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This is Sounds Like Milwaukee, a WUWM project that celebrates the sounds of our city.

Sounds Like Milwaukee: Exploring a pocket paradise

an older man with a ponytail and hat walks into a shallow creek
Lina Tran
David Thomas walks across Lincoln Creek

Today’s Sounds Like Milwaukee update comes from Hopkins Hollow, a lush oasis on the city’s northwest side, tucked behind Hopkins and 35th.

That’s where I met David Thomas, a project coordinator with Nearby Nature Milwaukee. The environmental justice group is restoring this green space in a part of the city that lacks them. And, they’re bringing Black Milwaukeeans here to enjoy it.

It’s a project in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. We hiked along Lincoln Creek.

“This has always been a creek, but in the 1950s, the engineers thought that the best way to move the floodwaters would be through a concrete channel,” Thomas said. “It didn’t turn out very well. It looked like an open sewer and people treated it that way.”

Now, Nearby Nature is restoring the land around Lincoln Creek, back to prairie and oak savanna. There’s a trail in the works, for people in the neighborhood to enjoy. Volunteers are also putting native plants back on the landscape.

“It slows the water as it flows to the creek,” Thomas said. “So, if there’s heavy rain, the waters aren’t going to rise as quickly and aren’t going to back up in people’s basements quite as much.”

But we were there for Thomas to share his favorite sound. We wound our way down toward the creek and then back up a small hill. Nearby Nature brings volunteers here to work on the trail, as well as schoolchildren to learn what plants and critters also call Milwaukee home.

“One thing I always do is tell them to put on their deer ears,” Thomas said, demonstrating. “You cup your hands behind your ears like this, and you can double the amount of things you hear. Deers move their ears around to point at the sound. You point your ears and you can hear that sound.”

Thomas guided our ears across the creek, and we heard the babbling of a small waterfall coming down a hill on the opposite side.

a small waterfall trickles over a rocky pile in a wooded area
Lina Tran
The waterfall at Hopkins Hollow

It’s a small waterfall. Not the kind of thing people hike up mountains for. But it’s an unexpected delight, a stone’s throw from the roar of traffic on Congress and Hopkins. They call it a “pocket paradise.”

“It’s not quite so small [that] you can put it in your pocket,” he said. “It’s just a small, isolated area, separated from the rest of the city, where you can get away. It’s kind of special, a paradise. Because you could close your eyes and think, ‘Well, I’m back in the Garden of Eden.’ It’s just very peaceful here.”

Instructions on how to participate in Sounds Like Milwaukee are here.

Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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