🌎 Earth Day, May Day & A Look Upstream with Trapper Schoepp, Milwaukee Riverkeeper & ECO 🐟

Over the past year of the COVID19 pandemic many people around the city of Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin, the United States, and even the global community at large have discovered a renewed sense of connection with Mother Nature. We need nature not just for growing food and providing freshwater but also for our mental health and well-being. Over the past year, county and state parks experienced record numbers of people hiking and enjoying the serenity of our natural surroundings. In the simplest terms, nature brings peace and a sense of calm in an often tumultuous world that we live in.

As we begin to emerge from the COVID19 pandemic, many people are experiencing a renewed sense of civic involvement to protect and preserve nature and to help cultivate an even greater sense of the need for sustainability in the Greater Milwaukee area and beyond.

“Our goal is for Milwaukee to be recognized as a world-class eco-city,” Sustainability Director for the City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office Eric Shambarger stated with a beaming grin on a recent Zoom call with Rock the Green. “We have so much good work being done right now, and the time is right to really move forward and focus on ways to create more sustainable systems in and around our beautiful city.”

Jennifer Bolger Breceda, Lindsay Stevens, Erick Shambarger, Trapper Schoepp & Will Piper

Shambarger is spot on. The City of Milwaukee has been implementing a plethora of programs and initiatives to help achieve this goal. Some of these initiatives include the largest solar array installation in Milwaukee history on a ten-acre solar field next to General Mitchell Field and the City-County Task Force, which aims to reduce racial and income inequality by helping transition people who live in more vulnerable parts of the city to better sources of energy to both reduce greenhouse gasses as well as provide green jobs for people in neighborhoods with more limited economic opportunities.

“We offer an Eco Neighborhoods Tool Kit as well,” Shambarger shared, “During the pandemic this program has been very popular as it partners with wonderful non-profit environmental organizations around the city, including Milwaukee Riverkeeper, to give people resources to help make a difference in their communities. There is truly hunger for people to be in nature and to get out and go to local parks.”

As we know, however, not all citizens in our city have the same access to its beautiful parks, trails, and environmental green spaces. This is where the Home Gr/own program comes in and makes a huge difference. Home Gr/own supports neighborhood redevelopment by restoring blighted vacant lots into community green spaces. “Everyone should be within a ten-minute walk to a park,” Shambarger continued, “the Home Gr/own program is helping create jobs, community gardens, and orchards. We’ve seen a huge transformation in the Lindsey Heights neighborhood as a result of this for one example”

While Milwaukee Riverkeeper has stayed afloat during the pandemic with some slight readjustments to their programming, Bolger Breceda is even more thrilled to move forward this year. “We have our 26th annual river clean-up coming up on Saturday, April 24th. This year we are pretty close to a normal clean-up. We are doing things a little differently, of course, by requiring mask-wearing and providing hand sanitizer, limiting the number of people on our sites, and staggering our clean-up starting times, and requiring pre-registration. We have an amazing group of over 2,500 registered volunteers already and a lot more are signing up every day leading up to the clean-up date itself. People are hungry to get outside and give something back, and our response has been nothing short of amazing.”