Wehr Nature Center

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The Wehr Nature Center is located in Whitnall Park in southwestern Milwaukee County. This beautiful 220-acre land contains over five miles of hiking trails. The trails lead their hikers to the diverse set of natural communities in the Nature Center. Woodland, Wetland, Prairie, Oak Savanna and Lake natural communities are all connected The center is located in a part of Wisconsin where historic wildfires occurred due to increased overall moisture, resulting in the diverse natural communities.

History of the Wehr Nature Center

Alfred Boerner is credited with establishing Wehr Nature Center. The plans for the center were introduced in 1930 after the 660-acre park, which surrounds the Wehr Nature Center today, was purchased. Boerner believed the park would be educational and gave individuals the opportunity to explore nature. [1]


1930-1932: Alfred Boerner plans Whitnall Park

1933-1935: Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made of three hundred men created lagoons, built bridges, roads and planted trees to make the park what it is today.

1952: The first nature trail is created at the hands of superintendent John Voigt and student Phil Whitford.

1964: Plans for Wehr Nature Center are drawn by County Parks Landscape Planner Robert Mikula. Boerner had always had a dream of establishing a nature center in Whitnall park.

1970: The Todd Wehr Foundation provides $200,000 for the building of the nature center.

1974-1979: Harold Rock becomes the first director of the Wehr Nature Center. He is instumental in creating a volunteer system, establishing a group of teaching naturalists and creating a group to maintain the trails.

1974: The construction is finally completed and dedicated to Todd Wehr

1975: The trail system in the Woodland, Wetland and Prairie trails are finished.

1975-2018: More Nature programs are establish and the Wehr Nature Center continues to grow. [2]

Current Operations

Wehr Nature Center opened to the public June 14, 1974. Since the opening in 1974, the trails system has been completed including a board walk that stretches through the Wetland Trail. A focus on environmental education for children and adults resulted in a plethora of programs offered for all. To keep these inspiring programs up and running, Friends of Wehr was created. Friends of Wehr is a non-profit formed to provide financial aid and volunteer support. [3]

Hiking the Trails

The trails are open from 8am to dark and the parking lot closes at 4:30. Maps for the trails can be found in the Wehr Nature Center. The trails wind through Woodland, oak savanna, prairie and wetland natural communities. Each area is home to unique wildlife, from songbirds to fawns to wildflowers, there is something for everyone. The woodland trail loop (.5 mi) winds along a glacial moraine covered with deciduous forest. The grounds are covered in wildflowers with a canopy of trees covering the sky. Sugar Maple and Oaks in the fall are covered in colorful leaves adding to its natural beauty. Oak Savanna (.5 mi) has scattered grasses and plants leading you through the trails. Black-eye Susana and Grey-headed Coneflower decorate the ground in the summer.The Prairie loop is approximately a forty minute walk. The natural community has adapted to a climate of extreme heat, wind and drought. Grasses and herbs withstand these harsh conditions the best. Lastly, the wetland loop is approximately a thirty minute walk and leads you through a variety of wet habitats. Beautiful Black willow trees engulf the area. The natural community is also home for wildlife, including migrating wildlife.[4]

Wehr Nature Center Programs

Children's Programs

Little Wonders program is designed for two and three year old children accompanied by an adult. Each session includes exploring the outside, story time, art work and snack which all relate back to a simple nature subject. The purpose of this program is to introduce children to basic nature lessons and inspire them to spend more time outdoors. [5]

NatureNauts is nature program designed specifically for four to six year old children. Similar to astronauts, these youngsters will explore nature, sing songs, be up close and personal with wild creatures. Past NatureNauts have explored a snow cave, danced with dragonflies, and tapped a maple tree. [6]

Adult Programs

Wehr Nature Center offers a variety of adult programs for the environmentalist in everyone. All the programs encourage individuals to explore nature and as well as staying active. Nature hangouts is a place for friends to have fun and explore nature. The program runs during February, May and October to give the individual the opportunity to explore nature during all seasons. As an added bonus, all hangouts include refreshments, activities and outdoor gear! [7]

Yoga for Wellness is led by instructor Katy Martens on Sundays from 8:30-9:30. On warm days, yoga will be held outside, surrounded by nature, otherwise classes will be held in the Boerner Botanical Gardens Multi Media Room. [8]

The Effect of Human Disturbance on Wehr Nature Center

In 1975, Mariette M. Nowak studied the two woodland areas of the Wehr Nature Center. Her goal was to study the changes brought about by human disturbance. The woods next to the nature center had been lumbered and grazed. While the woods along College Avenue floods seasonal due to an alteration in draining patterns from road construction. Nowak compared each disturbed area to a relatively undisturbed adjacent area.

History of the Area

The soils next to the Wehr Nature Center and College Avenue were formed on a glacial drift. The woodlands belong to the Morley and Blount Series according to a soil survey of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties. [9] The Morley series consists of "Well-drained and moderately well-drained silty soils over calareous silty clay loam glacial till." The native vegetation was oaks and hickories. [10] The Blount series on the other hand were formed in a "thing layer of Silt and in Calcareous silty clay loam glacial till. They occur in drainageways and in slight depression in the southern park of Milwaukee County. [11] The soil survey from 1971 reports that the native vegetation was a deciduous forest, oak, hickory and elm. The woodlands natural community was originally a farmland owned by Timothy Doody. The Milwaukee County Park Commission purchased the land in 1929 to increase the land of Whitnall Park. Prior to this purchase, the lumbering in the Wehr woods occurred. There is an old lumbering trail which leads through the western part of the Wehr woods. The College Avenue property was originally an Indian trail, and later became a wagon trail. The improvement of the road had an inverse effect on the drainage alongside the road.

Results of the study

Nowak found that past human disturbance has greatly modified the species composition of the vegetation within the Wehr woods and College Avenue woods. The undisturbed area of the Wehr woods relies heavily on sugar maple, white ash and oak, while the damaged area relied heavily on white ash. The flooded area of College Avenue relies on white and green ash. Overall, white ash is prominent in all areas and is the most adaptable species. The effect on tree species were not the only disturbance felt. The lumbered area of Wehr had an abundance of thorny and spiny species which are most likely invasive and/or highly adaptable species. The flooded area of College Avenue also experienced species changes. The area now has many water-tolerant species such as red osier dogwood and alder buck thorn. In addition to invasive species, the species richness and diversity have been affected. The lumbered area of Wehr woods had a greater species richness except for tree stratum. Lumbering reduced the canopy allowing the invasion of pioneer species. College Avenue woods had far lower diversity and richness than all the areas studied. It is difficult for species to survived in the flooding. [12]


  1. "History and Mission",Friends of Wehr, (5-3-18), http://www.friendsofwehr.org/wehr-nature-center/history-mission/
  2. "History and Mission", Friends of Wehr, (5-3-18)http://www.friendsofwehr.org/wehr-nature-center/history-mission/
  3. "History and Mission",Friends of Wehr Nature Center, (5-3-18), http://www.friendsofwehr.org/wehr-nature-center/history-mission/
  4. "Wehr Nature Trails", Go Milwaukee County, (5-3-18), http://county.milwaukee.gov/Trails10375.htm
  5. "Children's Programs", Friends of Wehr Nature Center, (5-3-18), http://www.friendsofwehr.org/childrens-programs/early-childhood/
  6. "Children's Programs, Friends of Wehr Nature Center, (5-3-18), http://www.friendsofwehr.org/childrens-programs/early-childhood/
  7. "Nature Hangouts", Friends of Wehr Nature Center, (5-3-18) http://www.friendsofwehr.org/nature-hangouts/
  8. "Yoga for Wellness", Friends of Wehr Nature Center, (5-3-18), http://www.friendsofwehr.org/yoga-for-wellness/
  9. "Soil Survey of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties Wisconsin", US Department of Agriculture, 1971,(5-3-18), https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/wisconsin/mil_wauWI1971/mil-wauWI1971.pdf
  10. "Soil Survey of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties Wisconsin", US Department of Agriculture, 1971, (5-3-18), https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/wisconsin/mil_wauWI1971/mil-wauWI1971.pdf
  11. "The effect of human disturbance on vegetation at the Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park", Mariette M. Nowak, 1976 (5-3-18)
  12. "The effect of human disturbance on vegetation at the Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park", Mariette M. Nowak, 1976 (5-3-18)

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