Pollinators in the Park

Summer brings warmer days with flowers, butterflies and bumble bees, and evenings made magical by fireflies. Lakeshore State Park provides these simple natural joys right on the shores of Lake Michigan. A new flower blooms or new insect buzzes here every day. Seemingly random, these occurrences are naturally orchestrated. 

The habitat created at the park mimics a short grass prairie with native flowers and grasses with few trees. Native flowers bloom at various times of the season, attracting insects with nectar for sustenance, and the insects in turn pollinate the plants. These symbiotic relationships between the native plants and insects ensure successful reproduction for all involved.

One of the first to flower at the park is Prairie Smoke. Their pink flowers start out facing downwards at a height perfect for awakening bumble bee queens. After pollination, the flowers turn upright and unfurl their feathery blossoms in a smokey display. Next to bloom are Golden Alexanders, attracting tiny native bees which gather nectar and spread pollen plant to plant.. 

Ann Duffy leading a guided hike in the park. Photo by Eddee Daniel

Most bees are solitary, not living in hive colonies like non-native honey bees do. There are over 400 species of bees native to Wisconsin, many which can be found in the park including sweat, mason and leaf cutter bees. Ants, butterflies, and small birds and mammals can be pollinators too, and at night, moths and fireflies pollinate as well!

A concern of late is the decline of insects. Without them, we would have virtually no plants. And without plants, we would lose almost 50% of our food sources. Habitat loss and degradation and the overuse of pesticides are main factors causing dwindling insect populations. The average yard with a monoculture of non-native grass, decorated sparsely with non-native flowers and shrubs, provides little habitat for pollinators. 

What can be done to help? Planting native flowers and grasses in our yards would provide a variety of beautiful, native habitat where native pollinators can thrive. In turn, the pollinators would help the native plants, thus freeing one to spend less time and effort maintaining a yard and more time enjoying the great outdoors!”

Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cleanup a Success

At first glance, our park may look quite clean.

Upon closer inspection though, one might find many plastic bottles and smaller trash such as microplastics in some areas. This trash negatively impact park wildlife and water quality. Thanks to our partnership with Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the support of our volunteers, our park is kept cleaner for all.

Our most recent cleanup was completed on a brisk and sunny April 20th, when 23 volunteers and the DNR got together and collected 17 bags of trash! Afterwards, several of us celebrated the day with other partner organizations and volunteers at Rock The Green. Thank you Riverkeeper, the DNR and volunteers! 

Want to know how you can help with a cleanup? please contact elaine.zautke@wisconsin.gov

Fund for Lake Michigan Grant Awarded

Water quality impacts people, plants, and animals. Many species of birds frequent the park, including high numbers of Canada Geese. The geese feed on grass in the park, leaving excrement which negatively impacts water quality and the experience of over 450,000 annual visitors. 

Thanks to a generous grant from Fund For Lake Michigan, FLSP will contract Migratory Bird Management to spray Flight Control® Plus, a non-toxic spray which deters goose populations from taking up residence in the park.  Visitor experience will be enhanced through fewer goose droppings, enabling park patrons to walk freely and enjoy clean, green spaces. Thank you Fund For Lake Michigan!

Bird City Milwaukee

It’s not only winter-worn Milwaukee residents who flock to the lakefront and parks as May rolls around. Birds do too. And lots of them! 

One reason is that Milwaukee is situated in the Mississippi Flyway. And, as Bird City Milwaukee notes, we have over six miles of lakefront and more than 250 hotspots scattered around the area. That’s a big draw for birds throughout the year. And it’s why having safe and bird-friendly environments is so important.

Bird City Milwaukee (BCW), a member of Bird City Wisconsin since 2012, is dedicated to doing just that. It provides education and support to help communities establish and maintain good bird habitats. During its initial years in Milwaukee, BCW was spearheaded by the Urban Ecology Center (EUC), but gradually the management is being turned over to Visit Milwaukee.  As Tim Vargo of the Urban Ecology Center explains, the hope is that under the helm of Visit Milwaukee, Bird City will become “a networking/communication/marketing hub and a go-to place for anybody who wants to know what is happening in Milwaukee any month.” 

To get involved with Bird City Milwaukee, check out its website, social media and Facebook pages. And UEC’s Vargo suggests people can also support the Bird City cause by simply going on a bird walk. If you’re a newcomer to birding, not to worry.  “So many groups love it when new birders come because it’s sharing their passion,” Vargo says. “My suggestion is to get out with someone who can be a mentor and just do it over and over again. The first couple of times it might feel overwhelming but the more you do it, the easier it will be.”

A networking/communication/marketing hub and a go-to place for anybody who wants to know what is happening in Milwaukee any month.

Tim Vargo

May is a great month to get started. Not only is it prime migration season—May 11th is World Migration Day—it’s when the annual Brew City Bird Fest is held! The Urban Ecology Center will be avian central for the fest, May 10-17, offering a variety of cheep fun and informative events, including morning bird walks; a Bird in Arts program; and a Keynote Lecture—Birdie Big Year: Elevating Women Birders by Tiffany Kiersten. A full listing of activities can be found on the Urban Ecology Center website

The Friends of Lakeshore State Park will also be celebrating World Migration Day with a Bird Hike for all ages on Friday, May 10th at 9:30 a.m. Come join us as we search the skies and shore for some of our favorite species. Check our events page for details.

Birds love our city. By supporting Bird City Milwaukee, you can give them a little love them back.

Bird City Milwaukee

Brew City Bird Festival

Purple Martins Get a New Home

On April 5th, the installation of a new purple martin bird house was completed. The house is in the same location on the north end of the park just south of the bridge as the previous house. The house was generously donated by Katie and Doug Fisher. The installation took part in stages and was completed by DNR personnel and volunteers.

Some interesting facts about the installation:

  • The recommended height for a purple martin houses is 10 – 20 feet
  • The house weighs about 72 lbs.
  • An existing steel tube in the ground with a 2” inside diameter was re-used
  • A Schedule 40 steel plumbing pipe was used that fit into the existing tube.
  • Volunteer engineers designed the system to withstand 100 mph gusts
  • Purple martins exhibit site fidelity and they are back! (as seen in photo at top of page)

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: https://refloh2o.com/water-stories

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 https://sturgeonprotectors.org
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: https://friendslsp.org/park-brochures/ 
(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