive development. Shoreline protections were passed by the Village of Shorewood and the City of Milwaukee. In 2010, the Coalition released the Milwaukee River Greenway Master Plan: A Vision for Recreation and Restoration in 2010 and RRF is committed to its implementation in collaboration with Milwaukee County Parks and the Coalition members.

Additional RRF Projects and partnerships in the greenway have included – the Rotary Centennial Arboretum – the region's first official arboretum with 2700 trees of 70 different species native to southeastern Wisconsin; Cambridge Woods Nature Preserve; Wheelhouse Gateway (neighboring the RRF) with Kiwanis Landing for canoe and kayak launch.

What's happening now at the RRF and how can you Engage?

EARTH DAY: River Clean Up! Saturday, April 16, 9:00 am – NoonEarth Day river cleanup and weed out!Join RRF to beautify our Turtle Park site and Kiwanis Landing. Volunteers will meet at the RRF offices at 2134 Riverboat Rd. Gloves, tools and supplies will be provided.

Volunteer with FORB!

Fostering Our Riparian Biodiversity (FORB) throughout the year by conquering invasives, improved water quality, fostered native species, and enhanced public trails. Activities will include, but are not limited to: removing invasive species, establishing native plants and trees, maintaining trails, seed collecting, and controlling erosion. All activities are important for improving the quality and access of thehabitat surrounding Milwaukee’s river basins.

Looking for something to do the day before Rock the Green?

RRF will be hosting the Full Moon Film Festival which will feature short, environmental films as well as a climbing wall, a photo booth, tasty food, and a silent auction. Friday September 16th 4pm at the RRF.

Check out additional ways to get involved from volunteering to donating down to a specific wishlist. You might also consider being a hike guide.

Learn more at:

River Revitalization Foundation

2134 N. Riverboat RoadMilwaukee, WI 53212

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