Parks: Ensuring Every Neighbor Has Access to a Great Public Space

Every one of our neighbors should have access to a quality public space. Our parks should be clean and well maintained. I grew up running through our parks and my favorite part of the week now is taking my kids to play at Humboldt Park.

Milwaukee County has one of the best park systems in the United States. I have grown up running and spending time in these parks and am fortunate to be able to share them with my family. Our park system exists because of the foresight and wisdom of our early civic leaders who saw the need for places for relaxation, active and passive recreation, and preserving the natural environment. Over the past century, this system has grown and evolved to become the unique resource that we cherish today. With 157 parks, Milwaukee County has a variety of spaces for us to enjoy.

Unfortunately, failure to allocate sufficient funding and other resources to maintain and preserve these priceless assets have caused them to deteriorate. Years of neglect and inadequate budgets have resulted in a deferred maintenance cost estimated to be more than $300 million. Recent county budgets have done little to address this historic liability or even provide enough funding for routine maintenance and the annual operation of our once-great park system.  The results of this short-sighted approach are obvious to the users of our park facilities, the care that these cherished lands and amenities deserve is not being provided. I will change this trend and reinvest in these essential cultural amenities and the economic benefits they provide. The preservation and enhancement of our park system is critical to the health and well being of current and future generations of park users and to the ecological health of our community. These needs are fulfilled by providing open spaces, natural areas, trails, buildings and infrastructure that are functional, attractive, and safe.

We understand the unique historical character of the land, resources, and facilities that make up the Milwaukee County Parks, that our parks support the health of people and the natural environment. We know that public financing of our park system is crucial to its survival and that any public/private partnerships must provide equal access and benefit all citizens.  I will work to preserve this legacy and to ensure sufficient dedicated funding sources for all of our parks now and into the future. I am committed to solving the financial challenges that face Milwaukee County and its parks and cultural resources. As County Executive, I will be a leader with a strong focus on protecting our parks and recreational amenities and working with state and local officials to find viable solutions to the County’s current financial limitations.

To ensure our parks continue to be an important asset for Milwaukee County, we need to make sure that Milwaukee receives its fair share of revenue. Because Milwaukee County’s revenue is dictated by strict state statute, we are struggling to find funding for our parks and infrastructure. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the State Legislature to make sure Milwaukee County receives this needed funding.

During my campaign, I have pledged to visit each park in Milwaukee County at least once and will continue this promise to visit each park once a year as Milwaukee County Executive. It is important for our community leaders to understand the importance of these places and to see first hand what the parks need in order to thrive. Additionally, our public lands belong to each of you and as Milwaukee County Executive, I will never sell any of our parks. Faced with difficult financial challenges, some have suggested selling or leasing parklands and assets to raise money, decrease costs, and shift operational expenses to others. I will not support the selling of parkland or amenities to solve the fiscal challenges Milwaukee County faces. Additionally, our lakeshore should be accessible to anyone who wishes to enjoy it. I would never place parking meters on spots near the lake.

Finally, I want to make sure our parks are accessible to everyone. I will continue to work with groups like The Ability Center to make sure our parks are inclusive. A person’s physical limitations should not exclude them from enjoying our public lands. This organization has made it their mission to make sure everyone feels comfortable in our parks by creating inclusive programming. We must also make sure our projects are designed to promote racial equity. This has been one of my priorities as a State Senator and something I will continue as Milwaukee County Executive.

I want to make sure our parks are here for generations to enjoy as much as my family has. This will take our entire community’s support, but it starts with a leader who will make parks a priority.

Thank you to Jay Burseth for his assistance with creating parts of this plan.