Public Lands Day celebrated at Lynden Hill

Jean Claassen along with Children of the Milwaukee community come out and help support Lynden Hill, one of 5 U.S Forest Service urban tree house spaces in the U.S. Photo by Brittany McGrail /

Childish laughter, Smokey the Bear and a crisp autumn air welcomed community members of all ages last Saturday to Lynden Hill, one of five U.S. Forest Service Urban Tree House spaces.

Lynden Hill is located between North 22nd and North 23rd streets from West McKinley to West Juneau avenues. Designated as an Urban Tree House space in 1999, it provides land for a simple, environmental education structure to exist within the city. Other such spaces exist in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore.

The site hosted the Milwaukee celebration of the 17th annual National Public Lands Day, a dedication to service and recreation on public lands, according to its website.

The celebration was sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Urban Tree House program, an attempt to educate city youth about the environment. The day’s events included tree planting, a site cleanup, information on outdoor lifestyles and a kid’s hike.

Jean Claassen, a representative for the U.S. Forest Service and America’s Outdoors, a directory for adventure trips, vacations and event planning, said National Public Lands Day recognizes unique urban green facilities.

“We want folks to appreciate places like this,” Claassen said. “We want them to utilize these federal lands that are right in their own backyards.”

With the help of Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, a nonprofit organization promoting sustainability, and the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, community members have dedicated their time to park maintenance for the past 30 years.

Skip Schroedel, a community volunteer, spoke of the struggles the neighborhood has encountered to keep Lynden Hill in its current state.

“There is an ongoing pressure to develop the city,” Schroedel said. “We don’t want to see a high rise building here after such a long, evolving history.”

The history he referred to dates back to 1885, when the land was a large personal estate. In 1914, the estate was renovated into a general hospital, which was demolished in 1981. In 1993, the neighborhood defeated a city proposal to build 30 homes in the area.

Schroedel said Lynden Hill is unique because it has a philosophical outdoor message.

“I like to refer to it as an experience masquerading as a park,” Schroedel said. “This is us bringing a park-like atmosphere to the city. So many people never get out of the city … they need to see the beauty of America.”

He also spoke highly of Milwaukee 4th District Alderman Robert Bauman’s efforts to maintain the green space.

“Alderman Bauman attends everything, and we’re very lucky to have him,” Schroedel said. “He’s the type of person that it’s not just about the job … he has an emotional commitment as well.”

Bauman introduced the celebration on Saturday and referred to the Hill as “a great example of a green oasis and focal point for the natural environment and environmental learning in the community” in a press release.

Niki Espy of the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, a nonprofit organization aiming to help the community, said she and her children were proud to have been involved with Lynden Hill for so long.

“I remember when (my children) were younger and would get so excited to see Smokey and Woodsy,” Espy said. “Now, they’re the ones in the mascot costumes providing other kids that same excitement.”

Espy, along with other volunteers, spoke to the evolution of the park.

“The more we spread the word that this is our home, the more our lives will be enhanced,” Schroedel said. “It’s like a snowball rolling downhill … we’re off to a flying start.”