Plastic Free MKE

It started in 2018 with a group of citizens concerned about plastic pollution. Today, Plastic Free MKE (PFM) is a nationally recognized coalition that is working to make Milwaukee and its neighborhoods plastic free. Suffice to say, that’s an enormous task!

From the beginning, Plastic Free MKE found great partners in the Urban Ecology Center, and with Milwaukee Riverkeepers; the latter is now a partner and driving force with funding and staff. Together they have been able to grow their influence and make an impact in reducing single plastic usage in Milwaukee. One big way has been through Plastic Free’s water jug initiative.

The problem with plastics is they don’t break down, instead they break up and end up living in our environment. Plastic throw-away water bottles are a huge contributor to the problem. Seeing how water bottles were being used during the protests and marches in the summer of 2020, Plastic Free MKE took action. Using five-gallon jugs and volunteers on bikes, they offered free water so people could refill their plastic bottles instead of tossing them away. Since then, PFM has provided free water refilling stations (upon request) to events throughout the city. When funding allows, they also give out free reusable water bottles. Their efforts have paid off: the coalition estimates they have prevented 6500 single use bottles in just four years.

 “It’s important to see how plastic affects our environment,” says Gabrielle de Gail, the Sustainability Coordinator with Plastic Free MKE.  “It affects our waters, and it affects our health. It all ties together—it’s affecting wildlife, it’s polluting our lake.”  22 million pounds of plastic enters the Great Lakes yearly, 50% of it in Lake Michigan. Our rivers are also affected: 85% of fish pulled from the Milwaukee River have plastics in their digestive tract.  We also see the problem firsthand at Lakeshore State Park where trash bins at park entrances are filled with single use bottles, straws and containers, and litter dots the landscape, ready to be picked up by the birds and wildlife that frequent the park.

Awareness, hopefully, brings action and to help with both, Plastic Free MKE developed its Lake Friendly Programto work with businesses and neighborhoods, such as the Historic Sherman Park on Milwaukee’s northwest side, to embrace plastic free. The program ties in beautifully with the City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office which aims to make Milwaukee a world class eco-city.

Progress is being made. The City of Milwaukee now has a law that prevents restaurants, bars and cafes from automatically giving plastic straws to customers. It’s only upon request. And there is a Styrofoam ban for vendors doing business on county property. Now, Plastic Free MKE would love to see Milwaukee contract with a reusable food-ware company to provide reusable cups and containers for entertainment venues, festivals and events. Or better yet, to develop its own system.

“If you try to focus on all plastics,” explains de Gail, “it’s impossible. So, our focusing on single-use plastics is really key. And that’s where you see the pollution.”

Check out Plastic Free MKE’s website for additional information, including public webinars and education toolkits, and to see how you can join in the cause.

That’s Plastic Free MKE volunteer Kristin Walters underneath all those plastic bags!

Spring Membership Drive

It’s launch time for this year’s Friends Membership Campaign!  We invite you to support our wonderful urban gem on the lake and enjoy all it has to offer.

2023 Highlights

  • Purchased 1,000+ native plant plugs and the mulch and equipment needed to install them 
  • Recruited volunteers to help with spring plantings, pathway gravel installation, and stewardship to help combat invasive plants 
  • Raised funds to pay for three new picnic tables
  • Awarded a Greater Milwaukee Foundation grant to fund a seasonal Park Educator and Intern
  • In partnership with Friends of Wisconsin State Parks, funded new plant signage and an educational program with Schlitz Audubon’s Eagle & Friends
  • Successfully hosted the second annual Brunch on the Beach 
  • Successfully hosted the first annual Wild Flowers On The Water Festival
  • Sponsored Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile for a second year 
  • Installed signage to educate visitors on the park solitary bee houses 

2024 Plans

  • Support a season park educator and an intern $27,000
  • Add gravel and seating to improve the kid’s prairie area $5,000 
  • Replace circulators to prevent ice at marina (3 plus a spare) $4,228 
  • Purchase a bird management laser for geese control $3,500 
  • Matching funds for a DNR Incentive Grant to promote education in the park $900
  • Support local music in the park at Brunch By the Beach $700
  • Support local music and dance at Wildflowers On The Water, sponsorship levels starting from $250

For more information about our plans for 2024, please email us at 

Please consider making a donation below today!

Park Pal Memberships
Individual: $25
Family: $50Prairie Patron Memberships
Rock Prairie: $100
Fox Prairie: $250
Kid’s Prairie: $500
Big Prairie: $1,000

Thank you! to the following members who recently joined or renewed:William Johnson 
Kate Freed 
Nancy Grainer 

June 2024 Newsletter

We Have More Prairie Plants!

Over a few days in May, DNR staff and dozens of volunteers planted more than 1,200 native plant plugs in the park prairies. Recent soaking rains have helped these plants root into the hard soil – come to the park to see beautiful blooms as the plants mature! Many thanks to Friends of Lakeshore State Park volunteers and donors for their generosity – the prairies would not be the same without you! 

Photos with DNR and Prairie Pal volunteers from the Garden Club of Greater Milwaukee. The Prairie Pals were recently awarded the Wisconsin Civic Achievement Award given by the Wisconsin Garden Club Federation – congratulations Prairie Pals!

Volunteers are very welcome to help in the prairies June 11th and 25th 10AM-12PM, and alternate Tuesdays through October

Upcoming Events

All events meet at park north entrance near Discovery World, unless otherwise indicated

Jun 1: Free Fishing Weekend Fishing Clinic, 1:00-3:00PM
Jun 4: Wildflowers on the Water happy hour kickoff, 4:00-6:00PM 
Wantable Cafe, 123 E Walker St.
Jun 7: Bike Week Commuter Station, 7:30-10:00AM in front of Discovery World
Jun 15: Prairie Hike, 10:00-11:00AM.
Jun 16: Father’s Day Fishing, 2:00-3:30PM Meet at the fishing pier
Jun 18: Summer Solstice Hike, 7:00-8:00PM
Jun 19: Bubble Hike, 5:00-6:00PM
Jun 19: Beach Bonfire, 6:00-8:30PM 
Meet at Pebble Beach
Jun 22: Invasive Species Awareness Day, 9:00AM-12:00PM Meet at the fishing pier
Jun 27: Pride Month Hike, 6:00-7:00PM

Event details are available here: FLSP Events Page
Contact: Elaine Zautke (Park Manager)   414-274-4281

Save the Dates

Jul 7: Brunch By the Beach with Food Trucks and Music 10:00AM-2:00PM
Jul 24 : Bonfire with Smores 6:00-8:30PM
Aug 21: Bonfire with Smores, Lakefront Beer and Food Truck 6:00-8:30PM 

Sep 7: Wildflowers on the Water – Music, Food and Art  3:00-7:00PM
Sep 18: Bonfire with Smores 5:30-730PM

Our park educators offer a wide variety of programs for both kids and adults, such as fishing clinics (no license required for children 15 and under) and events that focus on nature education and exploration, all designed to be hands-on and family-friendly.

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

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)

May 2024 Newsletter

Hello Friends!

Warmer temperatures are waking up the flora and the fauna at Lakeshore State Park!  Near the marina, resident groundhogs can be seen enjoying the spring sun. They are highly adaptable, able to live in various habitats. Lakeshore’s riprap and prairies offer a unique environment for a safe home, with plenty of vegetation for them to munch on. Though our groundhogs are curious and used to humans, those lucky enough to view them should watch from a respectful distance. 
The prairies are also coming alive! Look for signs of life while walking through the park and reading our new informational signs on blooming plants. Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) is one of our first bloomers with their clusters of low growing, reddish pink flowers. We have signage with info about them in the demonstration prairie beds north of the pedestrian bridge. 

The DNR will be installing sign stakes as more plants bloom by the month. Information can be found at  “what’s in bloom” in park kiosks as well. And the DNR staff are hard at work removing invasive and aggressive species from the park’s prairies, as well as preparing areas for new, native plantings.

Keep an eye out for volunteer weed-out and planting dates coming soon!

Upcoming Events

Contact: Elaine Zautke (Park Manager)/   414-274-4281

May 1: May Day Hike, 6:00-7:00 PM  Meet north entrance of the park, near Discovery World
May 3: History of Lakeshore State Park Hike, 2:00-3:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 5: Great Lakes Awareness Walk, 3:00-4:00 PM  Meet near Discovery World
May 8: Wildflower Walk, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 10: Bird Hike, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 11: Public Fishing Clinic, 1:00-3:00 PM Meet at fishing pier, along the western path 
May 12: Mother’s Day Hike, 3:00-4:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 15: Fossil Hike, 5:00-6:00 PM Meet near Discovery World 
May 15: Beach Bonfire 6:00-8:30 PM Meet aPebble Beach, along the park’s western path. 
May 17: Mushroom Hunt, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 19: World Bee Day Walk, 3:00-4:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 22: Edible Plants Walk, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 24: Spring Scavenger Hunt, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World
May 29: Snail Trails, 6:00-7:00 PM Meet near Discovery World 

Event details are available here: FLSP Events Page

Save the Dates

May 15th  6pm-8:30pm. Evening bonfire with smore’s
Jun 19th. 6pm-8:30pm. Evening bonfire with smore’s
Jul 7th     10am-2pm.  Brunch By the Beach with food trucks
Jul 23rd.  6pm-8:30pm. Evening bonfire with smore’s
Aug21st.  6pm-8:30pm. Evening bonfire with smore’s
Sep 7th.  time TBD. Wildflowers By the Water: Music, Food and Art
Sep 18th  5:30pm-7:30pm. Evening bonfire with smore’s

Our park educators offer a wide variety of programs for both kids and adults, such as fishing clinics (no license required for children 15 and under) and events that focus on nature education and exploration, all designed to be hands-on and family-friendly.

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.