Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Used To Be My Playground

In a few days, I begin the Wisconsin series of writes and I like to prep people for what my focus will be during that course of posts.  On this trip, we had a lot of great fun but we also discovered that Wetland talk would be of major importance throughout our journey.  I'll be showing you cranes and talking about 2 different wetland areas in the Two Rivers/Manitowoc area which make for great birding/wildlife observations.  But I am going to go smaller and talk about something that I remember clearly from my childhood.....running and playing around Riverside park in my old neighborhood.   Today the park still remains, but you may be surprised by the transformations it has gone through over the years.  Inspired by Ragged Robin's Nature Notes work from her historical walks following in the footsteps of author Edith Holden from the last century , I take you on a tour of the wetlands and park area.  But my story is less epic:)  And today I try my hand at vintage photography....
As a child, I remember running through the wetlands behind the park.  I caught Monarch butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, and even a Killdeer!  I was fascinated by nature and had to see everything up close.  The wetlands behind Riverside park were prairie like away from the river.  It was full of critters, milkweed, and fun!  For many years, I played in our treehouse away from everyone else at a friend's house.  And all of this was just a half block away from our old home!!! And then one year, it began to happen.....
Factories and shops wanted to start developing the area for their own use.  The prairie grasses and milkweed would be replaced by a baseball field.  The 70's and 80's were full of the Monarch butterfly because of the milkweed that grew in our area. And then it was wiped away and with it....the Monarch population.  They took our park and destroyed it!  The frogs were harder to find, the birds didn't frequent the area like they used to.....and there weren't anymore caterpillars to find hanging around milkweed!! 
Gravel and hard ground destroyed the natural plants within the area.   And within a year or two, the area had been altered.  And no more Monarchs.
The pic above is especially important.  These buildings lie dormant now....perhaps used for storage.  But back in the earlier days, these buildings were busy busy busy.  The front spaces, that are now empty, were full of milkweed and butterflies.  But "development" created the destruction of habitat around the area.  Where is that development today?  Gone and like these pictures's haunting.  Someone somewhere must have also remembered what our playground used to be like....because today the city is trying to restore the area to what it used to be like.......while the empty buildings are still there, the open land is still open.  You see all that factory planning fell through!!  It only took the destruction of the prairie land and a forest to create a failing "Industrial Park" which now sits as an eyesore.    Sorry if I have a little bitter aftertaste in my mouth.....but if you could have seen the creek we played in......and all the animals that lived in that was a tragedy.  My parents didn't think so.  They thought it was progress.  Thankfully one wetland area stood their ground and won and today they stand as an island of what used to be.  This, of course, is the Woodland Dunes off of Hwy 310.  I'll take you back there again in several weeks.
I did see people in the park(now known as a Skate Park for skateboarders, etc), but there was something else going on.......restoration!!!  The city is restoring the wetlands area around the park again and this time there were birds to be seen.  Now it's not like it used to be, but it's an attempt to restore habitat lost. 
Former prairie area then baseball field....and now a water holding area.
Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to many wildlife species on this planet.  And while I believe that bird populations will return as will frogs(if we continue to monitor habitat, water pollution, etc).....I do worry about the Monarch butterfly.  The populations are still in my hometown....just not in the numbers they once were.   And this is just an observation, but milkweed is the key here.  It grows wild all over but if it's removed, it rarely grows back again as seen in this park and surrounding area. 
 While at the park I searched high and low for the milkweed plant that used to number in the thousands around this riparian sector.  I remember blowing the seeds from the pods as a kid.  Areas that once had this plant everywhere now have some to no milkweed growing in them.  Certain extinction is possible if we cannot preserve habitat from development.   The good news is that there are people who recognize this and are doing something about it.  I can report that I have found high areas of milkweed around the state.  I just wish my hometown would do a little more to protect this very important plant.  Maybe they are.....I just don't see it.  If "A" is the original form of pristine land and "B" is the altered human area converted back to "A" again, then they've only done  half the work because it looked nothing like this as a kid.  Maybe this is phase 1 and if so, it a good start.  But they need to restore the grasses and "weeds" that used to grow in this area for the wildlife.
It would be great to see the Monarchs come back and visit this place again as they once did several decades ago.  More tomorrow....
Pic taken last year at Point Beach State Forest Park along Lake Michigan


  1. To bardzo źle, że człowiek zniszczył piękne tereny, zapamiętane przez Ciebie z czasów młodości, ale dobrze, że próbuje je oddać środowisku naturalnemu. Pozdrawiam.
    That is too bad that the man has destroyed the beautiful land, saved by you of your youth, but well, that tries to give the environment. Yours.

  2. The loss of habitat is sad. Especially to be replaced with eyesores. YUCK! It is great that an attempt is being made to restore the habitat and wetlands. It is a shame that we have to wait until something is long gone to realize the value of what we lost. I love the last butterfly shot. Great post and photos. Have a great day.

  3. It is all so sad but I am grateful someone is paying attention and trying to restore some of it. Maybe more people will follow suit. Let's hope so!

  4. I love the vintage photos. And you have told a sad story of American progress that is very relevant to what is going on today. Sometimes I wonder how we ended up at the top of the food chain. ~tracy

  5. we have quite a few milkweed plants that grow in our pastures here but i rarely, if ever, see monarchs.

  6. I get so mad at 'development' at what they choose to destroy for the almighty dollar. Hopefully, they can now bring this back.

  7. It is a sad testament to the fact that all this "progress" rarely flourishes and the cost is too high.

  8. Thanks for sharing this with us, this is obviously a very important memory to you. Too bad about the loss of valuable habitat but maybe there is hope still for the restoration of that area.

  9. Thank you so much for the mention Chris :) A very poignant and moving post from you and the vintage photos are very atmospheric. So sad about the loss of valuable habitat during your childhood especially so when the development venture failed. Glad to hear though that there has been some habitat restoration and I really do hope they continue with the good work they have started. It would be good too if they planted some milkweed as they have elsewhere in the state to encourage that beautiful monarch butterfly back.

  10. It is always hard to think about the past regarding the nature as it was and as it became wherever we come from... and more: our own kids (in their twenties) are starting to say the same about their own time...
    but it is nice to see that a few of these flowers, poppies and blue corn flowers for example, are coming back in the fields as I can see here...
    Nice vintage pictures!

  11. Hi Chris, It's always hard to see 'progress' replace nature... Here--in our wooded area of the mountain, every time a new house is built, that land, which belonged to critters/birds, etc. is taken away from them... I understand the need for progress --but I hope there can be a BALANCE between that and nature...

    Have a great day.

  12. sad about the pointless destruction of habitat, but it is encouraging to see the beginnings of restoration.

  13. Great post.
    I'm glad that an attempt is being made to restore the habitat and wetlands.
    I've only seen 2-3 butterflies around here this year, hope it's only the cold weather and not that they are decreasing.
    I've bought a new Butterfly bush, hoping to see a lot of butterflies on my bush. Love butterflies.
    Wish you a wonderful weekend, Chris.

  14. I'm glad to see there's a turn back to what you remember.

  15. Sad about the loss of the habitat ... let's hope for restoration!

  16. I too can remember when Monarchs were plentyfull and those days are gone. Shame!


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