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The park is a reclamation project, turning the once-vibrant and once-blighted property into a natural outdoor classroom.

Menomonee Valley challenge: name that park

For much of the past week, I've wracked my brain for a simple word or phrase that captures the history and future of the Menomonee Valley, and would serve as the perfect name for the 24-acre urban park opening there in July.

So far, I've got nothing.

The developers of the park, including the Menomonee Valley Partners and Urban Ecology Center, have been similarly stymied, for roughly a decade. They raised $22.5 million for the project, designed the park landscape and moved tons of dirt, but still don't have a name.

Wisely, they turned to the community for help.

Menomonee Valley from the Ground Up – the working name for the park developers – is soliciting suggestions to name the park. The deadline for submissions to is March 22.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian and member of the selection committee. "Lots of people name their babies, but who gets to name an entire park?"

Naming babies is probably easier.

The difficulty all along has been honing in on a few elements of a space with such a complex and important history, said Laura Bray, the executive director of the Menomonee Valley Partners.

For thousands of years the Menomonee Valley was a wild rice marsh that sustained the Potawatomi Indians. In the 1900s, it sustained thousands of families as the industrial heart of Milwaukee, and became a transportation hub for dozens of rail lines.

The land rising above the north bank of the Menomonee River was known as the "Airline Yards," a railroad designation. That parcel has been transformed into the park, between37th and 27th Streets, connected to the adjacent South Side neighborhoods and Mitchell Park via footbridges.

Mounds of dirt salvaged from nearby interstate projects have been shaped to recreate kettles, moraines and eskers of southern Wisconsin's glacial topography. The access to the river has been restored.

The park is a reclamation project, turning the once-vibrant and once-blighted property into a natural outdoor classroom for children and a place of solitude and recreation for adults.

That's a lot to capture in a name.

"I want people to be creative and have open-box thinking," said Ken Leinbach, executive director of the Urban Ecology Center, which opened a branch at 3700 W. Pierce St. in September. "My own personal opinion has to do with trying to have some lasting legacy."

Bray said nearly 400 suggestions have been submitted to date, with a number of them focused on the history of the land. People have researched early Potawatomi language and the railroad history of the land to guide them, she said.

The names will be reviewed by a selection committee that includes representatives from the nearby neighborhoods, the City of Milwaukee, Menomonee Valley Partners, Urban Ecology Center, Potawatomi Community Foundation and others.

The final approval will come from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, which owns the parkland, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which manages the property as part of the Hank Aaron State Trail.

The pick will be announced prior to the grand opening on July 20.

"We're holding off, not getting attached to anything," Bray said.

Me too.


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