By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 02, 2007 at 5:06 AM

 As Milwaukee County’s parks turn 100, they are at a crossroads. The so-called “green necklace” that loops the county is universally acknowledged as a regional gem, but with funds for the parks dwindling, it’s not hard to see signs of decay.

So, Laurie Muench Albano’s new photo history of the system, “Images of America: Milwaukee County Parks,” published in paperback by Arcadia Publishing, serves not only to remind us of the history of the now century-old park system, but also the rich heritage of parks in Milwaukee and the hard work and passion that went into creating the system for all Milwaukeeans.

The book has more than 125 pages of photos organized by theme, from “Parks in Early Milwaukee” to “The Postwar Boom.” The biggest section focuses on the Depression era and the public works projects that provided much-needed jobs but also created some of the most distinctive park features, including the Boerner Botanical Garden buildings and grounds and the South Shore Park pavilion.

We asked Muench Albano, a registered landscape architect who has worked with the Milwaukee County Parks for more than 20 years, about the book, the history of the parks system and the future of it, too.

OMC: Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the book? How did you come to write it?

Albano: I have been interested in the history of our parks since I began working for the parks in 1984. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the history of the Milwaukee County Parks in a way that people would enjoy. As 2007 is the 100th anniversary of the County Park System being created, it seemed the perfect time, and Parks Director, Sue Black was very enthusiastic about the proposal!

OMC: How did you decide what to include?

LMA: It was difficult. I used the timeline of the development of the park system as the outline for the book. I wanted to use the photos to tell a story, so in some cases I had too many pictures and in other areas I really had to hunt to find images that would illustrate what needed to be said.

OMC: Were there any particular photos you wanted to include but couldn’t find or obtain or maybe some themes for which there weren’t good photos?

LMA: There are a great number of photos of the earliest park developments in what was the city park system. It was difficult to narrow the selection.

When the county parks were established, their role included layout of highways and zoning for development in addition to parks. It was somewhat difficult to find photos to tell that story, but I felt it was important.

There was also a great supply of photos of the Depression era development and I struggled to limit the number of photos I included.

OMC: Milwaukee really has a wonderful park system for a city its size doesn’t it? How does it compare to other cities?

LMA: We are fortunate to have 15,000 acres of parks and parkways in Milwaukee County. However, in a recent national survey by the Trust for Public Lands, Milwaukee County placed just below the average of 18 acres per 1,000 residents for communities of similar population density. Raleigh, N.C. ranked highest with 35.6 acres per 1,000 and Fresno, California lowest with 3.4 acres (per) 1,000.

OMC: Do you have a favorite park in the green necklace, as the system has been called?

LMA: I’ve never really thought of it before. I particularly love the parks that were designed under the direction of Alfred Boerner and constructed with WPA and CCC labor. They include Brown Deer, Greenfield, Estabrook and Whitnall to name a few. They are simply beautiful.

OMC: Can you tell us a little about the discussion to create a new parks district?

LMA: I know that the basis of the call for the creation of a Park District comes from the fact that funding for our parks has been greatly reduced since the 1980s and that if the parks are to survive, some method of increasing funding is an absolute necessity. The proposed district is one possibility.

OMC: What do you think the future of the parks is in Milwaukee?

LMA: The parks are at a turning point. People realize that parks are an important part of our quality of life in Milwaukee and have seen them decline in past years. More and more friends groups are forming to support both individual parks and parks facilities. Efforts are being made to find dedicated funding for the parks. I am optimistic. The parks belong to all of us, and we have to assure they are available for future generations to enjoy.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.