Pleasant Valley Park is nestled along the Milwaukee River’s western shore in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood. Long ago, the 23-acre parcel was home to one of Milwaukee’s most popular beer gardens with restaurants, a band shell, steamboat docks and “extravagant” landscaping. Today, Pleasant Valley falls within the Milwaukee River Greenway.
Milwaukee County and community partners started planning the greenway a decade ago to restore ecosystems along the Milwaukee River from North Avenue to Silver Spring and create a 13-mile pathway for people.
So far, a total of about nine, not-yet-contiguous miles of path exists - – about a mile of which falls within Pleasant Valley.
Sura Faraj lives nearby and has fretted over the future of Pleasant Valley for years.
"I’ve been down here literally thousands of times. It’s really quite amazing the wildlife you can see. I’m usually down here with my dog on-leash. It’s illegal to have your dog off-leash down here,” Faraj says.
She admits she used to be guilty of walking her dog off-leash, “until I realized how much damage we are all causing down here if we go off-trail, if people are riding bikes down here, starting camp fires."
There’s also no biking allowed on either side of the greenway – there’s a county ordinance that says so. But Faraj says the ordinance hasn’t stopped biking or bikers from cutting their own trails up and down Pleasant Valley’s sloped terrain.
“Here’s an example. Someone cut this trail illegally and this is a very poorly cut trail. It goes up very steeply….and this soil is just incredible here. I can’t even begin to guess what plants were growing here,” Faraj says.
Five years ago, she helped form a nonprofit friends group, called Milwaukee River Advocates, to introduce more people to what the group considers a natural treasure.
The advocates want to see the main trail that hugs the Milwaukee River to become the only path through the park.
Faraj points to threads in some cases switchbacking between trees. “Look at how tall that tree is over there. That’s well over 25 feet. I believe that’s one of the largest trees and unfortunately now we have a trail going right next to it,” she says.
Ramsey Radakovich, deputy regional manager of the Milwaukee County Parks' land resources division, says the parks system is concerns about the condition of Pleasant Valley Park.
And, he says he's been looking for solutions.
Last September, Radakovich reported to the Milwaukee County parks committee and said an early proposal called for cutting and clearly marking an official trail higher on the slope, but that idea has been tabled until he figures out where it’s safe to tread.
Radakovich says he’s mindful of native plants’ importance in the parcel. “As a trail builder, we don’t always know what the best vegetation is or what are we trying to avoid... So we had our natural areas staff go out and kind of do a vegetation analysis where we envision the trail to go.” he added, “They identified a couple pockets.”
But Sura Faraj says her group worries their voices will not be heard as the final decision is made.
She admits a section of the main trail closest to the Milwaukee River has widened and is wet – that’s one of the things the County Parks points to as a problem.
But she thinks the weak spot can be mended without moving the trail altogether and putting more of the forest canopy and the fragile foliage beneath at risk.
This week, Ramsey Radakovich reported that since the Milwaukee County Parks meeting took place, the County has “an alternative route in mind that utilizes as much existing sustainable trail and minimizes the need to create additional trail.”
He says county parks specialists will carry out a natural area assessment next spring and summer, and then will hold a public meeting.
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