A Wearing Problem

By Heather Patti and Tom Mortensen

Granville Park in Milwaukee, Wis., is somewhat of a secret for the dogs and their owners who are drawn to the park because of its rustic setting, as well as its access to the Menomonee River.


Owned and operated by the Milwaukee County Parks Department, the dog park was the first in the county where dogs could exercise and run off-leash. Today, it’s the largest park of its kind in the region.

Although incredibly popular among regular users, there are many residents who are not aware the park exists because of its remote proximity to—and access from—a frontage road along a highway interchange. The 26-acre park is located upstream of Lake Michigan along the Upper Menomonee River.

Use of the park is limited during certain times of the year, however, because the current river-access area is in a large floodplain. In addition, many years of heavy and unrestricted trail use have caused severe soil compaction and erosion along the riverbank. This has compromised the stability of the river’s streambank, which has resulted in large amounts of sediment pouring into the river.

Much of the area along the riparian terrace has been completely depleted of topsoil, uncovering the clay subsoil, which gets extremely muddy following rain events. The roots of the trees are exposed, and any understory vegetation is almost non-existent.

While dogs are busy roaming and enjoying the park, the county, the River Revitalization Foundation (RRF), and a local “friends” group—Residents for Off-Leash Milwaukee Parks (ROMP)—are working together behind the scenes to:

• Improve water quality on the river
• Develop solutions to the park’s severe erosion issues
• Educate park users on the value of riparian buffers
• Improve the dogs’ experience.

Plan To Evade Erosion
The RRF, Milwaukee’s urban land trust, is a local conservation non-profit organization centered on preserving and enhancing the local river parkways for public access, recreation, and education.

RRF received funding in early 2012 from the Fund for Lake Michigan (a funding resource for projects impacting Lake Michigan’s water quality) to conduct initial planning, feasibility, and outreach for 900 feet of streambank stabilization and riparian habitat restoration at the Granville site.

It is the goal of RRF, the county parks department, and ROMP to improve the streambank and water-quality issues, while still providing a quality destination for dogs and their owners to enjoy the rugged nature of the park.

Overuse has damaged trails in the dog park.

Through this grant funding, the key players are working with R.A. Smith National to create a site-restoration plan, which will allow portions of the site to “rest” while focusing users’ attention on other newly improved areas.

“The planning phase of this project has helped build a foundation for sustainable implementation,” says Theresa Morgan, conservation specialist with RRF.

“Over the course of the last year, we have been able to gather critical feedback and buy-in from stakeholders regarding restoration at this park. Incorporating this feedback into the site plans and ultimately into construction will increase the sustainability and support of future restoration work.

"RRF will continue to work … to move forward with Phase 2 of the site-plan implementation. We are in the process of submitting proposals to several grant programs, including the Fund for Lake Michigan and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program that focus on funding projects that will improve water quality in the Lake Michigan basin.”

Additions For Overall Enjoyment
Each area of the park was analyzed and discussed during several design-team and public-stakeholder meetings. The plan depicts a simplified, connected trail network that leads users to a controlled access point along the river, essentially a “dog beach.”

The dogs will only be able to access the river in this location while other areas are fenced off and allowed to re-vegetate. Dog-friendly, rubberized erosion-control matting is proposed in this area to provide soil stabilization.

Large, outcropping boulders will be added for people to sit on while their dogs are enjoying the river. Native-shrub and tree plantings will be integrated throughout the protected area where feasible to help restore the native riparian habitat.

At the park entrance, a catchment area/gated vestibule will be created to make it easier for users to safely walk their dogs from the parking lot to the dog park. The catchment area will lead users to an open common space that will contain a kiosk with trail maps, volunteer information, and park rules. The open space will also serve as an exercise area for smaller dogs.

The park’s trail system currently consists of loop trails with portions that are quite steep, and have a straight alignment uphill and downhill. As a result, the trails have become eroded from surface-water runoff and foot traffic.

Erosion is a major problem in the park.

The project team has studied the site’s topography and is proposing a redesigned trail network to run parallel with the site contours, with proposed swales and culverts to prevent future erosion.

Kevin Frank, president of ROMP, is pleased with the site-restoration plan and design elements.

“We are excited that we were able to come up with a design that accommodates improvements for the users as well as the environment,” says Frank. “Being able to bring an older park up-to-date with current best practices and general park improvements was important to ROMP.”

The next project steps are to secure funding for design development, engineering, and implementation of the park improvements. The improvements will likely be phased in, starting at the river and working upslope to the rest of the park.

The project team looks forward to completing a site-restoration plan that addresses water quality and streambank erosion issues, and improves this unique experience for the dogs and dog owners who visit Granville Park.

Heather Patti is a professional wetland scientist at R.A. Smith National. Reach her at heather.patti@rasmithnational.com.

Tom Mortensen is a registered landscape architect at R.A. Smith. Reach him at tom.mortensen@rasmithnational.com.