On Thursday, March 12, Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center announce and celebrate the completion of the campaign to fund the Menomonee Valley – From the Ground Up effort, a series of interconnected projects to improve access to jobs, environmental education, outdoor recreation, and neighborhood vitality.
The $25 million effort includes the development of Three Bridges Park from a former vacant rail yard; the opening of the Urban Ecology Center’s Menomonee Valley branch, which provides environmental science education to neighborhood schools and community programming of the park; and a six-mile extension of the Hank Aaron State Trail. The implementation of these projects is the result of a partnership between Menomonee Valley Partners, Urban Ecology Center, the State of Wisconsin, and City of Milwaukee aimed at improving access to jobs, science education, environmental and public health, and neighborhood vitality.
More than 350 individuals, organizations, companies, and foundations contributed to the fundraising effort, with gifts ranging from $10 to $2.3 million. “The level of community engagement in the project has been incredible,” said Corey Zetts, Executive Director of Menomonee Valley Partners. “Transforming this area of the city into a place that connects people to jobs, to nature, and to each other required deep collaboration. This vision has become a reality because of the partnership, determination, and generosity of so many in our community.”
“Ten years ago, this was a neglected area, a divided community, a forgotten river,” said Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center. “What there is today, given that history, is nothing short of miraculous. It shows how people in this community have worked together to accomplish amazing feats that will serve the community for generations to come.”
Thursday’s celebration includes the unveiling of a permanent donor wall inside the Urban Ecology Center, recognizing the 200 donors who contributed $1,000 or more to the campaign. A sculpture that recognizes donors will be installed in Three Bridges Park this summer.
The celebration includes stories from neighbors about the impact of the project on their communities. Marcel, a neighborhood teen, was invited to help make a mural in the Urban Ecology Center building in the weeks before it opened in September 2012. “I am going to work here someday!” he said moments after stepping inside the community center. Today, Marcel does, as one of the Center’s Outdoor Leaders working with other neighborhood youth.
Merrill Park neighbor Dan Adams and his wife took a photo of their newborn daughter, Ruby, next to a newly planted tree in Three Bridges Park when it opened to the public in July 2013. The family has been returning to the same spot to recreate the photo, watching Ruby and the park grow. “Seeing this new life,” said Adams, “embodies our dreams for a brighter future.”
With funding secured for the full project, plantings will continue in Three Bridges Park for years to come and the Urban Ecology Center will expand its programming to serve even more community members.