The second annual HKE MKE raised money to support the Urban Ecology Center’s mission of environmental education and land stewardship.

The Urban Ecology Center held the second annual HKE MKE (“Hike Milwaukee”) on September 18 at its Riverside location. The event attracted downtown and suburban Milwaukeeans alike, to enjoy the 15-acre arboretum along the Milwaukee River.

The 2.5 mile hike raised over $35,000 for the Urban Ecology Center’s mission of land stewardship and education, especially of the city’s youth.

“We really want kids who live in our surrounding neighborhoods to have a connection to the park,” said Jeff McAvoy, the Urban Ecology Center’s director of marketing and communications. “There’s all this research that says that kids who have consistent contact with nature and connection to a mentor who demonstrates a care of the environment are going to grow up to have a better understanding of the environment and the world.”

The benefit hike brought in over 400 hikers who enjoyed various activities spread throughout the route. One station was lawn games, which was located at the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition, a Milwaukee River Revitalization project partnered with the Urban Ecology Center.

Members can rent the lawn games for free, along with a diverse array of other outdoors equipment including kayaks, camping gear and mountain bikes.

The hike also featured a bird education activity station where experts taught hikers how to identify various birds that live around the Riverside arboretum.

A quarter mile from the bird identification station, a community mural was in progress. Hikers participated in what was referred to as “an adult paint by number,” coloring sections of the stenciled design created by a local artist. The mural will hang outside on the Riverside center’s second level.

The words on the mural read “so much life,” which was the center’s new tagline. It referred to how much life exists throughout the Urban Ecology Center’s three locations, across 70 acres of urban land.

Whether visitors found this life on their own, in summer camps or in community events like HKE MKE, the Urban Ecology Center is happy to have people connect with nature in an urban setting.

“There’s also a positive healing effect of being in nature that’s really easy to access, because there’s so much of it in the city,” said McAvoy. “We want to make sure they know that and take advantage of the resources available to them.”

Many residents in Milwaukee are not aware of the land and resources the Urban Ecology Center provides. Carol Brady, second time HKE MKE participant who lives in downtown Milwaukee, was not aware of the Riverside Center and its arboretum until participating in the hike last year.

“I could’t believe it was behind the school I used to teach at,” said Brady. “It’s a hidden gem.”

At the end of the hike, participants received medals in the form of wood cookies with the Urban Ecology Center’s logo. Two local vendors provided food for the hike that celebrated “so much life” hidden in the middle of downtown Milwaukee.

“We’re just happy to have the community involved and be outside enjoying what nature has to offer in our urban neighborhood,” said event organizer Amy Lamacchia.