Monday, April 2, 2018

Havenwoods State Forest, WI

This is Milwaukee's best-kept outdoors secret.

The Mil' is already home to a plethora of excellent county parks but it’s also where two state park properties sit- Havenwoods State Forest and Lakeshore State Park. Have you ever explored Havenwoods? It's the most important property in our state park system for more reasons than I can count. Located inside the city of Milwaukee, yes, you read that right; this surreal 237-acre slice of paradise sits in between a gridlock of urban neighborhoods and industrial lots.

But why is this often-overlooked state forest, so important?

Today it seems like more attention is paid to what's happening indoors or on the screen in front of us, rather than our own big backyard. Parents are buying their kids iPads rather than hiking book while adults are spending hours scrolling through photos on Instagram and Pinterest to fill their nature fix from the comfort of their couch.

For seasoned hikers, campers, backpackers, kayakers and beyond- getting out into nature is easy for us. But for those who aren't donning flannel, geeking out over a new trail, and chowing down on granola at the trailhead, the thought of "getting outside," might be intimidating. Is it hard? Is it expensive? How far away from my own home do I have to go to do this? That's where Havenwoods comes in.

Nearly everyone I've talked to in Milwaukee County responded with a confused look when I told them about Havenwoods. “What’s that,” and “Really? There’s a forest in the city.” I was baffled, shocked that people living all around this hidden gem, had no idea it even existed.

Being only an easy 15-minute drive northwest from downtown (there are even three MCTS bus stops that drop you off right at Havenwoods' front door), this petite state forest is the perfect, quiet escape from the everyday happenings of city life. Once you’re on the property, you completely forget your surrounded by busy, fast-paced metropolis.
Havenwoods hasn't always been this green, lush jungle- its history is quite bizarre. To begin, in the early 1800s, Native Americans hunted here until European settlers arrived and started to cultivate the land in the 1840s, draining the wetlands that later led to creation of the forest's Lincoln Creek. Fast-forward seventy years, and the property became a house of corrections until 1945 when the US Army turned it into a barracks for troops and even housed a Nike nuclear missile launch site. In 1980, the Wisconsin DNR restored the forgotten about, ill-loved land, and made transformed it into this stunning protected state forest we see today.

With more than six miles of enjoyable trails perfect for hiking, bird watching, picnicking, geocaching, running and biking- you'll experience vibrant wetlands and ponds, blooming prairies and bold dense mazes of forests, all in one outing at Havenwoods. And while you're probably reading this newsletter in a warmer month, Havenwoods gets even more beautiful in the fall and winter too, so grab those snowshoes and cross-country skis!

Havenwoods has an active, dedicated naturalist front, offering activities and events for families, kids and adults both in the community including, guided birding hikes, service days, and educational sessions about insects and animal camouflage. Local schools from around Milwaukee County bus their way to Havenwoods for quality fieldtrips that leave a lasting memory on kids who for some, might be getting outside and into nature for the very first time, at Havenwoods.

What also makes Havenwoods a win? It's lack of an admission fee. Accessing and recreating in Havenwoods costs nothing and a state park sticker isn't required. This is huge because in a time when state and national parks are underfunded and consequently raising admission fees which limits who can get outdoors, Havenwoods leaves the door open for anyone, regardless of their social or financial situation and background, to experience the joys and benefits nature has to offer.

So my challenge to you is to visit Havenwoods State Forest this year. Go appreciate this special place, but more importantly, realize and appreciate the good it does for the city of Milwaukee, then spread the word. We need to get more people outside and into our parks and forest, Havenwoods is where we can start.

Go explore Milwaukee's own state forest!