Lincoln Park and I are both coming to the end of an exciting chapter this fall. As my internship with
IISG comes to a close, Phase 2 sediment remediation work in in Lincoln Park in Milwaukee is also finishing up.
Four years and more than 170,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment later, Lincoln Park is looking to reap the benefits of the newly cleaned Milwaukee River. As contractors work to remove equipment, sediment samples are being taken to ensure no contamination has been missed.
To commemorate this truly historic milestone, IISG environmental social scientist Caitie Nigrelli
and I traveled to Milwaukee to spend some time on the river and celebrate the success with our clean-up partners. Hospitable as usual, Friends of Lincoln Park members took us around the city allowing us to catch a glimpse of the possibilities that environmental reinvestment holds for community revitalization.
Within the park, we took advantage of the warm fall weather for a canoe trip through the remediated portion of the river. As we paddled, perennial grasses and beaver-cut branches secluded us from Lincoln Park’s urban setting. We were not the only ones out experiencing the newly restored park; kill-deer, great blue herons, and other wildlife were also enjoying a clean habitat.
Although remediation work is complete, there is still much to be done within the park. Much like sediment remediation, successful ecosystem restoration is a long process. Started in 2012, the 11-acre Phase 1 restoration work is finally showing the fruits of its labor.
Many bees could be seen buzzing around native asters (see photo) and goldenrod on the shoreline at the west end of the park. Like Phase 1, restoration work in the East Oxbow of the river will bring a diversity of native plant species, stabilize the shoreline, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.
After watching the sun set over the river, Caitie and I completed our day at the Friends of Lincoln Park
restoration celebration. Over cake and ice cream, representatives from the Milwaukee County Parks and CH2M, an environmental consulting company, presented information on the remediation and restoration progress.
The neighborhood unity fostered through this river cleanup is impressive. As a new chapter begins for the river, park, and neighbors alike, seeds of passion and park investment are spreading, akin to the native seeds of restoration to come.
The Trenton Channel, part of the 32-mile Detroit River, could see a cleanup in 2016 through the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which combines federal funding with local support. Before that can happen though, voluntary partners must agree to help fund this final cleanup stage. The Detroit River is one of 29 remaining Areas of Concern in the U.S., a result of decades of poor environmental practices. The fast-moving Trenton Channel is one of the top sources of pollution in the river system due to its history of industrial and municipal practices.
Scientists and engineers are currently designing a cleanup plan to address approximately 240,000 cubic yards of sediment in the upper portion of the Trenton Channel. A majority of the community surrounding this remediation project is looking with optimism and enthusiasm to the clean-up efforts. Yet these feelings are by no means unanimous.
Caitie McCoy, IISG social scientist, and her two summer interns—Mark Krupa and Erika Lower—conducted a needs assessment with local stakeholders of Trenton Channel, including environmentalists, recreation enthusiasts, property owners, and city officials. They found that the channel is viewed as important to the region, but that the clean-up plan is viewed with some skepticism.
I assumed that everyone would be overjoyed that a sediment remediation project was happening in their community. Yet there were quite a few concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the project. About a third of the stakeholders we interviewed said that cleaning up pollution would provide no significant community benefits.
This needs assessment has given our outreach team a better sense of what is important to our stakeholders. We have a better sense of what information they want about this project.
Increasingly, social science provides the go-to method for Sea Grant programs to develop informed outreach efforts. In the 2014-2015 research cycle, 29 programs funded 59 social science research projects. Additionally, state Sea Grant programs are hiring social scientists.
More from Caitie:
Large-scale needs assessments are a wise investment for big outreach projects. Needs assessments give us detailed information about our audience concerning a topic of interest–in this case, it was sediment remediation. This information would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Even working with an outreach team composed of local leaders, we make a lot of assumptions about our stakeholders. Needs assessments help us cut through those assumptions so that we can understand what our stakeholders are really interested in or concerned about. This helps us design better messaging and better outreach events for our stakeholders.
To learn more about what the researchers learned from Trenton Channel stakeholders, you can download A Needs Assessment for Outreach in the Detroit River Area of Concern’s Trenton Channel.
Exciting changes are coming to Wisconsin’s Lincoln Park, part of the Milwaukee River Area of Concern. Phase two of Great Lakes Legacy Act efforts to remove historical contaminants from the river bottom is set to begin next month. And park neighbors and stakeholders from across Milwaukee County are already well on their way to launching a Friends of Lincoln Park group that will help foster greater community stewardship.
More than 20 neighbors came together for the first time earlier this month to get to know each other, discuss potential group goals, and brainstorm ways to achieve them. They were joined by numerous local and regional organizations interested in protecting Lincoln Park, including University of Wisconsin Extension, Milwaukee County Parks, the Park People, and the Illinois-Indiana and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs.
Nothing is official yet, but the meeting ended with two main goals on everyone’s mind: fostering a sense of community with the park at the center and protecting the local environment.
“For a long time, the park was very community centered, but it has become more of an outsider attraction in the last few decades,” said Caitie McCoy, IISG’s social scientists and co-host of the meeting. “The group had great ideas for re-energizing community interest with events that bring locals out to enjoy all the resources the park has to offer.”
The idea for a Friends group took shape during focus groups conducted this spring by Caitie and UW-Extension’s Gail Epping-Overholt. They spoke with a variety of people living or working near Lincoln Park to better understand community perceptions of the park and ongoing sediment remediation efforts. When the results of the needs assessment were in, it was clear that residents were interested in forming the Friends of Lincoln Park.
The results will also play a key role in shaping public outreach and project messaging as dredging kicks off again this fall for phase two of the remediation. More than 120,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment have already been removed from the Lincoln Park segments of the Milwaukee River, and this next round of dredging is expected to remove another 35,000 cubic yards. Together with cleanup efforts in nearby Blatz Pavilion lagoon, the two Lincoln Park projects are expected to reduce the amount toxic PCBs flowing into the Milwaukee River system by 70 percent, a drop that will go a long way towards delisting the AOC.
To learn more about recommendations to come out of the needs assessment, download the full report from our products page. And if you live in the area and are interested in joining the Friends of Lincoln Park, come out to the next meeting on October 9. Contact Caitie McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Special thanks to IISG interns Erika Lower and Mark Krupa for their help analyzing and the results of the needs assessment and to Jane Harrison at Wisconsin Sea Grant for taking notes during the focus groups and helping to coordinate the Friends meetings.
***Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Extension.