Group aims for river cleanup

Public input backs new project to preserve Milwaukee waterfront

The plan for a Milwaukee River makeover has officially been put into motion by the Milwaukee River Work Group. Tentatively titled Milwaukee Greenway, the initiative will attempt to restore the river and its surrounding wildlife habitat.

The MRWG is a collaborative effort from numerous Milwaukee environmental institutions and volunteer groups started three years ago by Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the River Revitalization Foundation and the Urban Ecology Center. Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn said the group was founded to proactively seek protection for the river.

At the Greenway kickoff meeting Jan. 20, Ann Brummitt, director of the MRWG, brought up the success enjoyed by cities who undertook similar river projects. Brummitt pointed to Portland, St. Louis and San Antonio as cities that invested time and money into their rivers and now reap the benefits of popular riverwalks.

According to Brummitt, the Greenway project will work to revitalize a riverfront that has been largely ignored.

The goal of the project is to create common recreation areas and bike and hiking trails, as well as serve as a scenic connector between Milwaukee and its neighbors. The nearby towns of Glendale and Shorewood have officially backed the plan and have proceeded to draft their own master plans.

According to Brummitt, preservation of the river and its wildlife are also of the utmost importance. Brummitt noted it is the project’s responsibility to encourage bio-diversity and keep the river clean. The group plans to combat water contamination caused by bacteria, phosphorus and chloride.

Cleaning up the river itself isn’t the group’s only goal. The river is relatively unprotected by laws and zoning regulations upstream, and is vulnerable to erosion and pollution, which would harm the river. The MRWG is pushing hard for regulated zoning guidelines which would act as a legal shield and protect the more natural parts of the river.

“Protecting land adjacent to our rivers will provide an important buffer to polluted runoff and protect the quality of the Milwaukee River while providing a natural refuge for people and wildlife alike,” Nenn said.

The MRWG wants the Greenway to be a cooperative effort, and the group hosted a series of kickoff meetings to spark public interest.

“Public input is the basis for any changes and the foundation of the master plan, since it really began as a grassroots effort by river neighbors,” Brummitt said.

They plan to host a public design workshop Feb. 6 at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Place, where participants will have the opportunity to work with project coordinators in a small group brainstorming session.

The MRWG is also recruiting University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate students to help in the project’s design. Brummitt said although they haven’t yet pursued Marquette student services, she is pleased with the volunteer efforts Marquette students have put toward river cleanup and with the Urban Ecology Center.

According to the River Revitalization Foundation’s project manager Vince Bushell, the foundation recently announced a plan to work with Marquette students to produce a series of short videos that will promote environmental restoration.