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The Beerline portion of the river.
The Beerline portion of the river.

Canoe and Kayak enthusiasts take full advantage of the river.
Canoe and Kayak enthusiasts take full advantage of the river.

RiverCrest homes peaking through the trees.
RiverCrest homes peaking through the trees.

A NEW VIEW OF THE RIVER

7/31/2006 - There's a new way to experience the Milwaukee River.


The East Bank Trail winds along the east side of the river, not more than a stone's throw from one of the most densely populated areas of Wisconsin.

The 1 1/2 -mile hiking trail will debut with a ribbon-cutting ceremony today at Riverside Park, 1400 E. Park Place, at 9:30 a.m.

For years, the site was a mess of mud and matted plants in the spring and, in drier periods, a place for intrepid walkers and mountain bikers, and for the homeless. Anglers have also used the path to get to fishing spots.

But with the aid of $225,000 in public and private money, the trail has been buffed. The base has been graded and lined with crushed limestone and bordered by re-introduced native plants and grasses.

There is a footbridge, decorative retaining walls and little places to watch a river that has slowly improved.

There are also goldfinches, great blue herons and Butler's garter snakes, a protected species in Wisconsin.

Paradoxically, there are also vistas of downtown, the hum of manufacturing at Wisconsin Paperboard Co. and the buzz of traffic on the E. North Ave. bridge. An estimated 55,000 people live along both sides of the river along the trail, according to the River Revitalization Foundation.

Users can access the trail from Riverside Park on the east and on both sides of the river at the Milwaukee River footbridge at Caesar's Park.

Hikers are greeted on both ends of the trail by American Indian-inspired figurative turtles of concrete, tile and steel designed by Riverwest artists Marina Lee and Chris Leslie.

Near Oak Leaf Trail
The trail lies just below the Oak Leaf Trail, the long-established north-south biking and walking path.

As for why there are two parallel trails, consultant Belle Bergner, who has worked on the project for the foundation, said, "You can't access a river ecosystem from up there."

The foundation, which started in 1994, is involved in a larger project to protect the wetlands and upland along the river and to find ways to better connect the public with the river, said Kimberly Gleffe, executive director of the foundation.

The foundation, with the aid of local officials and private groups, wants to build a trail system that will be called the Beerline Loop. The loop would include the new East Bank Trail and the proposed Beerline Trail on the west side of the river.

When competed, the loop will extend from N. Commerce St. on the south to E. Locust St. on the north.

It's long been a sleepy pocket of the city, but as development has grown along the river and water quality has improved, more people want to get closer in it, Gleffe said.

"That's what this project is all about," Gleffe said.

The trail is already being used by students and visitors to the Urban Ecology Center, which sits along the Oak Leaf Trail at 1500 E. Park Place.
By LEE BERGQUIST

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