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A Special WUWM News SeriesThe Milwaukee River allowed commerce and industry to thrive during the city's formative years and provided recreation. However, disregard for the river's health led to decades of decay.WUWM News explores recent developments to rejuvenate the Milwaukee River and their success at drawing people back to the city's historic arterial.

As Milwaukee’s Water Hub Develops, Group Folds In Community Concerns

Milwaukee Water Commons started up a year and a half ago. And, Melanie Ariens has played a pivotal role in the group's efforts to cultivate people’s desire to connect to and care for water.

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Checking over the creation.

As artist in residence, Ariens devised a way to amp up outreach. “I have the lucky job of people the creative, fun art person and I‘m also sort of a bike geek,” she explains.

Ariens set out to create a “rolling kiosk” by attaching a cart to the back of her bike. It’s big enough to hold a rain barrel – in fact it does.

“It made sense to have rain barrel on it, so MMSD donated a rain barrel,” she says.

Ariens scavenged for parts and picked up deals at resale shops. Her father helped build it.

Ariens added a curved door – another resale store find – onto the side of the barrel. That’s where she’ll store outreach supplies - brochures, survey forms, perhaps a bicycle tire repair kit.

A bit of the detail Melanie Ariens added to the water cycle.

She hand-painted the entire contraption. It’s covered with images of the Great Lakes. “ Here’s the three major rivers of Milwaukee, this all of the micro-watershed that go into Lake Michigan. And then this is the Great Lakes Basin,” she says.

A plucky blue beach umbrella tops off the kiosk.

Ann Brummitt thinks the “water cycle” might just get people’s attention. She co-directs Milwaukee Water Commons.

“It can be pedaled down to Bradford beach, it can be taken to your community group and we are going to ask people, what’s good that’s going on with water in your neighborhood. Do you have flooding, do you feel like your kids are getting to swimming pools, or down to the river. Tell us what’s going on,” she says.

Brummitt says since Milwaukee Water Commons launched community input sessions in 2013, interesting ideas are constantly bubbling up.

“One of our favorite ideas is that if we are a model city, why don’t we have all kids learning how to swim and there’s some great movement of the YMCA this summer and them offering free lessons, but can we grow that. So that’s one of the initiatives we’re going to ask people their thoughts about that,” Brummitt says.

Jayme Montgomery Baker was part of Water Commons discussions from the beginning. Mother of a six-year-old son, Baker wants all kids growing up in Milwaukee to feel connected to Lake Michigan.

She says water takes the back seat for many families grappling with daily challenges. “I think living in a city like Milwaukee, when people are dealing with things like unemployment or access to quality education, safety – thinking about access to clean, drinkable water comes second until it’s not available. MWC unique because we are working to get people involved in conversation at the front end,” Baker says.

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Ariens prepares for test ride.

As Melanie Ariens buckles on her bike helmet in preparation for a test run, volunteer Kirsten Shead can already envision the rolling kiosk in action.

“So you’ve got somebody at Bradford Beach. They’re enjoying it – their enjoying the sun and the splashing and the cool and then you walk over to this kiosk, thinking you can buy some sunglasses or smoothie or something and instead you get this very visual, very fun acknowledgement that this is not something that will always exist, unless we’re careful with it. That we actually need to protect it. And here are some very simple ways that you can be involved – not them over there- but you. I think that’s really exciting,” Shead says.

With that, Melanie Ariens is off. The bicycle hums across the pavement.

The water cycle will perform its first official gig Sunday at a community water celebration at Bradford Beach.