For the latest Lake Effect On-Site, the team headed to Cedarburg ahead of the city's annual Strawberry Festival. In front of a crowd at the Cedarburg Cultural Center, Lake Effect's Mitch Teich and Bonnie North explored the Cedarburg Strawberry Festival, Wisconsin Women Cycling, and Ozaukee County's Mequon Nature Preserve, underscored by tunes from local band Chicken Wire Empire.
It is Strawberry Festival Eve in Cedarburg, the time each year when the city is overrun by fans of the delicious fruit and its many incarnations — pies, preserves, and wines. The festival, now in its 34th year, takes over the city’s downtown and bathes it in hues of pink and red.
Jim Pape is the founder of the festival and Cedar Creek Winery, which creates the strawberry wine that underpins these festivities. BJ Homayouni is the executive director of Festivals of Cedarburg, including Strawberry Festival, and Steve Danner is the manager of the winery. Since the festival began, Danner says the strawberry wine has become so popular that they kept running out. He says one year, "We sold out Saturday afternoon of Strawberry Festival. There wasn’t a riot … but let’s just say displeasures were expressed, notes were taken, and we’re not running out during Strawberry Festival anymore."
Southeastern Wisconsin is in the middle of a bicycling renaissance of sorts. Bike share stands have popped up around the city and into the suburbs, and dedicated bike lanes are becoming increasingly common on roads throughout the area.
Ozaukee County is sort of a Mecca for road cyclists. The area is criss-crossed by the interurban trail and scores of quiet, hilly country roads. But the sport is still dominated by men. Cindy Petted is working to change that.
Petted is the founder of Wisconsin Women Cycling, which leads rides, events, and training programs from its base in Cedarburg. Brian Petted, Cindy’s husband, also works with organization, leading many of those training programs.
As an avid cyclist, Cindy Petted found that many women cyclists were riding alone and lacked that sense of community. "When I moved to Cedarburg, I found that to be the same — even though there’s a lot more opportunity to ride down here and a lot more clubs, there were a lot of women who were still riding alone. So I had an idea … I got an advisory board and we started Wisconsin Women Cycling with the first Women Century Ride back in 2015."
We may think of places like Cedarburg as being defined by urban sprawl. But there’s still open space to be found in Ozaukee County, whether it’s a strawberry farm or a nature preserve. Kristin Gies knows a thing or two about that.
As the executive director of the Mequon Nature Preserve, Gies has done some amazing things with the area that comprises more than 400 acres. It’s a place where people can connect with nature and it’s held up as a shining example of habitat restoration in the midst of a metropolitan area.
She says there is an urgent need for the kind of work she is doing at the preserve. "I think right now with the climate in the political scene, the climate literally, the state of the environment across the world — it’s crucial. It’s critical. We need to protect land. And at the end of the day, if we don’t have an environment, we have nothing else."
All evening, the members of Chicken Wire Empire underscored the show with their unique brand of bluegrass music. Although the band frequently plays in venues around the region (and soon, around the world), some of the members started off their musical journey here in Cedarburg.
"Our first shows were right next door … at the bar, right next door," says Jordan Kroeger, the upright bass player for the band.
Chicken Wire Empire is Kroeger, Ryan Ogburn on mandolin, and Jon Peik on banjo. Ernest Brusubardis IV is the fiddler, and Greg Brundage is on guitar. They played a number of songs from their latest album, What Moves Mountains, including, Still in Love With You, Summer & Me, and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.