With a weekend to myself mid-March, I decided it was a good day to find a park and do some walking. I had just gotten a hip-holster for one of my cameras and was itching to try it out, so I hopped in the car and away I went.
I didn’t really have a plan, so I looked up some parks on Google maps and found Moorland Park in Muskego. It’s about a twenty-minute drive from my house to Muskego and getting out of the city sounded pretty good. When I got there, I realized that it really wasn’t what I was looking for. It appeared to have a decent playground, a nicely-groomed soccer field, and a skate park. These are fantastic amenities for families or teens, but not exactly ideal for a 30-something klutz who just wants to take some photos (a lone adult taking pictures of children at a playground… yikes).
Back to Google. I found one called Veterans Memorial Park, which I figured would (at minimum) have something of historic value that I could photograph, so I let Gigi (our name for Google’s “voice”) guide me there.
Or so I thought. When she announced, “You have arrived!” I looked around me and saw… nothing. Well, not nothing, but not a park. Streets. Buildings. Houses. But no park. Seriously, Gigi? Ugh. Clearly, this was not working for me, so I gave up and asked her to get me back home. As I was driving, I saw a sign for Engel Conservation Area. Intrigued, and not really ready to head home, I turned and headed for this unknown place.
Engel ended up being exactly what I had been looking for. At 155 acres (or 153 acres, depending on your source), Engel is the “largest city-owned conservation site” (the City of Muskego site doesn’t specify, so I’m guessing they mean in the state; if you happen to know for sure, leave a comment so I can correct myself). Just over half of the acreage is made up of wetlands, while the rest is largely upland woodlands and upland prairie plantings. The area has just about four miles of hiking trails, a decent amount of wildlife (I even startled an opossum! Although, it was more of a mutual startling…), and some lovely additions from both the Boy Scouts (mostly bridges) and the Girl Scouts (benches and an observation deck).
A brief history of the conservation area: As late as the mid-1800s, the land was populated by the Potawatomi, a Native American tribe with strong roots in the midwest. Around 1859, some of the land was settled and farmed by German immigrant Tobias Oakler. Over the next 80+ years, acres were sold and passed along several times (largely to family or neighbors) until the land was bought in 1945 by the Engels. Ewald and Eleanore Engel were the last private owners; the property was bought by the city in 2003 after the Engels had passed away and the conservation area was named in their honor.
I spent an hour or so wandering peacefully along the paths. Well, mostly peacefully. When I arrived at Engel, there was one other vehicle in the parking lot. I did my best to head in what I hoped was the opposite direction in order to increase my likelihood of getting some nice photos of the native wildlife. Unfortunately for me, sound carries across wetlands and prairie pretty well, so wherever I was, the noise followed. Some spots were quieter than others – like the Ephemeral Pond – and those spots were actually quite serene (save for the area woodpecker, who was apparently quite busy that day).
It was such a beautiful place to explore that I actually went back the very next weekend! We woke up early and caught a glimpse of the sunrise on our way there. As we arrived, the wildlife was just getting started for the day. We saw several types of birds, including red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, mallards, and even some ring-necked ducks. The real treat of the morning, however, was when we stumbled across a pair of muskrats. Though some of the water still had a layer of ice on top, these little furballs didn’t seem to mind at all. They also let me get much closer than I’d anticipated, and I ended up stepping in some of the icy water myself. (For the record, they might not have minded the cold, but I certainly did.)
Obviously, I am a fan of this “park” since I’ve already revisited it. Personally, I’m skipping it this summer and waiting to go back in the fall. With all the tree coverage, I’m thinking there’s a possibility for some color change photo ops! I’m sure it would be lovely in the summer as well, but you know how it goes: so many parks, so little time.
If you want to check Engel out for yourself, here’s some info for you:
- Engel Conservation Area is, as the name suggests, a conservation area. This means no hunting, no collecting (unless you’ve been granted permission ahead of time), no camping or fires, and no pets. The area opens at dawn and closes at dusk.
- At the entrance, you will find a small parking lot, the large map pictured above, a picnic table or two, and a port-o-potty. Aside from benches and educational signs along the trails, that’s about it for amenities.
- If you’re lucky, you may find some small trail maps to carry with you near the entrance as well, but don’t count on it, especially during the off-season. If you can’t get your hands on a map, I’d suggest snapping a pic of the big map on your phone or camera to use for reference. Otherwise, you should be able to get through if you pay attention to the maps along the trails.
- Keep an eye (and ear) out for birds while you’re there. The city of Muskego is one of the 109 communities recognized as a “bird city” by Bird City Wisconsin; additionally, it is one of only 23 on the list that has achieved the status of High Flyer. The city also has Tree City USA status. So… yeah. Trees.