Through a tangle of dogwood and wild plum, the glimpse of a Bald Eagle frozen in mid-flight pulls you in for a closer look. As you detour onto a winding semi-hidden, circular trail, this curious sight begins to clarify: The eagle is the backrest of an intricate wrought-iron bench, and it is clearly beckoning you to stop for a moment to bask in its glory. As you sit, you take in more details: the fish clenched in the giant raptor’s talons, and a plaque imparting the powerful message of “Spread Your Wings.”
The Founder of our Raptor Program
Commissioned by an anonymous donor, the artistic iron bench pays homage to Diane Visty, the visionary founder of the Center’s Raptor Program. When Visty first joined the Center team as a naturalist in 1992, one lone Eastern Screech Owl lived in the original nature center building as an animal ambassador. Over the following 25 years, Visty expanded the program to a robust collection of 15 birds, who together with a staff of four employees and 42 volunteers today implement as many as 600 programs annually. Though Visty has since traded Wisconsin winters for Arizona sun after leaving the Center in 2016, her legacy still inspires visitors every day.
Bench Crafted by Local Artisans
Forged by Milwaukee’s own world-renowned blacksmith Tom Wilson and painted by local landscape artist Ann Powell, the bench seems pulled from a fairy-tale setting. It provides a little bit of unexpected magic, and it is a fun counterpoint to the wooden structures that otherwise dominate the Center grounds. Awash with bold, lifelike colors, the eagle boasts an impressive, life-size wingspread of 70 inches, begging for comparison with outspread arms. Each of the bench’s front “feet” are even true to their name: Each of the front legs rest upon clawed eagle talons.
Today, the bench is breathing new life into a semi-secret, serene pocket of trail. Circling the Green Tree Garden, dedicated nearly 50 years ago in 1976, the area once stood as an entry point to the original nature center building. Today it serves as a fun intermission point, where you can find hikers catching their breath after trekking up the paved hill from the lakefront and children spreading their arms to see how they measure up against the eagle’s impressive wingspan.
Next time you visit the Center, be sure to find the Eagle Bench on your own. The Green Tree Circle is located just south of the Tower parking lot, and very close to the south trailhead leading to Lake Michigan, the Tower, the Pavilion, or Mystery Lake. Sit back, savor the moment, and spread your wings!