The next time you visit Three Bridges Park, walk to it using the path from the Urban Ecology Center on Pierce Street. You will see an elegantly arched steel structure that has been newly placed along the Hank Aaron State Trail not far from the Valley Passage. On the inside surfaces of the twin arches you will see the laser-cut names of donors who made the park possible.
The primary purpose of the arches is to represent the named donors—and there are many. But they also symbolize the bridges for which the park is named, along with the metaphor of that name for a park that owes so much to so many and means so much to such a diverse constituency.
There was a small dedication ceremony on Saturday. Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center, reminisced about the history of the three nature centers that led to this moment. (Briefly, and less eloquently, the Urban Ecology Center that began in a doublewide trailer in Riverside Park has grown to its current three locations, including the one next to this unique park, which was created from scratch out of an abandoned rail yard along the Menomonee River.)
At the closing of the ceremony, Leinbach asked the audience to join him in a moment of silence while touching the steel—which sounds straightforward enough until you hear someone joke about grilling hamburgers on it afterward! (The day was unseasonably torrid, and the steel practically sizzling.) But the moment was thoughtful and everyone joined in.
Simultaneously, elsewhere in the park it was community planting day. A couple dozen volunteers, along with Urban Ecology Center staff members, braved the heat to plant 900 small potted seedlings along the south edge of the park where lush vegetation meets a still-running railroad.
Young Andrew and his mother, Becca, look up from planting a plug of native sedge in the shade of a maple tree that had been planted when the park was new. (Three Bridges Park opened in 2013.)
A camera crew was on hand to film the annual event for a documentary about a variety of efforts to improve and protect the Great Lakes. They interviewed Jeff Veglahn, UEC Land Steward, who was directing the day’s planting.
Purple spiderwort blossoms danced in the brisk breezes. A myriad of late spring wildflowers cover the rolling hills of the park, testimony to the success of previous planting days.
I walked back along the trail. When I reached the new monument I found a family grouped underneath. Two girls played peekaboo with the steel as the adults studied the names on the inside. Cyclists sped by. For most it was just another day in Three Bridges Park.
[Full disclosure: I serve on the board of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail.]