Mystery Buidling—It wasn’t a post office

April 30, 2010

By Anna Passante

Douglas Rose, the owner of 2989 S. Mabbett Ave., has been told by neighbors that his house was once a post office and/or a library. However, there are no public records to back up those claims.

According to city directories and tax records the house has always been residential. According to the tax rolls it was built in 1916 for Richard and Letita Bernhard. The couple lived there with their two young children. Bernhard was the chief engineer for the Power & Mining Machinery Co. in Cudahy. Around 1918 Bernhard took a job with the Traylor Engineering & Mfg Co. in Allentown, Pa.

The home’s address was 162 Meredith in 1916, 2989 S. Arctic in 1930, and 2989 S. Mabbett since 1931. Sometime in the 1930s the home was turned into a two-family home and is presently used as a one-family home.

Reminder: cleanups tomorrow–Saturday, April 17

April 16, 2010

There are cleanups looking for volunteers tomorrow, Saturday, April 17.

Kinnickinnic River Cleanup, 9am-noon at Robert J. Modrzejewski Park, formerly Cleveland Park, 10th & Cleveland. Rain or shine, supplies & food provided. BVNA joins sponsors Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Americorps, Urban Anthropology, Inc., and Groundwork Milwaukee. Small groups will head out along the KK and surrounding neighborhoods.

Grant Park cleanup, 9am-noon. Sponsored by Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful and Milwaukee County Parks. Contact Johannah Waite at (414) 272-5462 ext. 104.

Oak Creek Watercourses cleanup, 8am-noon. Sponsored by Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse, Inc. Meet at the Grant Park Beach parking lot. Safety vests, bags, water, and vinyl gloves provided. Targeted area is Grant Park Beach to North Chicago Avenue. Please bring boots (if you have them) and your enthusiasm. Lunch will be provided by the city of South Milwaukee noon at the South Milwaukee Senior Center.

43 Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cleanups

Milwaukee Riverkeeper sponsors 43 different area cleanup sites near Milwaukee rivers on April 17, including four sites along the Kinnickinnic River. Riverkeeper’s 15th annual spring river cleanup is 9am-noon at various parks and parkways throughout the Milwaukee area. For more info, to register, or for all sites:

Jackson Park – Meet at the boathouse, 3500 W. Forest Home Ave.

St. Luke’s Medical Center – 2900 W. Oklahoma Ave. (Meet at picnic tables.)

Robert J. Modrzejewski Park, formerly Cleveland Park – 1050 W. Cleveland Ave.

Barnacle Bud’s – 1955 S. Hilbert St. (Canoe or kayak required.)

After the cleanup, volunteers are invited to gather at Gordon Park, 1321 E. Locust St., 12:30-3pm, for the Trash Bash. Free food, drink, live music, and prizes for the strangest items pulled from the rivers.

*It’s always a good idea for volunteers to bring work gloves and wear clothes that can get dirty to all cleanups, even if supplies are provided.


Next Saturday will feature cleanups as well.

Saturday, April 24 – Bay View Neighborhood Cleanup, 9am-noon at South Shore Park Pavilion, 2900 S. Shore Dr. Rain or shine, with supplies, coffee, and food provided, but bring own mug or water to be entered in raffle. BVNA joins South Shore and Humboldt Park Watches. Call (414) 385-3376 or email for more info.

Movie filmed in Door County coming to silver screen

April 16, 2010

By Matthew Sliker

A movie filmed in Door County last year is about to hit the silver screen.

On Tuesday, the producers of Feed the Fish announced that the film will be shown at a Marcus Theater in Madison beginning April 23. It will run for one week.

The comedy stars Tony Shalhoub, perhaps best known for his role as a phobia-plagued detective on the television show Monk. Also in the movie are Katie Aselton, Ross Partridge, Vanessa Branch, Barry Corbin and Michael Chernus.

Feed the Fish is a romantic comedy about a burned-out children’s book author who had a hit book a few years back and is now trying to get his career and life back in order.

The screenings will be held at Point Cinema, 7825 Big Sky Drive.

Feed the Fish was written and directed by Michael Matzdorff and produced by Nicholas Langholff, Alison Abrohams and Tony Shalhoub — all Wisconsin natives.

Matzdorff spoke with the Compass last year, just before the project’s primary filming began. Read that interview here.

Update: Common Council supports Alterra bonds 13-1-1

April 14, 2010

By Michael Timm

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 13-1, with one abstention, to support Alterra Coffee Roasters, Inc.’s request that the city issue up to $7.8 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance four Alterra projects across three municipalities, including a proposed bakery/commissary and cafe in Bay View’s vacant Maritime Savings Bank building, 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Eighth District Alderman Bob Donovan abstained; 11th District Alderman Joe Dudzik voted “no.”

Update: Alterra applauded by community at packed meeting

April 13, 2010

Alderman Zielinski pledges "110-percent" support


Over 70 people gathered to learn about the proposed Bay View Alterra April 12 at the Bay View Library. ~photo Michael Timm

By Michael Timm

Over 70 people crammed inside the Bay View Library meeting room Monday night to hear Alterra Coffee Roasters Co. partner Lincoln Fowler describe the proposed expansion of Alterra into the vacant Maritime Savings Bank building. Most were pleased with what they heard.

It was so hot and crowded, however, that one standing female attendee fainted and required emergency medical services, which interrupted the meeting for about 15 minutes.

Alterra’s plan was only partially revealed to the public on April 1 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and revealed more completely April 8 by the Bay View Compass after Alterra posted its architectural plans online.

For Bay View, Alterra has proposed a 2,870-square-foot café along Kinnickinnic Avenue, along with a 5,100-square-foot bakery inside the old bank, with a 3,037-square-foot bakery addition to be built south of the existing building along Howell Avenue. If it goes forward with this project, Alterra would move its Humboldt bakery and commissary operations to this larger location.

Alterra would acquire the bank building and renovate it, adding a 1,195-square-foot café/lounge on the second floor along with 4,320 square feet of office space. It would also acquire and demolish the building immediately to the south, purchased in 2008 by Maritime Bank and which formerly housed Pandora’s Box, now closed, and Magnum Services, now exacTemp Heating and Air on Lincoln.

The main bank building, 2301-15 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is currently assessed at $710,000. The secondary building, 2314-20 S. Howell Ave., is currently assessed at $460,000. Alterra would also acquire Maritime’s parking lot.

The Bay View portion of Alterra’s proposed expansion would cost approximately $4 million. Alterra is also proposing property acquisition of its Grafton location and renovation of its Shorewood and East Side locations. In all, it’s seeking up to $7.8 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance its expansion.

Municipalities can issue these bonds, but are not liable for them. The interest on the bonds is tax-free, which offers bond investors and developers an advantage over market-rate loans.

The city’s Community and Economic Development Committee (CEDC) voted 5-0 on April 6 to support a resolution authorizing the issuance of up to $7.8 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance the four Alterra projects.

The Milwaukee Common Council is set to consider CEDC’s recommendation Tuesday, April 13. Passage of this preliminary resolution today is anticipated. Fourteenth District Alderman Tony Zielinski, who made his initial support contingent on Alterra’s participation in the April 12 meeting, voiced “110 percent” support for Alterra at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting.


Alterra partner Lincoln Fowler presented on the Bay View plans and fielded questions from community members April 12. ~photo Michael Timm

Zielinski said having Alterra in Bay View would “continue the momentum” on KK, increase foot traffic, reduce crime, and attract new customers to the entire commercial corridor.

When asked by Zielinski, roughly 40 people raised hands in support of Alterra and roughly eight raised hands in opposition at the April 12 meeting. Zielinski said he’d also received some 30 calls or emails in support and four in opposition.

Most of those opposed at the meeting expressed concern that Alterra would drive smaller local existing cafes and bakeries out of business. Two baristas from Sven’s Cafe worried about the prospect of losing local jobs in the name of adding jobs at Alterra.

In response, Fowler cited Stone Creek founder Eric Resch’s April 9 formal statement of welcome to Alterra.

“We feel that the other businesses understand that a little friendly competition is good for everybody,” Fowler said.

While expressing enthusiasm for taking on what he described as a challenging redevelopment project that could in the end prove to be an albatross around Alterra’s neck, Fowler did not commit to coming into Bay View. He said this wasn’t yet a done deal and Alterra would “decide at some point in the future if it’s viable or not.”

He said pursuit of the Bay View option was driven by realizing six months ago that Alterra’s Humboldt Avenue bakery would need more space, coupled with customers expressing interest in a Bay View Alterra. He said he took this idea to the city about two months ago.

Fowler apologized for not engaging the community before the bonds resolution came before CEDC. He said he didn’t anticipate Bay View’s reaction to the news. “That was our mistake. I didn’t think it was going to kick off substantive debate,” he said.

He also said the city initially omitted mention of the Bay View café accompanying the bakery and commissary and that Alterra had always envisioned this café, which would also sell fresh bakery.

Bay View resident Amy Schubert gushed that Alterra was offering an opportunity for Bay View to step up to “the next level.” “I don’t want to see us become the neighborhood that says ‘no’ to everything,” she said, describing the area around the vacant Maritime Savings Bank as “a little scary on the Howell side, especially at night.”

Local property owner Bill Doyle praised Fowler for securing Stone Creek’s endorsement and for adding clout to vision regarding developing the bank site. “I for one will welcome you with open arms,” Doyle said.

Diablos Rojos, the group that owns Café Centraal, also issued a statement in support of a Bay View Alterra.

Several times, the majority of the audience applauded Fowler and Alterra as potential developers.

Fowler anticipated his plans could be considered at the May 20 meeting of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA).

See the plans by The Kubala Washatko Architects:

Check back at for more updates, but stay tuned for our comprehensive Alterra coverage in the forthcoming May issue, due out April 30.

Update: Alterra unveils plans online

April 8, 2010

By Michael Timm

Thursday afternoon, the Bay View Neighborhood Association posted a link to Alterra’s plans for its proposed Bay View bakery and commissary, which will include a 2,870-square-foot cafe along Kinnickinnic Avenue in the vacant Maritime Savings Bank building, 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

The bakery is identified as being 5,100 square feet inside the old bank, along the Howell Avenue side of the first floor. A 3,037-square-foot bakery addition is also identified south of the main building along Howell Avenue.

The second floor plan features a 1,195-square-foot cafe/lounge along KK and 4,320 square feet of renovated office space.

The plans show a roof deck will open onto a vegetated roof over the bakery addition.

The plans are dated April 8, 2010 and appear to be destined for the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA).

Bioswales around the Maritime parking lot, and new outdoor seating along KK, are also indicated in the plans.

Alterra is requesting a $7.8 million industrial revenue bond issue to help finance this and three other projects, which the city’s Common Council is scheduled to consider Tuesday, April 13.

A public meeting on Alterra’s proposed plans is scheduled for 6:30pm on Monday, April 12 at the Bay View Library, 2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

See the plans:

BVNA’s post:

Alterra meeting Monday

April 8, 2010

Local businesses surprised by Alterra's plan to expand into Maritime Bank building

bayviewtour-108By Michael Timm

Fourteenth District Alderman Tony Zielinski will hold a public meeting 6:30pm on Monday, April 12 at the Bay View Library to inform his constituents about the proposed Alterra bakery project for 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

The public is invited to attend to learn about the Alterra proposal, ask questions, and make comments.

Zielinski has invited Alterra and Department of City Development representatives.

At the city’s Community & Economic Development Committee (CEDC) meeting on Tuesday, April 6, Alterra partner Lincoln Fowler pledged Alterra would attend, saying, “We’d love to. We will,” though on April 7 it was unclear if Alterra still planned to attend.

Alterra wants the city to issue industrial development revenue bonds to help it finance a multimillion project involving four Alterra locations across three municipalities, including a proposed bakery and commissary at the corner of KK, Lincoln, and Howell in the vacant Maritime Savings Bank building, which Fowler said Alterra has a contract to acquire.

The Milwaukee Common Council is scheduled to consider the issuance of the bonds at its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 13.

CEDC approved the bonds in committee 5-0 on April 6, contingent on Zielinski’s demand that Alterra make a full presentation of its plans to the public prior to the council meeting–at the April 12 public meeting.

Zielinski said if Alterra does not participate in the Monday, April 12 meeting, he will recommend sending the item back to committee.

This would theoretically cost Alterra money, as it has already started work rehabilitating its Prospect Avenue location. Alterra’s Fowler told the committee he wanted the tax-free bonds to cover the work he’s already started, but  bond issue proceeds can generally only cover work done within 60 days prior to the issuing municipality’s resolution.

“We’re just trying to put a stake in the ground for this financing piece because this is—there are a series of timing steps that are associated with these bonds. We can only go back so far. So we want to get the stake in the ground now so that I can reach back as the Prospect renovation has already begun,” Fowler told the committee April 6.

On Tuesday, when asked by Alderman Witkowski, Fowler declined to give the committee an estimate on how much he’s already put into the Prospect location.

On Wednesday, April 7, Zielinski told concerned Bay View business owners that he spoke Wednesday with an Alterra representative who expressed a desire to “co-host” his public meeting.  Zielinski said he didn’t feel this was appropriate since he said he wanted the public to be able to have their questions about Alterra’s project answered. As a result of his conversation, he said he was “concerned” and not certain if Alterra would show up if they couldn’t place conditions on the meeting.

Bay View Surprised, Curious, Critical

Local business owners said they were surprised to first read in the Good Friday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Alterra was seeking to develop this keystone Bay View site.

At a hastily organized meeting Wednesday afternoon, several business owners gathered to discuss their perspectives and concerns about the Alterra proposal, which will at some later point go before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA).

Local business owners voiced concerns about whether a bakery is the highest and best use of the strategic commercial corner. Most voiced a preference for new retail development instead.

But at the same time they also expressed skepticism that Alterra would restrict its property usage to just in-house baking, envisioning that Alterra will inevitably open a retail component as well, which some feared would outcompete smaller, local bakeries and cafes rather than complement the landscape of existing businesses.

“This is dropping a big dinosaur in, to me, that will eat up the little ones,” said Steve Goretzko, owner of Sven’s Cafe, 2699 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

(Goretzko has pitched his own battles involving Alterra before. Goretzko was critical of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s lease terms with Alterra by the Lake, which for years he had charged was too low.)

“Bay View is made up of a lot of small businesses that make it unique. Let’s face it, [if Alterra opens a retail location at KK and Lincoln] Stone Creek probably won’t be there, Wild Flour probably won’t be there,” Goretzko said.

Greg Mertens of Wild Flour Bakery, kitty-corner from the proposed development,  said he doesn’t mind genuine competition but questioned Alterra’s plans for the Maritime Bank building and whether government should help this kind of development. “I have no problem with free enterprise, but there are specific intentions for industrial revenue bonds or public assistance,” Mertens said.

“I do not oppose Alterra coming into Bay View for an industrial purpose, or, if it chooses to do retail. However, if they do industrial, do it in an empty building [in an industrial area],” Mertens said. “If this is retail, be forthright on it—and use the right financing.”

Mertens questioned whether almost $8 million in the state’s industrial revenue bonds should be used in the name of ultimately creating 35 jobs, 20 anticipated for the KK bakery, that will pay between approximately $9 and $11.50 an hour.

He said he’d prefer that such bonds finance higher-paying jobs. He also questioned if true job creation would occur, or if Alterra would simply siphon existing jobs away from existing area businesses.

“We have so many empty buildings in the city that are truly industrial buildings that could be occupied by an industrial occupation,” Mertens told the CEDC.

Mertens said the Maritime Bank building would be best suited for retail or commercial space. He wondered if it was appropriate for semi trucks to be loading bakery products at the busy and complicated intersection.

“This is the first building, really, in the Bay View retail corridor and they’re proposing a wholesale bakery operation. I assume other traffic and parking issues. I’m not sure this has been explored as far as the public is concerned,” Mertens told the committee on Tuesday, April 6. “‘Cause we didn’t know about this until it hit the paper on Good Friday, which was a furlough day by the city of Milwaukee and Monday was a furlough day and we couldn’t call anybody in the city to find out about it.”

Another local bakery, East Side Ovens, 2899 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., also expressed concern.

Owner Amanda Maierhafer said she didn’t know if Alterra’s plan would impact her business, but she wanted more time for her customers and neighbors to weigh in.

Her husband Doug Maierhafer, also East Side Ovens vice president, questioned why Alterra deserved more government help.

“Alterra’s doing just fine. They’ve already had these breaks. If we were given a fraction of that money, we could add 10 jobs,” Doug Maierhafer said.

Doug Maierhafer joined Greg and Dolly Mertens of Wild Flour and their son Josh Mertens in testifying before the CEDC April 6.

Before he moved to approve Alterra’s bond request, Alderman Zielinski had moved to hold the item in committee until he solicited a commitment from Fowler to appear at the April 12 meeting.

Fowler told the committee April 6 that Alterra never considered the CEDC meeting on bonds to be “a significant event” deserving public comment and therefore planned to involve the community only later on in their planning process.

In committee, Zielinski said there was no excuse for Alterra not to come before the Bay View community first.

“This could be a very great project,” Zielinski said, “but let me tell you something. I made it very clear to the proponents of this initiative we have to have a community meeting before anything comes before the council. There might be BOZA coming up and all this stuff, but I’ve been getting phone calls from constituents saying, ‘Why didn’t we know about this? Tony, you always have meetings on everything before anything comes before the council.’ I believe in complete transparency. So now to come before the committee and say ‘Well, we’re going to work with the community later–‘ no, the proper way to do this is work with the community the very first time this comes to committee. You get the community involved, you provide everybody with an opportunity for input…I want my constituents to have an opportunity from the get-go before anything happens, we all get on the same page and we all work together.”

The public meeting is 6:30pm, April 12 in the Bay View Library, 2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Check back at as we continue to cover this developing story.

For the city’s record of Tuesday’s CEDC meeting, follow this link, scroll down, and click on the relevant video clip.

To learn more about Wisconsin’s industrial revenue bonds (IRB) program, click here.

CORRECTED/UPDATED 8April2010 3:37PM: This version removes three instances of the word “wholesale” which may have been misleading, since Alterra plans to move its internal bakery operations from Humboldt to Bay View.  “Wholesale” was used in contrast to “retail,” since the public documentation on Alterra’s bond application did not indicate a retail component to the KK & Lincoln bakery–although it did specify retail components at its Shorewood, Grafton, and East Side Milwaukee locations. “Exhibit A” indicated Alterra Coffee Roasters, Inc. plans “acquisition, rehabilitation, equipping and expansion of an approximately 24,000 square-foot facility located at 2301 South Kinnickinnic Avenue, 2314-2320 South Howell Avenue and 2328 South Howell Avenue, all in the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be used by the Borrower to manufacture bakery and other prepared foods.”  However, on April 8, Alterra revealed plans at this link that indicate it does plan a retail component in addition to the previously described bakery and commissary.

Excerpts of Alterra’s Lincoln Fowler’s testimony before the CEDC on April 6
On the project and request for bonds:
“We’re just excited to be in a position where we [can] continue to grow. Actually we went through this process to finance the Humboldt project, which took a number of years to put together. In those years the bakery business grew and actually by the time we moved into Humboldt it became fairly clear we weren’t going to be there very long. Perhaps a miscalculation on our part, but a good one nonetheless. We’re excited to create yet another project similar in scope and catalytic nature as Humboldt but this time do it in the Bay View neighborhood. The intersection of KK and Lincoln needs some work, from our perspective. When we look at projects we don’t look at just the building that we’re moving into or just the jobs that we’re going to create, or a project we’re going to do—we like to look at things in a very holistic manner. So we’re looking at that entire neighborhood and how our project is going to fit best within that neighborhood and how we can bring the best catalytic-type development to that area so that it becomes much like Humboldt and much like our other facilities, it becomes a crux and centerpiece of neighborhood interaction and then also a showpiece and a showplace for the fresh bakery and commissary work that we do. We’re really excited. Some of the plans that are preliminary now, but are coming to a more finished state, are very cool. And we think it’s going to be a great project for Bay View.”

On if Alterra plans to buy the Maritime Bank building:
“It’s under contract right now and I think it’s important to note there are a lot of things that we have to line up to make this project viable.”

On KK/Lincoln/Howell & Bay View:
“We’re not just interested in the building itself. We’re very interested in how it sits on the street and how it connects to the neighborhood. Without getting into all the details, the plans are not just for that physical space—we really have to look broadly at how we fit into the neighborhood.”

On costs:
“This is classic Alterra, we look at a project, ballpark some costs, and we hand it off to our visionary artists and architects and this thing that was supposed to cost $3 million suddenly costs $4.5 million. At least we know that about ourselves now. So we’re trying to build in some cost savings on the front end because we know we’re [going to be] spending it on the back end anyway.”

On financing strategy:
“We like to think of these things as just freeing up more capital to do a better project because we know when we invest in the project to that degree, which is somewhat unusual, we think, we know that helps us guarantee a level of success.”

Zoo Interchange bridge will reopen April 2

April 1, 2010

Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi has announced that the US 45 northbound bridge through the Zoo Interchange will be reopened to traffic Friday, April 2, 2010 at 5:00 a.m.

“The top priority of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is to ensure the safety of the motoring public in the Zoo Interchange,” Secretary Frank Busalacchi said in a news release. “It is through an exceptional amount of hard work and teamwork that we are able to open the new northbound US 45 bridge this Friday morning, just one week to the day after we discovered a serious public safety concern. I thank our staff and contractor for working so hard to make it happen.”

Last Friday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) immediately closed the bridge after inspections revealed additional cracking in its structure.  DOT staff and the contractor, Milwaukee Constructors LLC, worked day and night to complete the new northbound US 45 bridge as quickly as possible.  Weight restrictions have been in place on the bridge since August 2009, and even with increased law enforcement on the Zoo Interchange bridges, overweight trucks continued to ignore the posted limits.

Does your employer recycle and if so what?

April 1, 2010

Interviews & Photos by Michael Timm

Barb Koenig and Janet Kujawa

“I work for MPS and so the kids in our school [Hamilton] are just starting a recycling program. We used to have one. And we will be recycling mostly paper and plastic bottles.” -Barb Koenig, Linebarger Terrace (right)

Greg Pekel

“He recycles paper. We’re a sales office so we really don’t have much disposable goods. It’s pretty much just paper, but we do recycle paper.” -Greg Pekel, Muskego

Joe Zilinski

“Yes we do. Basically we recycle everything. I work for a millwork company. We recycle wood. We recycle all our cardboard, paper, everything.” -Joe Zilinski

Jonathan Winkle and Elizabeth Warne

“My employer? Yes. Paper and plastic materials.” -Jonathan Winkle, Illinois Avenue

“I’m self-employed, so yes, I recycle.”  -Elizabeth Warne, Illinois Avenue

Carrie Bickerstaff

“No, we don’t recycle in my building right now, which seems really old-fashioned, but we’re moving into a new building in August and we’ll have recycling there, so that’s good.” -Carrie Bickerstaff, S. Eighth Street

The best beginner’s canoeing book around

April 1, 2010

By Gareth Stevens

The KNACK: Make It Easy guides are a series of in-depth but simply presented books on subjects ranging from Baby’s First Year and a Diabetes Cookbook to Rock Climbing and Treehouses. Bay View resident Dan Gray’s Canoeing for Everyone (published May 2009) is the first book in the series that I have examined closely. I’m impressed.

As a book for beginners-and aimed at the recreational paddler-it is hard to fault. The explanations are clearly written and the photographs (by Stephen Gorman and Eli Burakian) are not only crisp and bright, but also well composed to clearly show what’s being illustrated.

With only a couple of minor exceptions the coverage of topics is comprehensive. Dan, Stephen, and Eli give a good basic introduction to the parts of a canoe and the gear you will need before taking to the water. They cover safety and hazards well, and have very good-and extensive-coverage of paddling techniques: how to move the boat in easy water and maneuver it in more challenging conditions, too. These techniques are all more than just handy to learn (and practice and master) if you want to control your destiny on the water.

What I like about canoeing is that, if I do tip, the water is a lot kinder on my body parts than the pavement when I come off a bike-at almost any speed. But there are dangers, and not many of them are intuitive to the beginner, so pay attention to the safety sections in this book.

I like this book’s emphasis on safety: the carrying and wearing of life jackets (in every photo on the water!); proper clothing for hot and cold weather; keeping hydrated; and chapters on hazards, rescues, handling emergencies, first aid, communications, reading maps, using a compass, and repairing your canoe.

But I do have a few nitpicks.

Dan Gray, Bay View author

That alcohol and canoeing don’t mix might have been emphasized a little more strongly on page 97. Sadly, more boating mishaps including deaths are associated with alcohol than any other cause. Both “alcohol” and (proper) “hydration” should be indexed under “A” or “H” and as subcategories under “Safety.”

On page 101, there is nice description of a horizon line-an important visual clue that a dam (or waterfall) is coming up. This was not indexed either, and a photograph illustrating the horizon-line effect would have been useful.

In fact, had I been editor, I would have added a few more pages to teach how all these river hazards can be read from a canoe as you approach them. Understanding how to read the river and learning to anticipate hazards well ahead of them are key skills to develop.

Gray’s advice on page 102 to scout-check from the bank before you try on the water-any section that looks potentially troublesome is well given. But what does “scouting” (also not indexed) mean? I knew, but would a beginner? The beginner would eventually learn on page 145, where there is an excellent description and a photo of paddlers scouting some rapids. A quick cross-reference on page 101 would have been handy.

And I would have liked to have seen a couple of spreads on competitive canoe sports, to introduce the reader to other possibilities of canoe fun: everything from adventure racing (nearly every adventure race has a paddling leg) and marathon canoe racing to whitewater, slalom, and Olympic sprints. I would also have liked some mention of river cleanups and encouragement to participate in them, whether from a canoe or from the bank.

But don’t let this short list of nitpicks color my assessment of the book’s value as a whole. This is quite the best introduction to canoeing I have seen. I recommend it unreservedly.

Gareth Stevens is founder and was, for many years, publisher at Gareth Stevens Children’s Books. He is currently editor of United States Canoe Association’s Canoe News magazine, webmaster for, and creator of the online Worldwide Paddling Event Calendar ( And he canoes a lot.

Canoeing for Everyone: A Step-by-Step Guide to Selecting the Gear, Learning the Strokes, and Planning Your Trip

Daniel Gray and Stephen Gorman
Knack: Make It Easy (May 5, 2009)
Paperback – 256 pages
ISBN 978-1-59-921524-2

In April 2010, Canoeing for Everyone will be joined by a companion title:

Kayaking for Everyone: Selecting Gear, Learning Strokes, and Planning Trips

Bill Burnham, Mary Burnham, Stephen Gorman, and Eli Burakian
Knack: Make It Easy (April 13, 2010)
Paperback – 256 pages.

Kirk Farber’s Postcards from a Dead Girl

April 1, 2010

Bay View workshop produced published novelist

By Michael Timm

Postcards From A Dead Girl Kirk Farber’s Postcards from a Dead Girl is a cute book, but that’s not necessarily bad. After all, any author who cites Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury as among his literary influences deserves some attention. Farber does some credit to his heroes, evoking levity, pseudoanthropological perspective, and emotional heft-sometimes skillfully all at once and other times only adequately here and there. The text also contains a few gracious nods to Adams, a structural similarity to Vonnegut, and rapid-fire dialogue akin to Bradbury.

Farber sets a brisk pace in 72 microchapters covering only 256 pages, delivering the escapades of the witty, neurotic, broken-hearted young American everymale-Sid, a travel package telemarketer with a fondness for carwashes. The world’s postal services have failed to deliver postcards from his now-dead girlfriend Zoe in a timely manner-they arrive a year after their postmarks-which eventually launches Sid on a quest to try to follow in Zoe’s footsteps.

Chapters 1-11 are filled with exposition and character introduction rather than action that shows us these things, which initially casts Sid as a weak, dominated protagonist. Things only really get rolling in Chapter 13.

His unsubstantiated hope is that either Zoe is sending him messages from beyond the grave or that her death was actually a joke and she’s still alive, out there, somewhere, somehow. Sid has projected his ideal woman onto Zoe, whose loss has crippled him emotionally. It’s not until the book’s climax that we learn the nature of her death and Farber provides a narrative rationalization for Sid’s reluctance to let go of her. Things get tied up perhaps too nicely, but the ensuing resolution is satisfying, natural, and inevitable nonetheless.

Sid’s grief sounds heavy, but it isn’t because he takes us on a brief tour of the Western world in the process of not facing it-from a New Jersey combination oil change/car wash/Laundromat/bar to a Barcelona discotheque to an office of the French postal service to a hospital CAT scan room to a mud bath spa to a freeway filled with cell phone-distracted drivers. But this book is no travelogue. Farber spends little energy on creating a sense of place beyond that which Sid immediately inhabits in his present action or his recollections.

Farber captures the essences of various occupational types Sid encounters-postal worker, yoga instructor, medical receptionist, oil change mechanic-but he spends less energy confronting Sid’s own family. Sid’s father is dead. His mother is dead and Sid believes her spirit resides in an old wine bottle and talks to him occasionally. Sid’s pregnant sister, a doctor, seems to exist only on the other end of a phone line. And we don’t even learn the occupation of Sid’s love interest.

Kirk Farber Farber has taken other shortcuts. A few passages of dialogue are lopsided and rushed. Roughly half the book seems spent on the phone. Some passages are pushy.

But much of modern life is on display in Farber’s pageant of light satire, from Sid’s credit failure and his poor cell phone reception to the vagueness of medical diagnoses and even falling space debris. While Sid’s story is about coming to terms to life without Zoe and his mother, he exhibits a larger restlessness that pokes playfully at the little corners of our civilization.

Postcards is the debut novel for the Oconomowoc, Wis. native, who attracted the attention of an agent last year on his birthday after being a semi-finalist in’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. He now lives in Colorado and credits the Bay View Redbird Writers Workshop for his success.

This novel should share the same kind of success enjoyed by last year’s film (500) Days of Summer. In almost the same way, it’s an avowed story about love, but not a love story. And it works. But it’s cute. I don’t imagine it will become a classic, but it’s light beach fare for the intelligent reader who enjoys flipping pages and laughing about every three.

My creative writing professor once advised us that every story is better if you put a dog in it. Sid’s loveable dog Zero, who also plays an important role in Farber’s plot and Sid’s character development, makes the case for fictional dogs even stronger.

Ultimately, this book is about learning to process the grief that comes with loss, making it part of your own identity, and discovering the freedom within, a message Harper Perennial knew they could bank on.

More on the author:

Pros: Lots of funny moments and lines. Likeable protagonist. Swift progression. Snappy dialogue. Consistent voice.

Cons: Poor cover design. Too little story in opening chapters. Heavy use of flashback. Nothing new is learned.

Postcards from a Dead Girl

Kirk Farber
Harper Perennial (Feb. 16, 2010)
Trade Paperback – 272 pages
ISBN 978-0-06-183447-9

So you want to go paddling?

April 1, 2010

A Beginner's Guide To Local Waterways

By Daniel Gray

Paddling beneath the High Rise Bridge. ~photo Eddee Daniel / courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper

The ice is gone, the crocuses have punched through the spring soil, and migrating songbirds are winging their way north. It’s time to dust off the canoe or kayak and get out on the water! While the idea of canoeing or kayaking may evoke images of the Boundary Waters or wilderness rivers in Ontario, there are numerous places to dip a paddle only a few minutes from Bay View. With three rivers and one of the world’s largest lakes, Milwaukee offers a variety of paddling experiences within a small area.

Kinnickinnic River

The nearest river to Bay View is the Kinnickinnic. It is the smallest of our three rivers, but offers some scenic paddling along Baran Park and an intimate view of the inner harbor. You can access the water from the Milwaukee County Boat Launch, also called the Bruce Street Boat Ramp. It is located at the junction of S. Water Street and Bruce Street. This ramp gets a lot of use by motor boats and the water can be very choppy when it is windy. It is situated directly across the harbor from the Hoan Bridge. There is a fair amount of shipping traffic-coal barges, ore boats, and the occasional cruise ship. It is exciting to observe the daily workings of the harbor from water level, but be cautious and keep a long way away from large vessels. Human-powered craft can also be launched from the dock at Skipper Bud’s Marina, 1919 S. Hilbert St. The docks are built for motor boats, so it can be a little tricky to enter and exit canoes and kayaks there.

After paddling upstream past grain silos, railroad trestles, and marinas, the KK will take you under the Becher Street bridge. At this point the river narrows and the banks are lined with shrubs and trees. There are likely to be great blue herons, Canada geese, mallards, as well as gulls. When paddling south of Lincoln Avenue one might see a coyote or fox along the banks. The stream is only navigable up to just past the I-94/43 overpass; the riverbed becomes a concrete channel near Sixth Street.

The Menomonee River in the middle of the city. ~photo Michael Timm

Menomonee River

Paddling the Menomonee permits unique views of the downtown post office, the Harley-Davidson Museum, and the We Energies power plant. Continuing west upstream, you pass through the historic post-industrial Menomonee Valley. The river becomes very shallow at about 28th Street near the Falk Corporation. The most accessible public launch site on the Menomonee is located on the north side of the Emmber Lane (13th Street) bridge, just below the parking lot for Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, 1313 W. Mount Vernon Ave. Other nearby launch sites are at Waterfront Condos, directly below the First Street bridge, and the U-shaped pier at Buffalo Street.

In 2009, Third District Alderman Nik Kovac and Dave Coles launched at the Milwaukee Rowing Club and paddled down the Menomonee River to a Brewers game. Kovac reported that after 28th Street the water became so shallow they frequently had to get out and walk the canoe up the river. While it was tough to carry the canoe up the rocky slope to the parking lot at Miller Park, Kovac said, “tailgating was quite a thrill. The canoe made a big impression on people.”

Milwaukee River

With headwaters near the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Milwaukee River winds southeastward for about 100 miles before flowing under the Hoan Bridge and into Lake Michigan. At least 60 miles of the river are navigable by human-powered craft for much of the year starting at about West Bend. For local paddlers, the most frequently paddled sections are the 19 miles from Thiensville south to the lake. This segment of the river winds through Mequon, River Hills, Glendale, Shorewood, and eastern Milwaukee. Above North Avenue there is a surprising amount of wooded shoreline provided by Kletzsch, Lincoln, Estabrook, Kern, Hubbard, Gordon, and Riverside parks. Except for the occasional bridge and intermittent sounds of traffic, it can be hard to tell one is floating through one of the most densely populated areas of Wisconsin. After passing through the remains of the dam at North Avenue, the Milwaukee River is suddenly transformed into a fully urban river. Trees and shrubs give way to steel and concrete walls, and the channel is widened and dredged to allow for the passage of large, motor-driven boats and ships.

~photo Cheryl Nenn / courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper

The most widely used launch providing access to downtown is at the Milwaukee Rowing Club, 1990 N. Commerce St. From here it’s about a 30-minute paddle to the heart of downtown and only a bit longer to the confluence with the Menomonee River. Downtown launch sites include the public docks at Pere Marquette Park, Plankinton Alley, and Mason Street. All of the launch sites below North Avenue allow paddlers to easily paddle back to the put-in spot in order to take out. It is difficult to canoe upstream, so when paddling above North Avenue you will need to plan for shuttling vehicles between launch and landing sites.

Launch sites, rapids, portages, and points of interest for all three of Milwaukee’s rivers are detailed on the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail Map developed by Milwaukee Riverkeeper:

Unfortunately for paddlers, reaches of the Menomonee River along Canal Street near Miller Park can be very shallow. But this stretch of river is scenic, with surprisingly abundant fish and bird life. ~photo Michael Timm

Lake Michigan

Paddling Lake Michigan provides quite a contrast to floating down the rivers. The vast expanse of water and the distant horizon are quite stunning compared to tree-lined banks and downtown’s skyscraper canyon. While all on-water activity requires proper training and safety awareness, the size of Lake Michigan, the ability of the weather to quickly alter boating conditions, and the presence of motorized craft demand that paddlers exercise extreme caution when on the lake. Often it is too choppy for an open canoe, and the wind can create challenging conditions for even experienced kayakers. However, given the right conditions and a cautious attitude, Lake Michigan provides some remarkable local paddling options. Launch sites for hand-powered craft include South Shore Park, Lakeshore State Park, and Bradford Beach. All three spots require that your canoe or kayak be portaged a certain distance from your vehicle.

Burnham canal

Paddlers enjoy the Burnham Canal. ~photo Cheryl Nenn / courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Paddling Instruction, Organized Trips, and Gear

There are numerous local resources available to help you get out on the water.

  • Located on the Milwaukee River near downtown, Laacke & Joys, 1433 N. Water St., sells boats and all types of paddling gear and also has canoes and kayaks available to rent. They offer basic kayaking classes (May 27, June 24, July 22, Sept. 9) and some free kayaking seminars. Laacke & Joys is holding their annual Paddlefest May 22-23. (414) 271-7878 /
  • The Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Pl. on Milwaukee’s East Side, offers weekly canoe trips on Wednesday evenings during the summer to River Rhythms concerts at Pere Marquette Park. On June 17, Kayaking 101 will provide the basics of kayaking. More programs and classes will be added during the summer, and groups can schedule their own trips. Members of the center who have taken a paddling safety class may borrow canoes and kayaks. (414) 964-8505 /
  • Sherri Kayaks Outdoor Programs offers kayak and canoe lessons, as well as guided day paddling trips. (262) 895-2008 /
  • Riverwest Outdoor Enterprises offers customized canoe and kayak trips on the Milwaukee River. (414) 263-4877.
  • REI – Recreational Equipment Inc., 13100 W. Capitol Dr. in Brookfield, sells gear and has boats available to rent. (262) 783-6150 /
  • If you are traveling to Madison, Rutabaga Paddlesports, in Monona, is worth a visit. They retail a huge array of boats and gear and offer paddling classes. (800) 472-3353 /

Guidelines for Paddling Safety

  1. Get instruction. Paddling on moving water or a large lake can become very hazardous if one isn’t trained or experienced.
  2. Wear a PFD! A life jacket, or Personal Floatation Device, will keep you above the surface of the water if you capsize. State law requires a PFD in the boat for each paddler; common sense dictates that each paddler should be wearing their PFD. Most paddling fatalities happen to people not wearing a PFD.
  3. Check the forecast and dress appropriately. Be prepared for temperature changes and rain. Remember to wear sunscreen. Take drinking water with you.
  4. Know the “Rules of the Road” for being around other boats. The larger boat has the right of way because it is harder for it to turn or stop.
  5. Be visible! Wear a brightly colored PFD or bright clothes. A yellow or red boat is much easier to see than a blue or gray one.
  6. You must have a visible light on your boat when paddling after sundown.
  7. Canoe or kayak with other skilled paddlers. Also, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

The county’s boat launch, known as the Bruce Street Boat Ramp. ~photo Cheryl Nenn / courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Barnacle Bud’s boat docks, Skipper Bud’s Marina, with access to the Kinnickinnic River. ~photo Cheryl Nenn / courtesy Milwaukee Riverkeeper

The Kinnickinnic River may be accessed from the Bruce Street Boat Ramp (#31) or Skipper Bud’s Marina (#35). Rafts of detritus, debris, and garbage sometimes make the bend between Kinnickinnic Avenue and Becher Street unpleasant, but the reaches further upstream can be worthwhile. While in the Kinnickinnic River turning basin, beware hostile and territorial gulls. ~Urban Water Trail Map used with permission of Milwaukee Riverkeeper Kinnickinnic River map

The Kinnickinnic River may be accessed from the Bruce Street Boat Ramp (#31) or Skipper Bud’s Marina (#35). Rafts of detritus, debris, and garbage sometimes make the bend between Kinnickinnic Avenue and Becher Street unpleasant, but the reaches further upstream can be worthwhile. While in the Kinnickinnic River turning basin, beware hostile and territorial gulls. ~Urban Water Trail Map used with permission of Milwaukee Riverkeeper

The Kinnickinnic River may be accessed from the Bruce Street Boat Ramp (#31) or Skipper Bud’s Marina (#35). Rafts of detritus, debris, and garbage sometimes make the bend between Kinnickinnic Avenue and Becher Street unpleasant, but the reaches further upstream can be worthwhile. While in the Kinnickinnic River turning basin, beware hostile and territorial gulls. ~Urban Water Trail Map used with permission of Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Click maps to enlarge.

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