Photos taken by Shannon Winkowski and Amanda Ballbach.
is a scenic county park with numerous hiking trails, cross country skiing on the golf course, and a dedicated mountain bike trail. The park also includes the Wehr Nature Center and Boerner Botanical Gardens.
Hiking the Trails
My father lived in the apatments near this park, and ever since I was capable to walk, he would always take me to blaze the trails. This place held advanture, beauty, imagination, and astounding history. For eighteen years, I’ve always came back to this place for the epic feel-
“a diverse scenic system consisting of wooded areas, prairie, and wetlands.”
ing that can’t be accumulated else where. I love exploring the multiple of trails Whitnall Park has to offer, and I would encourage anyone to take a break from their day of stress to take a deep breath of the frest air, and relax to the sound of nature.
There are primarily two groups of dedicated hiking trails in the park. The main trails are located around the Wehr Nature Center located off of College Ave. This is a diverse scenic system consisting of wooded areas, prairie, and wetlands. These are narrow natural surfaced hiking trails with fairly gentle grades (there are some gradual trail stairs in some sections). There are some boardwalks running through the wetlands adjacent to the southwest portion of the large pond. There is also a bridge in this area that crosses the small creek and
The excitement of seeing such wonders; like an enormous mushroom growing out of a tree trunk!
provides access to the trail on the east side of the pond.
The other group of hiking trails is located east of 92nd Street and runs through the scenic wooded area along the ridge above the floodplain of the Root River. This set of trails is primarily made up of a single loop with numerous access trails and then a couple of side trails heading into the wetlands area. You can access these trails from behind
Ross Lodge (the small parking area across from the golf course parking lot) or from the bottom of the sledding hill or from the archery range. At the far southeast end of the main loop are a couple of short trails that lead to the Crystal Ridge Ski Area. I believe you can also hike the mountain bike trails, but that may be a less-than-peaceful experience since you can expect to be passed frequently by mountain bikers on these narrow trails. Since the other hiking trails do not allow bikes, you may want to stick with them or hike the mountain bike trails during the off season when they may be closed due to muddy conditions.
Explore prairie, woodlands, wetlands, an oak savanna, and Mallard Lake, the natural communities contained within Wehrâ€™s 200 acres of Whitnall Park. Over five miles of trails loop through and link these communities and give you the opportunity to see the homes and habits of Wisconsin wildlife. Trail loops range from .5â€“1.7 miles.
Woodland Trail Loop
The woodland trail winds along a glacial moraine covered by an upland deciduous forest. The forest consists of three layers: a ground layer mostly of wildflowers, a middle layer of shrubs, and the dominant canopy layer of trees. The most abundant species of tree in this woodland is the sugar maple, but there are also many old oaks and hickories. Look for
wildflowers such as Trillium and Jack-in-the-pulpit along the trail in spring. Colorful leaves and berries make the woodland trail especially beautiful in fall. 0.5 mi (approximately 30 min. walk)
Oak Savanna Loop
The Savanna or Oak Opening was one of the most widespread Wisconsin communities in presettlement times. In a savanna, the trees are so scattered that grasses and herbaceous plants thrive as ground cover. Gnarled, corky-barked Bur Oaks are commonly scattered throughout the savanna. The thick corky bark provides protection from wild
fires. Wehr Nature Center uses fire as a means of keeping the savanna open, burning the area every few years. Without these prescribed burns, the savanna would become an oak forest in 25 years. Look for wildflowers such as Black-eyed Susan and Gray-headed Coneflower in the summer. Also look and listen for Ring-necked pheasants, Indigo Buntings and Goldfinches.0.5 mi (approximately 30 min. walk)
restoration of farmland initiated in 1965. Prescribed burns are used in order to keep invading trees and shrubs from shading out the prairie plants. The prairie is a patchwork of color during the summer months as wildflowers such as Blazing Star,
Compass Plant, and Goldenrods bloom. Look for butterflies nectaring at the Purple Cone Flower in July. Prairie grasses such as Big Bluestem and Indian Grass grow up to six feet tall; if you watch them sway with the wind you’ll understand why the pioneers called the prairies “A Sea of Grass”.
0.8 mi (approximately 40 min. walk) “Prairie,” from the French word meaning meadow The prairie community is adapted to a climate of temperature extremes, constant wind, and occasional drought. This community is dominated by grasses and flowering herbs that can withstand these harsh conditions. Wehr’s prairie is the result of
“You’ll understand why the pioneers called the prairies ‘A Sea of Grass’.”
The wetland trail will lead you through a variety of wet habitats including a lowland forest, a shrub carr, and a sedge meadow. The amount of soil moisture determines the types of plants that can grow in a particular habitat. Trees such as Black Walnut and Black Willow survive in areas that are moist but never flooded, while wetland shrubs such as Red-twig and Gray Dogwood grow in areas with wetter, but not saturated, soil. Sedges and wildflowers such as Joe-Pye-
Weed and Swamp Milkweed dominate soils that are saturated most of the year. Wetlands are extremely valuable habitats, acting as sponges that slow and filter run-off from upland areas, as well as being a home for resident and migrating wildlife. 0.6 mi (approximately 30 min. walk)
Glacial Trail Loop
The Glacial Trail Loop begins at Wehr Nature Center and continues into Whitnall Park. Along the trail you will see evidence of the Wisconsin Glacier that covered this area 10 to 20 thousand years ago. Look for glacial features such as large rocks, known as erratics, and ridges called moraines. 1 mi (approximately 40 min. walk) Donâ€™t let a dead end discurage you away. Walk to the edge of industrial structure, and experience no boundries.
Natural History Trail
The natural history trail circles much of the Nature Center, connecting parts of the woodland, prairie, and wetland trails. This trail is designed to display the different communities with their varied plants and animals, geologic features and beautiful vistas. 1.7 mi (approximately 1 hr. 30 min. walk)
“see evidence of the Wisconsin Glacier that covered this area 10 to 20 thousand years ago.”
constructed during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps by building a dam at the outlet of a marsh. 1.5 mi (approximately 1 hr. 15 min. walk) Most people stay with these trails, but also keep in mind that even though you traveled them once doesn’t mean you’ve seen everything. As the season change, so does nature. Take a walk in winter, and see the lake in a sheet of ice and the snow covering the grassy hills.
Mallard Lake Loop
There is no specific lake trail loop, but you can travel around Mallard Lake by following a series of marked trails as seen on the map. Mallard Lake is a 20 acre man-made lake. It was
There are many trails you can get from the parking structures or the play ground area. These trails tend to be forgotten, but they still intertwine with the common paths, so if you do get lost, they will always loop you back to somewhere familiar.
You won’t get lost, I Promise
The Prairie loop splits off to another path that takes you around to the other side of the Mallard Lake Dam. Also, even the ski trails can be traveled on foot in the summer time –or anytime where there’s no snow. And these will take you back to the parking lot or to the Wehr Nature Center. Even during the fall months, you can still catch some warm rays in the sun. The picture was taken at the Wehr Center stage area, where they hold special events
Explore with caution
As well as the multiple side paths off of these trails, some are old abandon paths that need to be reconstructed, yet it’s always an adventure; you never know what you may find. My favorite trail goes down a dark narrow
“It’s always an adventure; you never know what you may find.”
path, and became lost because of a flood. However, the sound of the babbling water keeps me going in the right direction, and soon, I’m back on the path that travels along side of the creek.
The Botanical Gardens
Another one goes to the Botanical Gardens. Unless you know where to look, it’s nearly impossible to find. It’s a short walk to the gardens, and you come out by the hill where most weddings are held.
About the Garden
The Boerner Botanical Gardens, an internationally renowned horticultural showplace in the Milwaukee County Parks, offers gardeners, plant lovers and
“The gardens includes the largest flowering crabapple orchard in the United States.”
students the opportunity to take in the colors and scents of a variety of collections. There’s lush landscaped gardens inside Forty acres of roses, perennials, wildflowers, and more thrive here; the 1,000-acre arboretum
surrounding the gardens includes the largest flowering crabapple orchard in the United States. Tour the gardens 8 a.m.–sunset daily mid-April–October; a garden house is open till 7 p.m. in summer; the rest of the year, hours are significantly reduced. Entry is free, though parking costs $4.
These gardens consist of the Annual Garden, Arboretum, Bog Walk, Daylily Walk, Herb Garden, Peony Garden, Perennial Borders, Rock Garden, Rose Garden, Shrub Mall, and the
either white gravel, or large slabs of stone. I love the way they built up the ponds and fountians that hold large colorful gold fish. They even incorporated some of the walk way with the waterfall, where there are ‘step’ to cross the streams.
Weddings Trial Gardens. Come and see each one for they’re beauty and uniqueness. They could also be inspiring ideas for gardens at you’re own home as you learn how to grow and take care of them.
What I find most appealing to the Botanical Gardens is the stone architecture that surounds the place. All the walk ways are
This park also hold numorious weddings that will surrounded you with the beauty of the formal gardens selected from the wedding sites of the Boerner Botanical Gardens. However, keep in mind that none of the sites are completely private because the Gardens are open to the public. All sites become less colorful after mid-October due to frost and winter preparation of the Gardens. Prior to June, few flowers are blooming in the sites.
Terrain / Scenery: Scenic wooded areas along with open grassy or prairie areas. Area includes a creek, river, and small lake. Fees / Permits: None for main portion of park, but thereâ€™s a small fee for the Boerner Botanical Gardens Trail Conditions: The best time is during Spring (on dry days) and Fall. Summer is normally infested with mosqui toes, and in Winter, the trails can be icey. Trail Markings: The mountain bike trail has directional signs at key intersection. Hiking trails and ski trails are unmarked (other than signs at some of the trailheads) Getting There: Whitnall Park is located in Franklin Wisconsin, southwest of Milwaukee. Access to ski trails is from the Golf Course Parking area on 92nd Street, north of Rawson Ave. Access to hiking trails from various locations within park