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People of the Road: Menomonee Valley honors its locomotive past with first pair of public artworks

The Menomonee Valley Community Park hosted the Inaugural Hank Aaron State Trail Spring Ride to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the trail and its expansion, with the opening of the west end route, along with a special public art dedication on May 4.

A couple hundred participants gathered at the corner of Canal Street and Milwaukee Road to hear about the Trail, and the new artistic landmark unveiled at the location. “People of the Road” is a five-sculpture public artwork, designed by local artist Richard Taylor, that honors the thousands of local factory workers who built the locomotives and rail cars manufactured in Milwaukee.

Two of the five planned sculptures were installed, as part of a display that will serve as a powerful reminder of the role the Milwaukee Road and their employees played in the history of Milwaukee and the nation.

Former Mayor John Norquist and Mayor Tom Barrett, leaders who began and continued the rejuvenation of the Menomonee Valley, both offered personal reflections about the area’s importance, decline, and path of redevelopment.

When the rail shops closed in 1985, the site rapidly deteriorated until 2010 when the last vestiges of the Milwaukee Road – the chimneys – were demolished due to structural issues and concern for public safety. There is no longer a visual reminder of the hardworking men and women of the Milwaukee Road.

Supporters have already contributed more than half of the funds to complete the monument. The Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail are seeking additional support to install the remaining sculptures this year during the Trail’s 20th Anniversary.

“For years, the Milwaukee Road shops were the site of incredible production making and maintaining all elements of the railroad,” said Melissa Cook, Hank Aaron State Trail Manager with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Specialized and dedicated workers from the surrounding neighborhoods made this their life’s work.”

After the sculpture unveiling, the Melissa Cook Spring Ride began its 12 mile roundtrip along the Hank Aaron State Trail, that now connects with both the Oak Leaf and New Berlin Trails.

The Inaugural Hank Aaron State Trail Spring Ride was also part of the 2019 Jane’s Walk MKE, a program of Milwaukee Turners at Turner Hall. Jane’s Walks are free, resident-led neighborhood walking, biking, paddling, and transit tours throughout the month of May that designed to get people together to explore, talk about, and celebrate Milwaukee’s many neighborhoods.

The tours were inspired by urbanist, activist, and writer Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) who championed the voices of everyday people in neighborhood planning and city-building. Milwaukee is unique for its program, by expanding Jane’s Walk from one weekend to the whole month.

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