Center News

We’re Celebrating 50 Years!

On April 26, 1971 the Schlitz Foundation voted unanimously to donate the Center’s current 185 acres to the National Audubon Society for the purpose of creating a place to offer environmental education for local school children. Throughout the rest of 2021, we’ll be sharing highlights from our history and plans for our future. We hope you celebrate with us.

History of the Center’s Land

Originally a forested area, this property was inhabited by American Indian people, specifically the Menominee, until 1836. From 1837 to 1890 European immigrants lived here. The land was clear cut to provide lumber and firewood for Milwaukee and was then used for agriculture. Around 1902, the farmsteads were acquired and condensed into a single Uihlein Schlitz family property. Named Nine Mile Farm for its proximity to the brewery, it became the pasture where the draft horses rested from pulling beer wagons.

Following Prohibition, as the use of automobiles became commonplace, the Schlitz Brewery no longer needed horses or a place for them to rest. The farm was deeded to the Schlitz Foundation in 1952 and served as a recreational area for the family, employees, and scouting groups. For years, four women – Dorothy Vallier, along with Monnie Messinger, Winnie Woodmansee, and Charlotte Zieve – advocated for the land to become a center for environmental learning. In 1971, the land was donated for that purpose to the National Audubon Society by the Schlitz Foundation and plans for the Schlitz Audubon began.

Schlitz Audubon Through the Decades

Much has happened throughout our five decades. In the 1970s, we opened the Center to the public. Soon after Center opened, staff and volunteers began recording bird observations. This has become one of the longest-running citizen science projects in the region. To date, 260 species of birds have been sighted here, making us one of the area’s birding hotspots.

The next decade focused on building our educational offerings, particularly for school-aged children. Our Observation Tower was built – known then as our outdoor classroom – and Mystery Lake was established to provide students a close opportunity to view aquatic life. Both our Summer Camp and our Raptor Program were started in the 80s as well.

In the 90s, our environmental education programming expanded to include more ages from toddlers trough adults. Our volunteer corps, always central to the Center, grew. The 2000s brought more growth, with the construction of our Gold LEED-certified building. The Dorothy K. Vallier Environmental Learning Center and our Nature Preschool opened in 2003.

In the 2010’s, our 15-year conservation plan was launched. This included the Stormwater Wetland & Ravine Restoration Project. With the addition of the Mystery Lake boardwalk, we began expanding both accessible trails and programming.

Recent Developments at the Center

While this decade is just beginning, we have great things planned. Our new Central Wetlands Loop is open, taking visitors to two new ponds and our ravine area. Wayfinding signage will be installed in the coming months. Over the next few years, we’ll add more accessible trails and other trail improvements.

Today, our independent nature center reaches over 155,000 visitors, including 4800 students who receive scholarships to participate. Schlitz Audubon provides nature experiences for all on our six miles of trails, including wheelchair accessible trails and boardwalks, through numerous habitats. Our Naturalist Educators and Raptor Program Educators teach people of all ages about wildlife and conservation, as we continually work to improve the land’s biotic diversity.

We are committed to making nature accessible to all and to laying the groundwork for the Center to continue to flourish. Visit our website to explore more about our history and learn how you can celebrate 50 years of Schlitz Audubon with us and be a part of our future.