Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Weeds, people

Feeling like I needed to get outside, I volunteered this past weekend at the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) in Milwaukee. This place was really cool. Like most of the things I have "discovered" lately, it was one of those places I knew about in high school but didn't really care about or think about until now because now I'm a grown up or something like that. I found the volunteer event on a website called Newaukee that posts frequent artist and volunteer opportunities from around the city.

Not only did I feel like I wanted to be outside, but I wanted to connect with and meet some new people in Milwaukee since it's about to become home (again) pretty soon. I certainly picked the right event. Fourteen people showed up at 9:00 on a Saturday morning to help out and get their hands dirty. I immediately struck up a conversation with a woman who had just moved to Milwaukee from Philadelphia and was volunteering so that she could also meet some new people.

Before starting, we got a tour of the center. I purposely picked this place because it is in Riverside Park which boasts a variety of public art pieces. You can read a list of all of its features here. For my part, here's what I observed:

The center is accessible from a bike trail, and serves as a stopping point for many bicyclists hoping to take a break and get some water.

Once you get inside, everything feels kind of rustic. It sort of felt like I was back at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

If I hadn't taken the tour, I would have never known that the floor is actually a recycled gym floor.

Recycling was a major theme at the center. These are classroom chairs made from recycled paper rolls. 

Some other indoor art projects were this slide, painted to look as if you are careening down into Lake Michigan. This is actually one of the entrances into the center.

Also scattered around the building were these clocks, made from recycled materials and donated to the center by a volunteer.

On the top of the building, there is a rooftop garden built to control the temperature inside, and also, of course, for growing things. 

Farther down away from the center is an outdoor project made by artist Richard Taylor which contains the names of those who contributed $1,000 or more to an area called the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.

As you walk into the arboretum you are greeted by this archway which leads to the winding paths that take you down to the river. 

In a lot of ways, the UEC reminded me of JMKAC. It relies on recycled materials and donations. Everywhere you look there is a new project. People come there because it makes them happy, and so that they can see and do something new. The success of both places is largely due to the dedication of volunteers. 

Volunteers who water plants, hammer down tarps, and pull weeds. But mostly just pull weeds. As the morning wore on, I started talking to people less and less. It turns out the woman from Philly was really into biking, and she weened herself off of me to talk to someone who was also really into biking. I eavesdropped on several people's conversations, but didn't really engage much. I became very invested in pulling out every last bit of garlic mustard. I didn't really look up. I just kept my eyes on the green stuff. 

When the day was over I walked around, took some pictures, and went back to my car by myself.

Later on I saw this mob of people parading down North Avenue in support of the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin.


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