Have you viewed Lakeshore State Park from the water?

There’s lots to love about summer at Lakeshore State Park, but one of our favorites: It’s the season for paddle boats!

“For my money it’s the best view in the city,” said Timothy Ritter, owner of Lakeshore Paddle Sport Rentals. Tim and wife Val operate their business mid-May through mid-September, depending on the weather. “The water is so clean, and the breezes, and going by Summerfest … it’s just a really unique spot.”

Lakeshore Paddle Sport Rentals gives visitors a chance to experience the park from a different vantage point by paddling around the Maritime Water Basin and the Quiet Water Basin between Lakeshore State Park and the Summerfest grounds. Rent a paddleboat or hydrobike and you’ll have a non-polluting way to get around while getting exercise, too.

It’s a great activity for families, friends, or anyone who enjoys being on the water.

For my money it’s the best view in the city. The water is so clean, and the breezes, and going by Summerfest … it’s just a really unique spot.

Timothy Ritter

A few tips to keep in mind when renting from Lakeshore Paddle Sport Rentals: 

  •  If you’re a 2022 Park Pal or Prairie Patron, you’ll have a separate email* from us today that you can use to get discounted paddle boat and hydrobike rentals.  Don’t lose that email – it’s good all summer!  That same email also will give you information on claiming a discount at Milwaukee Kayak Company this summer.
  • Bring water or soft drinks to enjoy while you paddle. Each rental is for an hour, so you’ll appreciate having refreshments.
  • It’s a good idea to bring a hat and sunglasses. The paddle boats have canopies for shade, but on a sunny day there’s plenty of glare off the water.
  • A life vest is included with your rental.
  • Bring your (small) pet!

 About that last piece of advice: Ritter said he has seen all kinds of pets join their humans on the water. “We’ve had dogs, cats, snakes, turtles,” Ritter said. “It’s such a fun thing to do.”

But to Ritter, the people are what make his job rewarding. “We have nothing but nice people and families as customers, it’s a joy.” Many are out-of-towners who ask his advice about things to do. “And they just gush, people just gush about Milwaukee and the downtown. It gets me right in the heart.”

*If you are a 2022 Prairie Pal or Prairie Patron and did not get the discount email, send a message to admin@friendslsp.org with your full name and approximate date of contribution and we’ll get the discount email out to you right away.

6 Things to Know About Bird-Watching

Bird-watching is one of the most popular activities at Lakeshore State Park, and it can be done in lots of different ways.

Whether you’ve got binoculars or an iPhone, you’re on your lunch break or making a special trip, it’s a rewarding and relaxing experience.

Blogger and birder Nathaniel Wegner shared some of his tips about birding at LSP, where a combination of lakeshore and prairie habitats create great bird-watching opportunities year-round. And check out Sunday Birders, Nathaniel’s blog about birding and exploring nature throughout Wisconsin.

1. Spring migration is a great time to view visiting species.

March through June is the peak of spring migration season, when you can spot species that are just passing through. This is when you can see unique shorebird species like the American Avocet (one of Nathaniel’s favorites) and Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits in addition to the more common Willets.

“Certain days each May can be amazing, especially with winds from the southwest, which push the birds towards the lake.”

Nathaniel Wegner

Birders have observed over 100 species in a single day during this time of year. Nathaniel’s tip: Always check the beach for the shorebirds and any terns that are migrating through.

2. Fall migration is, too!

Humans may pack up their beach towels when fall comes, but shorebirds come back again.. “This is also the time when rarities such as Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows have shown up,” said Nathaniel.

jim edlhuber black-belled plover
A Black-belled Plover, one of many birds you can spot at Lakeshore State Park. Credit: Photo by Jim Edlhuber

In addition to the beach, don’t overlook the large grassy area in the middle of the park, said Nathaniel. “It’s a good spot to check in fall, as a few of the shorebird species have been seen there, and sometimes a Cackling Goose will show up, too.”

3. Check out the rain garden area in summer.

“Summer is the quietest season in terms of birding in Milwaukee, but the rain garden area could have species like Sora or a Green Heron lurking in the reeds.”

4. The lakeshore rocks see action in cold months.

Starting in late October through January, the rocks along the lake are a great place to look for late migrants, said Nathaniel. These include Snow Bunting, Horned Lark and American Pipit, which sometimes will even winter in the area. You might even find a Short-eared Owl.

5. Visit the lagoon in winter

In the winter months, the lagoon is the place to spot many species of diving ducks, especially Long-tailed Ducks and scoter species.

6. Give eBird a try!

Nathaniel recommends that anyone interested in birds try eBird, a website and app from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. “You can keep track of all the species you’ve seen, get rare bird alerts, see what species are usually seen at a specific park, and help science along the way.”

jim edlhuber green heron
A Green Heron, one of many birds you can spot at Lakeshore State Park. Credit: Photo by Jim Edlhuber


Spring migration, when many bird species visit town en route to their final destination, is a special time for birders. And Lakeshore State Park, with its mix of lakefront and prairie habitats, is a special place to take advantage of this opportunity.

Since June is the last month of spring migration season, we asked blogger and birder Nathaniel Wegner for some tips about taking advantage of it. Nathaniel, a home-schooled high school student who lives in Greendale, has been birding since 2017. He travels the state to explore parks and other natural environments and appreciates the unique experience each place offers.

“The number of species moving through our area is extremely fun to witness,” said Nathaniel. “The majority of Milwaukee’s shorebirds, warblers, and thrushes (and many sparrows and flycatchers) are migratory, so spring and fall are our only shot at seeing most of these species.”

At LSP, Nathaniel’s personal favorite during spring migration is the American Avocet. “Through the years, Lakeshore has been the best area in Milwaukee county to see this species,” he said. “It’s such a distinctive looking species in a class of birds that’s notorious for looking very similar, with its cinnamon colored head, black and white wings, and blue-grey legs.” You can usually find American Avocets on the beach along with other migrating shorebirds.

Nathaniel has been to many other parks with beaches, large grassy areas, rocks by the lake or rain gardens, but he considers LSP unique. “I think it’s the combination of all of these habitats (and in a relatively small area, in the middle of downtown) that gives it such bird diversity.”

You can learn more about birding at Nathaniel’s blog, Sunday Birders. And watch the Friends’ website for more tips from him about bird-watching at LSP.


Nathaniel Wegner Credit: Photo by Steve Wegner
Nathaniel Wegner Credit: Photo by Steve Wegner

Looking for a group activity? Think about scheduling a Lakeshore State Park tour!

It’s a place to walk, run, picnic, fish, fly kites and more. But did you know Lakeshore State Park is also a classroom?

Each year, the park hosts dozens of group tours, walks and workshops on topics ranging from prairie ecology and native wildlife to Great Lakes history and the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. Many are scheduled by teachers who bring science lessons to life as their students learn about animal tracking, fish identification and migratory bird patterns.

But anyone who’s curious can find a group activity just right for them. Think out-of-town wedding guests, book clubs, family reunions, church groups, drawing clubs — Lakeshore State Park offers enough variety to engage everyone.

“We welcome groups of all kinds. For those with limited mobility, for instance, we can keep walking to a minimum and stick to the paved trails. For kids, we can set up fishing clinics, fun hands-on activities and laboratory exercises. Other folks simply love to stroll the park and learn about prairie plant life.”

Park Superintendent Angela Vickio

Whenever possible, park staff will do their best to customize the experience.  Educators will be interested to know that programs can be tailored to fit curriculum needs, and many follow Next Generation Science Standards.

Angela advises planning in advance to ensure you can schedule a time that’s available. Most visits take about two hours.

The cost for a field trip is $30 for groups of under 15 participants and $2 per person for groups larger than 15. Chaperones accompanying children’s groups are free. To schedule, simply call or email Angela at (414) 750-1237, Angela.Vickio@wisconsin.gov.

Learn more on our Education page or download our brochure.

Volunteer Gardeners are Vital to Prairie Restoration

Year after year, more native grasses and flowering plants take root at Lakeshore State Park and fewer invasive plants thrive.

That’s not by accident!

Prairie restoration requires constant diligence – and digging and planting. Without volunteers to do this work, the thistle and Queen Anne’s lace might still be winning.

The Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club’s “Prairie Pals” are an essential part of that effort. Beginning with the park’s annual spring planting, the club musters volunteers who regularly put on their gardening gloves and get to work.

“We’re so fortunate to have the club’s involvement,” said David Wenstrup, Friends of Lakeshore State Park President. “Consistent, dedicated effort is what it takes to do this work, and they’re fully committed to the mission.” After David helped the group out a few times, he decided to become a Garden Club member himself.

Anyone is welcome to join the Prairie Pals starting May 5 and continuing every other Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. as they fill bag after bag with invasive weeds. You can come whenever you like, and you don’t have to be a Garden Club member – see the Park Supervisor Update for how to register to volunteer.

Helen Dahms and Grant Kniedler, who coordinate the Lakeshore State Park volunteers for the Garden Club, say that gardeners understand how important native species are for migratory birds, insects and other wildlife. But the volunteers benefit, too. “It’s a wonderful way to get some fresh air and camaraderie and also do some public service,” says Helen.

Grant calls it “a nice chance to be social in a productive way,” and he’s proud to have a role in sustaining a beautiful place. “I think it’s important to create a pleasant environment for the citizens of Milwaukee.”

“It is just such a beautiful setting.  To go down there and have the lake, the Summerfest grounds, the city skyline and the art museum — you can’t beat it.”

Helen Dahms

Garden Club members have been volunteering at Lakeshore State Park since 2018, coming from throughout the metro Milwaukee area to help. Some have their own gardens at home, and others are apartment-dwellers who appreciate an opportunity to work in the soil.

Want To Sponsor a Bench?

The Deadline Is April 1!

Sometimes it’s the little things that count, like offering someone a place to sit and rest. What if you could offer this gift almost year-round and in a beautiful environment?

Sponsoring a bench or picnic table at Lakeshore State Park is a way to do just that.

The deadline for submitting a sponsorship application for tables and benches is April 1. Locations for benches and picnic tables are pre-determined, and plenty are available right now.

Each sponsored bench or table bears a plaque that can be used to memorialize a loved one, acknowledge a contribution or convey a message about the park. A sponsor can also choose a fish, heart, bicycle or tree icon to include on the plaque. (Messages must adhere to guidelines and be pre-approved.)

Sponsorships are $2,500 for a bench and $3,000 for a table and will support maintenance and repairs for 10 years. As Natural Resources Property Supervisor Angela Vickio points out, that means a long-term way to help more people experience outdoor recreation.

The more seating and rest options the park has, the more accessible it is “to people of all abilities,” Angela says. Picnic tables are specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs, too.

Bench and table sponsorships are also available for the Hank Aaron State Trail, which is connected to Lakeshore State Park.

If interested, contact Angela at (414) 750-1237 or Angela.Vickio@wisconsin.gov.