Virginia M. Kline Award for Community-Based Ecological Restoration


Milwaukee County Parks/UW-Extention Natural Areas Program

Many Wisconsinites might think Milwaukee County, an urban area with more than 900,000 residents, an odd location for award-wining ecological restoration projects, but this program shows a degree of diversity beyond the human community.

Milwaukee County’s 10,000 acres of urban natural areas contain nearly 700 documented plant species and are part of a major bird migration corridor created by Lake Michigan.

The program’s goal is to blend Milwaukee County’s diverse and unique natural areas with its culturally rich communities to preserve and nurture its natural heritage. Their management philosophy is to engage and educate residents and bring them into the restoration process.

The key to the program’s success is its strong community focus. With no defined internal budget and one full-time and two seasonal staff positions, the program relies on developing partnerships and involving the full community.

They have trained nearly 7,000 volunteers who have donated almost 40,000 hours toward restoration projects over the past three years. Annually, the program works with an average of 48 different partner organizations, including local high schools, colleges and universities, faith groups, AmeriCorps, government agencies, scout groups, corporations, and conservation groups.

“The value of volunteers and partner organization donations (labor, materials and financing) over the last three years exceeds 1 million dollars. This has been essential for the program’s growth and success,” says Natural Areas Coordinator Brian Russart.

“The connection staff have made to the community allowed us to undertake restoration activities on 2,672 acres of natural areas and install 23 miles of hiking trails.”

In addition, the program has created successful internships that train students to become the next generation of natural resource managers and educators. Over the past 4 years, the staff have mentored more than 30 interns from five different universities and colleges.

To produce flexible, well-rounded natural resource managers, their training goes beyond traditional ecological knowledge to include volunteer coordination, supervisory skills, marketing and community outreach.

Managing natural areas within a large urban population has unique challenges, requiring knowledge of both the science of restoration and the sociology of diverse human communities.

This program has successfully incorporated the community by creating opportunities for learning, support and participation among urban dwellers who may not have experience with nature.

The program’s work on building a connection between humans and the nature where they live is an important step towards helping them to develop a land ethic.

August-Marie Wagner-Richardson, Milwaukee manager for the Student Conservation Association, said this in support of the nomination:
“While separately, our organizations have been able to affect a sizeable demographic of environmental concern, when our efforts have been combined, the effects have been magnified enough to bring about sustainable change in our green spaces and our communities.”

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.