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The Urban Wilderness Project

Experiencing nature in a metropolitan region

Promoting the Preservation of Natural Areas and Environmental Corridors

Imagine an urban wilderness.  Imagine that there can be places in and near a city where people can go to experience the natural environment—rivers, woodlands, marshes, wildlife, even solitude.  That is the goal of the Urban Wilderness Project.

Through photography we can witness a paradox, the experience of wilderness in the city.  The Urban Wilderness Project is a new way of seeing the city, one that encourages people to leave pavement behind, to discover secret footpaths and dwell in the presence of wildlife.  It provides a hopeful yet clear-sighted commentary on the conditions and potentials of urban living and visual evidence of the contrasting realities in our community—a wealth of natural resources in the midst of urban development. 

The Urban Wilderness Project promotes the creation of a network of interconnected natural corridors along rivers and streams based on watersheds rather than political boundaries.

BACKGROUND:   The landscape of Southeastern Wisconsin has been altered radically and irrevocably in the past two centuries.  Forests have been cleared, wetlands filled, and wildlife habitats reduced to isolated pockets.  Urban, suburban and agricultural development has not only nearly obliterated the original landscape but has distanced people from it in real and psychological terms.
Fortunately the Milwaukee metropolitan region retains a diverse array of natural areas that provide wildlife habitat from downtown to outlying areas.  But they are fragmented and discontinuous.  Milwaukee County has a highly regarded park system on which to build but there are gaps to be filled and the protection often ends at the county line.  The same lands that would make a network of natural corridors possible are prized for private and commercial use and threatened with incompatible development.  
At the same time an entire generation of children is growing up with very little if any contact with the natural world, particularly those who live in the inner city and can least afford the privilege of travel to outlying areas.  Research has demonstrated that exposure to nature in one's youth is instrumental to developing a conservation ethic.

Between 1999 and 2005 I traveled throughout the Menomonee River watershed, in which I reside, to explore it and to document the conditions I discovered there.  My book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, is a record of that process. Since its publication in 2008, I have continued to explore Milwaukee's natural environment.


The mission of the Urban Wilderness Project is to encourage urban and suburban communities to preserve, maintain and restore natural areas; to promote the establishment and preservation of uninterrupted environmental corridors between natural areas, especially along rivers and streams; to raise awareness about the importance of ecology and biodiversity in maintaining healthy, sustainable lifestyles wherever people live; to illustrate interconnections between the natural and built environments, between urban, suburban, and rural communities, and between wildlife and people; to inspire people to enjoy recreational opportunities afforded by the proximity of natural areas.



There are several components to The Urban Wilderness Project.  They fall into two categories, educational tools and outreach.  The tools include the book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, the production of audio-visual programs, and the creation of an archive of images.  The outreach component involves the use of these tools in presentations to the public.  The common thread is the use of photography to bring the watershed alive and make it possible for viewers to relate to a variety of watershed issues in a concrete fashion.

Initiated in 1999, to date the project has established an archive of compelling images.  Several audio-visual programs have been created and presented to diverse audiences.  Print exhibitions have been displayed in galleries, libraries, and other civic facilities.  The book was published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago in 2008.

The Urban Wilderness Project provides tools for the sponsoring organizations to further a common mission, to restore and revitalize the Milwaukee River Basin and to preserve wildlife habitat and natural lands along rivers.  Its vision is to promote a comprehensive watershed conservancy that will establish healthy ecosystems with a network of environmental corridors throughout the watershed.  Corridors of natural land adjacent to rivers and streams act as buffers to pollutants, improving water quality.  Continuity enables wildlife to move freely thus increasing biodiversity.  And preserving natural lands within the city makes them accessible to future generations.

Audio-visual programs and print displays created for the sponsoring organizations are also available to civic organizations.  They can be customized to fit particular goals.  Individual images are also available for use in consultation with the project director, Eddee Daniel.

To schedule a program or exhibition contact Eddee Daniel at eddee@eddeedaniel.com



Celebrate the wealth of natural areas that exist within an urban setting

Document the current condition of rivers, streams, and natural areas

Promote the preservation and restoration of natural areas

Promote the creation of uninterrupted environmental corridors

Raise awareness about the importance of ecology and biodiversity in maintaining healthy lifestyles wherever people live

Illustrate interconnections between the natural and built environments, between urban, suburban, and rural communities, and between wildlife and people

Create an understanding of the tensions that exist between preservation and development and to promote the inclusion of ecological balance in planning for development

Encourage awareness that watersheds transcend political boundaries

Inspire people to experience nature for themselves

Urban Wilderness brings people in contact with the environment within the context of an urban/suburban landscape, making personal some of the larger environmental issues of our time.  It is intended to open a door to understanding how the global and regional forces shaping our shared landscape affect the rivers, birds and wildlife in our community.  Conceptually, Urban Wilderness examines a paradox, the experience of wilderness in the city.  It leads to a voyage of discovery, not of faraway lands, but our own backyard, for it is far more important to discover where we are than to seek out new places.

Project Sponsors


is sponsored by Milwaukee's Riverkeeper
and partner organizations:

The Sierra Club
Urban Ecology Center
River Revitalization Foundation
Sixteenth Street Community Health Center
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Menomonee Valley Partners, Inc.

You can access these sponsors' websites on the contact & links page by clicking HERE.

Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed is published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Click here to go to excerpts.


Phoenix Triptych, Menomonee Valley, Milwaukee, WI

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Eddee Daniel - Fine Art Photography