Sturgeon Protectors Signal Hope for our Rivers

For the first time in many years, sturgeon are returning to our rivers.

This has been the result of efforts by many groups, which Michael Timm reflects on in his recent article published in Urban Milwaukee: “Why do we care about the Sturgeon?”

When Sturgeon return home, we should be thinking about what kind of home that place will be. Like us, as Native people, sturgeon had been removed from their original homelands…so now our relatives are able to return, but return to what?

Mark Denning

We have summarized a few key points in the article below. The full article can be found here:

One of the groups that has been instrumental in the return of the sturgeon are the Milwaukee Sturgeon Protectors which use both native knowledge and environmental science to help heal the river. Mark Denning, a member of the Sturgeon Clan in the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin wrote “When Sturgeon return home, we should be thinking about what kind of home that place will be. Like us, as Native people, sturgeon had been removed from their original homelands…so now our relatives are able to return, but return to what?”
The ability of our rivers to support spawning sturgeon has been on the minds not only of
Sturgeon Protector members, but also children in nature science classes. Children are involved not only in measuring water quality through their classes, but they are also some of the most enthusiastic sturgeon releasers during Sturgeon Fest. To learn more about the Sturgeon Protectors, please contact them at
Education and awareness are key parts of the ethos of the Sturgeon Protectors, who were
inspired by literal protectors preventing poaching during spawning season. The Sturgeon
Protectors have many members from different environmental organizations around Milwaukee
including Riverkeeper, Friends of Lakeshore State Park , UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, and Wisconsin Green Fire, among others. The repair of our riparian environment is not only beneficial for Sturgeon, but for other native fish – and humans too. These long-lived fish will hopefully return to cleaner rivers that will continue on the path of restoration as the next generation becomes involved in their protection”

Several members of the Sturgeon Protectors group meet at the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences on Feb. 1, 2024. From left to right: Anne Steinberg, Eric Hansen, Mark Denning, Shirley Aspinall, Don Behm, David Wenstrup, Clare Eigenbrode, and Cheryl Nenn. Photo by Michael Timm.
Several members of the Sturgeon Protectors group meet at the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences on Feb. 1, 2024. From left to right: Anne Steinberg, Eric Hansen, Mark Denning, Shirley Aspinall, Don Behm, David Wenstrup, Clare Eigenbrode, and Cheryl Nenn. Photo by Michael Timm.

Woman’s Club of Wisconsin Foundation Grant

More park improvements are coming our way! Thanks to the help of park manager Elaine Zautke, the Friends were recently awarded a grant of $3,000 for vegetative mat installation for the south end of the park.

These mats help reduce runoff and standing water during storms and wave surges, and provide habitat for many pollinator specites included monarch butterflies.

We are very grateful for the generosity of the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin Foundation
for their continued support of the park through funding the vegetative mat projects! 

Lakeside plant Installation
Stock photo showing vegetative mats installed in 2021 thanks to a previous grant from the Woman’s Club of Milwaukee Foundation

Interview with Tom Kroeger

Interview with Tom Kroeger, Original Park Manager

Tom Kroeger, Lakeshore State Park’s first park manager, has a wealth of insight and information about the park origin, growth and future. He credits strong stakeholder partnerships for the park’s development and success. With his background as a hydrologist and wetlands biologist specializing in Brownfield remediation, along with his passion for restoring urban wetlands, he was an ideal person to help take part in transforming Harbor Island into beautiful Lakeshore State Park.

To understand the park’s potential, Tom felt one needed to be surrounded by beauty, so he prioritized planting beautiful prairies at the north and south entrances of the park. And as he worked with community partners and created a calendar of educational programs, more people soon discovered the park 

Tom teaching in the Park (stock photo, circa 2018)
Tom teaching in the Park (stock photo, circa 2018)

Tom particularly enjoyed creating programs for children through partnerships with the school districts. He often found that here students had their first experience with green space, wildlife and Lake Michigan. One of his favorite memories involved partnering with UW-Milwaukee art students as they created working “insect hotels.” The project received national attention, highlighting the students’ beautiful art and educating the public on the worldwide decline in insect populations.

Tom is happy to see that the partnerships and educational programs he helped develop continue to flourish and grow. He would love to see the originally planned Visitor and Education Center built and feels a sheltered gathering place with washroom facilities would enhance educational programming and add to the overall enjoyment of the park.  

Tom is excited to see new plantings, birds, and wildlife every time he visits the park. 
Busy working on his own garden and other commitments, he says he’s overdue for a visit and will have to ride his bike down to say ‘hi.”

May Flowers in the Park 

Spring at Lakeshore State Park provides plenty of life to be seen!

From early spring ephemerals to flowers which attract busy pollinators, here are three of many species to look for this May at the park:

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

Prairie Smoke

(Geum triflorum) or Old Man’s Whiskers, is a part of the rose family. Found in prairies all across Wisconsin, the flower is known for its “smoky” seeds that reflect the way an old man’s beard would look. These early-blooming flowers can be seen from April to May and are essential to bees rejuvenating after the winter. Bees use a method known as “buzz pollination” to shake the pollen into their abdomen.

Ohio Spiderwort

(Tradescantia ohiensis) is an interesting species because its blooms will perk up in the morning but wilt after noon. These flowers are also important to bees in the spring and will help a hive gather important nutrients before the summer begins. When spiderwort is exposed to poor air conditions, its color will turn from blue to purple.

Ohio Spiderwort
(Tradescantia ohiensis)
Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Purple Prairie Clover

(Dalea purpurea)  is perfect for attracting a wide variety of pollinators including butterflies and bees. These flowers have the ability to fix nitrogen into the soil by absorbing it from the air. Purple Prairie Clovers are also host plants to the Dog Face Butterfly, among other species of blue butterfly caterpillars. These flowers begin blooming in May and last until late summer.

A listing of plants at the park is available here: 
(hard copies available at park kiosks) 

This time of year the Lakeshore State Park starts to come alive with activity. It’s also when we kick off the Friends’ Annual Membership Drive.

As many of you know, Lakeshore State Park has become a destination for over 480,000 annual visitors. And, as Wisconsin’s only urban state park with stunning views of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee skyline and over two miles of trails, a boat marina, and an ADA accessible fishing pier — Lakeshore State Park offers something for everyone!

Lakeshore State Park is more than just a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the wonderful prairies though; it’s also a vital part of our community. Hosting a variety of educational programs and events, it provides a safe and welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to come together.

The Friends of Lakeshore State Park have supported the park’s programs and maintenance in many ways including:

Free educational programs for children and adults
Maintaining trails, prairies, and infrastructure such as the fishing pier
Hosting community events such as Brunch By the Beach, Monthly Paddles

Your support is essential to the continued success of Lakeshore State Park. Please consider making a membership donation below today!

Park Pal Membership Level

Individual: $25
Family: $50

Prairie Patron Membership Levels

Rock Prairie: $100
Fox Prairie: $250
Kid’s Prairie: $500
Big Prairie: $1,000

Greetings From Friends

It was a brisk, sunny Groundhog Day at Lakeshore State Park, but that didn’t keep some adventurous hikers away. DNR Park Educator Leah Anderson led the way along with nature photographer Eddee Daniel. To see more and read more about that beautiful day at the park, please go to Eddee’s blog: A Wealth of Nature.

Lately though, the weather has been warming which means Lakeshore State Park animals are beginning to stir! The elusive Lakeshore fox was spotted on a warmer February day so be sure to look for signs of life at the rocky area in the northern half of the park. While spotting a fox is a combination of luck and persistence, early morning sightings are most typical.

The waterfowl which have stayed in the park all winter are becoming more active as well. Male Common Golden Eye will soon be bobbing in the water and calling for a mate. The Red Breasted Merganser also participates in a flashy mating ritual. Males will race each other around the lagoon to impress a female with their speed, hoping to draw a potential mate’s attention. Stop for a short while at the lagoon and see what a spectacle these birds make!

                                                   (Fossil hunting on Groundhog Day – photo by Eddee Daniel)

Nature Puts on a Show Even When It’s Cold

At this time of year, you might think there’s not much to see at Lakeshore State Park. You won’t find the abundance of greenery and the flurry of bird activity that are typical during warmer months. But look more closely, and you might be surprised. We talked to Park Manager Elaine Zautke, who clued us in about the wildlife you can observe during the next three chilly months.


Waterfowl and ice

The Great Lakes rarely freeze, so the abundance of open water creates a food supply for birds that feed on aquatic life. Winter waterfowl like to hang around where there’s less ice coverage, such as the marina area and along the shoreline. They might also be looking for seeds that still remain on the plant life. Some species you night spot include Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Mergansers, among others. It’s entertaining to watch waterfowl dive into the water and emerge in another spot. The lagoon is the place to spot many species of diving ducks, especially Long-tailed Ducks and scoter species.

Unless it’s frozen over, the lagoon is also a great place to watch for fish – bluegills, pumpkinseed sunfish, brown trout, bass, northern pike and more. And depending on the conditions, this is a great time to spot interesting ice shapes. Freezing conditions can create fascinating frozen formations on the lake and the shoreline, and when they break off they can be fun to watch. Elaine says early mornings are especially good times to check.


Migration activity and more

Even though spring technically arrives this month, we all know that it can still feel like winter. Waterfowl and fish will still be around, of course, and as the temperatures gradually creep up other natural inhabitants will become active. Watch for animals as they start to come out of hibernation. Foxes often hunt or nest in dens along the shore, and a coyote or two has been spotted in the area. March through June is also the peak of spring migration season, when you can spot bird species that are passing through. Watch for unique shorebird species like the American Avocet and Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits in addition to the more common Willets.


The prairie starts to wake up

Bird lovers can continue enjoying the spring migration season during this time, animals will become more active (watch for woodchucks nibbling grass along the shoreline), and the fish will still be fun to watch. This is also when you can start spotting one of Elaine’s favorite plants: Prairie Smoke, one of the earliest bloomers on the prairie. It develops pink, feather-like seed heads that give the delicate impression of smoke. It has a short blooming period, so don’t wait too long to catch it.

Tips for nature observers

The quiet early-morning hours can be a great time to see animal activity, Elaine suggests. Binoculars are always a good idea, as well as a book or app that helps you identify plants, birds, and other wildlife. So don’t rush your cold-weather visits to Lakeshore State Park. By slowing down and watching, there’s a lot of wildlife to see. “Nature is doing something interesting every month of the year,” says Elaine.

(photo by Jim Edluhber)