Rivers tell story of Metro Area’s past, present, future

May, 2020

Although Milwaukee and its harbor began as a Great Lakes port in 1835, many settlers, fur traders, and immigrants were drawn to the Milwaukee area because of the access that Milwaukee’s three rivers provided into the interior wilderness by canoe.

Even though the wilderness is gone, paddlers can still find connections to the natural and human past along every stretch and around every corner of the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail, comprised of the Milwaukee River, Lower Menomonee River and Kinnickinnic River.

  With a little imagination, the past is never far away.

 Boating by Jones Island, now the location of a sewage treat­ment plant and the Port of Milwaukee, paddlers are reminded of a marsh island settled by Kaszube and German immigrants who made their living by fishing Lake Michigan.

 Floating through the Third Ward and Downtown Milwaukee recalls a past where shipping and commercial vessels lined the shores, teeming with wheat, lumber, coal and other supplies. Once warehouses, these buildings are now upscale condos.

 Paddling upstream of the former North Avenue Dam, envision a lake that was once a popular recreational area lined with swimming schools, passenger ferries, boat liveries, rowing clubs, and even a theme park.

 While passing the old Schlitz Brewery Dam, a history buff might tell stories about a time when ice was harvested for a booming beer industry, and ice wars were in the news.

 Meander­ing through Thiensville, Cedarburg, Grafton, Saukville, Waubeka, and Newburg and seeing mills on the bank re­calls a time when rivers were used to convert wheat to flour, mussel shells to buttons, trees to lumber and wool to textiles.

Today, paddlers pass by these cultural and tourist attractions.


When on the Milwaukee River:

• A vibrant down­town Milwaukee

• The Milwaukee River Walk

• The Bronze Fonz, celebrating TV’s “Happy Days“

• Milwaukee Repertory Theater

• Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

• Urban Ecology Center

• The picturesque downtown of Mequon

and Thiensville

• The historic City of Cedarburg

and Village of Grafton

• Riveredge Nature Center


When on the Lower

Menomonee River:

• Harley-Davidson Muse­um

• Potawatomi Bingo Casino

• Miller Park, home of the Brewers


When on the Kinnickinnic River:

• Scenic Boat Marinas

• UW-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences

• The Harbor District, a new commercial development.




Continue >>