Milwaukee – Caring for the Parkland

More than 5,400 acres of parkland in the city are managed by Milwaukee County’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Culture (MCP). Overall, Milwaukee County has approximately 15,000 acres of parks, 6,000 of which are actively managed (mowed, maintained, etc.) for recreational use.

This management is done by a well-trained team of natural resource technicians, who are responsible for myriad tasks in the county’s parks: tree resources and health; turf mowing and snow-removal assistance; general construction, such as golf course drainage systems and tees; landscaping; asphalt maintenance and repair; minor storm sewer repairs; and playground maintenance and repairs. Not too many years ago, though, these responsibilities would have been divided among multiple positions.

Bioswale. Credit: City of Milwaukee

Bioswale. Credit: City of Milwaukee

Ramsey Radakovich, deputy regional manager with MCP, relates that in the mid-1980s, MCP’s tree-care staff was actually splintered between nursery personnel, forestry workers and equipment workers. Over the years, those unique positions have been eliminated as the staff became cross trained in all elements of the work, which has also allowed the department to extend its work. “As the staff has improved their proficiency and capacity, we’ve added new tasks and responsibilities, such as natural areas management, trails coordination and maintenance, and athletic field renovations,” says Radakovich.

Despite this increased workload, MCP is very cautious about overextending the talented staff. “We take pride in our diverse abilities, but don’t want to dilute our quality or quantity,” Radakovich says. “There are always more things that need to be done and work to do, but our staff at MCP has worked hard to maintain a high level of quality in the work.”

One of the ways MCP may reduce the strain on its staff is by converting some of the county’s parkland to passive use. The department is currently looking at its actively managed acres to determine their type of use and see where there are opportunities to convert areas from mowed grass to natural prairies and woodlands. Radakovich indicates that the department would especially like to connect forest fragments that currently exist on some of the land — which is also a goal of some of the Environmental Services team’s work.

Environmental Services has been replacing smaller, dying, ornamental trees with larger shade trees, incorporating 4,500 new trees along its boulevards. These trees are being spaced much closer than those that have been planted in rights of way in the past, leading to a denser canopy. By planting the median trees closer together, the trees create a nice canopy when they touch the right-of-way trees on the other side of the street. They also have a better chance of survival, as the medians often experience the rigors of salt dumping in the winter.

Beyond the improvements to the city’s boulevard system, Milwaukee also has a number of other sustainable systems in place, including ones that focus on energy efficiency, wind and solar power, green roofs and rain gardens, and converting vacant lots into gardens. All of these programs, though, cost the city money, and it’s up to the various departments to demonstrate why the city should invest in green instead of gray infrastructure.

Previous: Milwaukee – Re-routing the Rain                                                Next: Milwaukee – Securing Greenbacks