Family lured Jerrianne and her husband to South Milwaukee in 2002 from Southern California where she worked as, first, a journalist, then, as a court information officer. She now stays busy with media-relations consulting, playing with her three grandchildren (part of the lure), writing, discovering her new environs, and hoping her garden will produce before the first fall frost.
Thursday was a ridiculously cold night to go out, but 27 folks did just that. We showed up at the Grant Park Wil-O-Way community building – 18 degrees above zero, down to 13 an hour later (maybe not all that cold for old timers, but brrrrr weather for this new kid and my husband – for a State-of-the-Park forum with a panel of nine municipal and county officials and community servants.
The good news so far as I was concerned is a park-ranger program scheduled to begin in May, which will assist law enforcement agencies with minor infractions, such as leash-law violations.
Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue spoke about a proposal that’s been bandied about to raise revenue for the County that involves selling off public land to private developers. So for a one-time infusion of cash the County would ensure that the public would forever lose one or more baguettes of what has been termed the County’s crown jewel – its park system. And what would happen to that former public land? Most likely it would be paved over, become the site of high-rise condos or strip malls with yet more unleased store fronts, and enjoyed by or used to the benefit of an elite few.
County Supervisor Pat Jursik said funding the County's "jewel" is not discretionary. Referring to the Great Lakes region – the five Great Lakes and surrounding land masses, which she said comprises the world’s fifth largest economy – as the Fresh Coast (as in East Coast, West Coast, Fresh Coast with its fresh-water coast line), Jursik said the value of the parks goes far beyond just serving as static green space. They provide natural habitats, recreational areas and contribute substantially to local and regional economies. They must, she said, be protected.
Parks Director Sue Black discussed the great foresight of the generation responsible for developing the county park system, which would be used and enjoyed for generations to come – including ours. Black talked about the vision that led to the creation of this “jewel” by people in the depths of the Great Depression, when so many people were a whole lot worse off than most of us are today, and the stick that’s being poked in the eye of that vision. In the past 30 years, since the mid-1970s, the workforce responsible for park maintenance, protection and repair has been reduced from 1,100 employees to just 260 today.
The loss of those 840-employee positions has meant more than just a 76.4 percent reduction in man- and womanpower, Jim Goulee, executive director of The Park People of Milwaukee County, said. It represents “a humongous chunk of knowledge.”
It has also meant an overgrowth of both indiginous and invasive flora predators, such as dandelions and garlic mustard, which are crowding out the natural, beneficial and visually pleasing plant life. It means not repairing equipment and facilities; leaving broken items to molder and rot. That brings to my mind the down slide and deterioration of what once were pleasant city neighborhoods where now weeds sprout through sidewalk cracks and take over what were once neatly landscaped medians and roadsides, where broken windows in vacant buildings gape zombie-like, where grafitti blight walls, bridges and other surfaces.As the panel talked Thursday night, then took questions from the 27 – well, by that time, one of two less than 27 – my mind spun forward to our generation, a generation that still benefits from the vision of the creators of the County's park system – particularly Grant Park – where we walk our dogs, ride our bikes, cross-country ski, sled down hills, enjoy picnics, watch our children cavort on playground equipment, fly our kites, thrill at July 4th fireworks with hundreds of our neighbors, meander along the lake shore, enjoy the beach and music-in-the-park programs, stroll on the pier, and engage in myriad other activities – and benefit from the aesthetic, which translates to monetary, value these parks add to our homes.
Will ours be the generation that actively or negligently contributes to the continuing deterioration, selling off and ultimate demise of our parks, the glittering jewels of Milwaukee County?