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Second annual Urban Candlelight Hike comes to Milwaukee

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Two years ago, when Lapham Peak State Park in the Milwaukee suburb of Delafield hosted its annual candlelight hike/ski, there were so many Milwaukee residents headed to the event that the voyagers backed up the freeway, requiring a sheriff  to come out and help redirect all the traffic.

Perhaps to one’s surprise, such winter-weather excursions, and large crowds attending them, are not uncommon in this part of the country. For the past few years, many state parks have held events in which paths are lit by candlelight for hikers, skiers and snowshoers to enjoy. These nocturnal outings are seen as ways to get community members out of their houses during the long winter months and have them appreciate the beautiful side of Midwestern winters.

State parks are indeed great venues for the candlelight hikes. Yet after seeing the Milwaukee community’s immense interest in the Lapham Park event, volunteers like Jill Maertz wondered why the city’s own assets couldn’t be utilized. Wondering if even more attendees would show up if the candlelight experience was brought right into the heart of Milwaukee, the idea for Menomonee Valley’s Urban Candlelight Hike was born.

This Saturday, Feb. 3, the second annual Urban Candlelight Hike will illuminate a two-mile portion of the Hank Aaron State Trail that runs through Menomonee Valley’s Three Bridges Park solely with the light of candles. Taking place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., community members are encouraged to come out and participate in several activities.

The event is co-hosted by three nonprofit organizations: The Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail, Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center.

“Last year was our inaugural year,” Michelle Kramer, the director of marketing at Menomonee Valley Partners, said. “We anticipated having a couple hundred people show up, and to our surprise, on a very cold February evening, we had 1,800 people show up.”

After a successful first year, the volunteers behind the Urban Candlelight Hike plan to bring this year’s event to the next level.

The hike remains free and open to the whole community, but this year comes with an additional prospect. Guests may buy a Fun Pass — $10 for one adult and all children under 12 attending with them — that includes hot chocolate and pastries at the Urban Ecology Center, marshmallow roasting at the Fireside Plaza and (for guests 21 and up) a free beer at the after party hosted at Third Space Brewing.

“The ten dollars is really a donation back to the three organizations that are hosting the event,” Maertz, who works as the Outreach Coordinator for the Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail, said.

In addition to the Fun Pass opportunity, the food trucks Wicked Urban Grill, Raucous Daucous, Jamaican Kitchen and Grill and Sushi Go will be in attendance. REI will be hosting a gourmet s’mores bar, while Wheel and Sprocket will offer trials on fat tire bikes and e-bikes along the trail. Plus, to keep the festivities going into the night, an after party will be hosted at the nearby Third Space Brewing.

While the opportunities for food and fun will be numerous, the promise of a unique moment in the great outdoors remains the event’s focus. After all, a nature hike can be just what some people need during these winter months.

“It’s just a great opportunity to get outside, especially in the winter when we’re all cooped up for weeks at a time due to cold weather, and kind of enjoy this great asset in the middle of our city, in the form of the trail and the Urban Ecology Center,” Daniel Adams, president of the Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail, said.

Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center serves as a way to bring members of the community close to nature through recreational and educational opportunities all year round.

For the Hank Aaron State Trail, there are many small events and tours throughout the summer and fall, with the largest event being the 19th Annual 5k Run/Walk in August. Yet even on days where nothing formal is planned, the trail, Urban Ecology Centers and their many parks provide access to nature, even right here in the heart of Milwaukee.

Photo by Adam Carr

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