Exploring Washington Park and the Urban Ecology Center

Have you ever stood in the cereal aisle at the grocery store and felt overwhelmed by your options? Have you ever felt overwhelmed like this walking through a park? Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve felt this way more than once, and it happened most recently during my visit to Washington Park in Milwaukee.

On this day I was on a mission to get out of the house while the weather was still decent. I forget how the Urban Ecology Center made it on to my To Do List – perhaps it was another one of those Google-Maps-Zoom-and-Explore exercises. Regardless, I wanted to see what the Ecology Center was all about. There are actually three Urban Ecology Centers in Milwaukee, but I chose to visit the Washington Park center since it was closer to me than the centers in Riverside Park or Menomonee Valley.

The Washington Park Urban Ecology Center reminded me of the Boys and Girls Club I used to visit during summer break in middle school. They have a lot of great programs for school-age kids. Also like the Boys and Girls Club, the Urban Ecology Center is not like a library where I could dawdle for an hour. And yet it is like a library in some ways – they have a wide variety of athletic equipment for their members to check out. This may come in handy when I want to try snow-shoeing this winter. I took note of their resources for future reference but didn’t have much reason to stick around. This is how I came to wander aimlessly through Washington Park.



Washington Park seems to be designed like a spider web. When I realized there wasn’t some giant loop of a path, I started to get a little anxious about having too many options for which way to go. In situations like this, I get an OCD-like urge to walk down all the paths, as if each square of pavement is a checkbox that needs to be ticked. If that’s not possible due to the park’s size, then I feel compelled to identify the optimal route with the prettiest plants and fewest winged pests.

I can’t remember the last time I had this dilemma in So Cal but, when I lived there, I wasn’t nearly as proactive about exploring the parks nearby. When I wanted to walk outside, I almost always went to the beach. At the beach, your options are to walk up the shore or down the shore, so it’s not a difficult decision.

If you have a dog, Washington Park would be a great place to bring it. There are no fenced-in areas but, if you know your dog won’t bolt, there are plenty of grassy areas to play fetch and several benches to stop for a water break. Also, did I mention there’s an abundance of paths?


Which way do we go???


The great thing about bringing Gjalla on adventures with me is that her endurance level and low tolerance for weather over 60*F prevent us from spending more than 30 minutes outside. Without a game plan and without a bulldog to limit my time, I chose a route at random and couldn’t stop thinking about which way to go next.

If I had Gjalla with me at Washington Park, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed by trying to find the best route to walk. When it gets a bit cooler, I’d like to go back to Washington Park with Gjalla – I’m sure she’d love to roll down the hills and I’m sure this park would be a good place to admire the changing leaves.

Plus, now I’ve had time to plan my route!


Okay, now I have a plan…


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