Community Engagement Events Our Work

Harbor Fest

Harbor Fest returns, featuring sturgeon fest and the Milwaukee boat parade


Join Harbor District Milwaukee, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and Riveredge Nature Center at Harbor Fest for another year of family fun celebrating all things fish, water, and boats! Harbor Fest will take place on Sunday, September 25, 2022 from 11am -4pm in front of UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences (600 E. Greenfield Avenue). 

Attendees can:

Release a baby sturgeon with Riveredge Nature Center
– 12:00pm Sturgeon Blessing by Richard Gonzalez
– 12:30pm – 2:00pm Sturgeon Release
More information at

Watch the 6th Annual Milwaukee Riverkeeper Boat Parade
– 12:30pm Fourteen one-of-a-kind art installations float begin a parade along the Milwaukee RIver from Harbor Fest to
   Lakefront brewery. 

Participate in all of the Harbor Fest fun
– Performances by Pulpa de Guayaba and Caché
– Free boat tours of the Inner Harbor from 1:00pm – 4:00pm. 
– A children’s Makers Tent with hand-on activities
– Fishing lessons with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
– Doors Open Milwaukee Tours of the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, and Komatsu’s Experience Center
– Local food and vendors
– Learn a lot from the many organizations that will be hosting a booth!

Schedule of Events

11:00am –  Festival begins

11:00am – 11:50am – Performance by Pulpa de Guayaba at the main stage

12:00pm – Sturgeon Blessing with Richard Gonzalez at Harbor View Plaza

12:30pm – Boat Parade begins at Harbor View Plaza

12:00pm – 2:00pm –  Sturgeon Release continues by the UWM School of Freshwater’s West entrance

1:00pm – 4:00pm –  Boat Tours of Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor

4:00pm – Harbor Fest ends 

Getting to Harbor Fest

Harbor Fest is taking place at the east end of Greenfield Avenue in front of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences (SFS) along Milwaukee’s harbor waterfront.

Via Car
If coming from I-43/I-94, the nearest exit is at Lapham Boulevard/Mitchell Street (Exit 312A).  Parking is available on city streets west of the Harbor Fest grounds or in several parking lots provided by Rockwell Automation and shown on the map below.  All vehicles must park to the west of the railroad bridge on Greenfield Avenue and walk to the Harbor Fest grounds via Greenfield Avenue.

Via Public Transit
Harbor Fest is served by several Milwaukee County Transit System bus lines including the Green Line, route #15, and route #56 which all stop at 1st & Greenfield.  For current information visit

Via Bicycle or On Foot
South 2nd St is the closest street with an on-street bicycle lane.  The KK River Trail is an off-street paved bicycle path that will leave you at the corner of E Washington St and S Barclay, a few blocks north of the SFS.  From 1st & Greenfield go east under the railroad tracks and Harbor Fest is in front of you.

Press Release 7/27/2022: Harbor Fest 2022 Date Announced


Environmental Improvements Our Work

Stormwater Information and Resources

Stormwater Information and Resources

What is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure captures rain water where it falls and absorbs water into the ground, keeping it out of the sewer system. This is especially important in places with a lot of paved surface. 

Green Infrastructure, as opposed to gray infrastructure like sewers, can take numerous forms like rain gardens, barrels, and porous pavers for parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks. All of these strategies store or absorb rain where it falls, keeping it out of our sewer system, which helps:

  • Protect rivers and lakes from water pollution.
  • Keep it from becoming someone else’s headache downstream.
  • Reduce the risk of basement backups, flooding, and sewer overflow.
Our Work Public Spaces

Greenfield Bridge Mural

Greenfield Bridge Mural

The Greenfield Bridge Mural painted by Nova Czarnecki signifies the gateway to the Harbor District. The mural showcases many of the native species still found in the area. Read below to learn more about all the birds, fish, and other wildlife that inhabit the Harbor District.
Great Blue Herons live in almost any wetland habitat in North America and Central America. They are the largest bird in North America ranging from 3-4.5 ft. tall and they can live to be 15 years old. 90% of their time awake is spent searching for food.
Black-Crowned Night Heron3
The Black-crowned Night Heron are native to North America and are found in aquatic habitats such as marshes, wetlands, swamps, rivers, lakes, or ponds. These birds like to nest with other bird species. As a defense mechanism, young Black-crowned Night Herons will vomit.
The Northern Cardinal is located throughout the central and eastern regions of North America. These birds do not migrate and they prefer to live in grassland and woodland landscapes. Unlike most songbirds across North America, both a male and female cardinal can sing.
Crows are found all over the world and the North American Crow prefers open areas. These birds are known for their adaptability and intelligence. A group of crows is referred to as a murder.
The American Goldfinch lives in floodplains and weedy fields throughout the United States and Canada. These birds mainly feed on seeds and typically live 3-6 years. The record age of a Goldfinch is 11 years old.
The American Robin lives in both wooded and urban areas throughout most of the United States. These birds are mostly active during the day. Most robins migrate south for the winter, but occasionally they will overwinter.
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in many Eastern forests and woodlands and have continued to spread northwestward further into the Great Plains. They are noisy birds that have a variety of calls.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are common to many deciduous forest habitats near streams and marshes across the Midwest of North America. These birds migrate during the winter. They feed on insects, fruit, and seeds.
Yellow-Throated Warbler and Red-bellied Woodpecker and Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlarks can be found across western and central North America. They live in grasslands, pastures, fields, meadows, and on the edges of marshes. They migrate south in the winter and they feed mainly on insects.
Pileated Woodpecker and Common Yellowthroat

Pileated Woodpeckers are found in the Northern half of North America and they like to live in heavily wooded areas. They dig rectangular holes in trees with their bill to find ants. This is the largest woodpecker in North America.

The Common Yellowthroat is found in thick marsh vegetation across North America. They feed on mostly insects and they typically migrate at night.

Red-Winged Blackbird and House Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbirds live in grassy areas and wetlands. They inhabit both saltwater and freshwater marshes, especially if cattail is present. The oldest wild Red-winged Blackbird was known to be 15 years old.

The House Sparrow is native to most of Asia, the Mediterranean Basin, and Europe. It is now the most widely distributed wild bird due to its accidental and intentional introductions to many other regions, including the Americas. These birds are very social and nest in colonies.

Northern Pike
The Northern Pike likes to live in rivers, streams, and lakes with dense vegetation throughout the northern hemisphere. Northern Pike have long, sharp teeth and bright yellow eyes. Also, they can swim up to 10 mph.
Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout are native to the North Pacific Ocean and Eastern Asia. Today, rainbow trout have been introduced to every continent except Antarctica. Rainbow Trout are predators that will eat almost anything they will catch.

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Pumpkinseed sunfish live in warm, calm freshwater bodies that have vegetation throughout North America. They travel in schools with other sunfish and bluegills. These fish contain spines that are sharp and aid in protection.


Sturgeons are native to lakes and coastlines of North America and Eurasia. Most are bottom-feeders that migrate upstream to spawn. Sturgeons have barbels that help them locate prey hiding on the bottom, such as snails, clams, and insect larvae. Lake sturgeon can reach 6 ft. long, weigh 200 lbs., and females can live up to 150 years.

Brook Trout (1)

Brook Trout are freshwater fish that is native to Eastern North America and Canada, but they have been introduced throughout North America and even Alaska. They can grow to be 3 ft. long and live up to 9 years. Brook Trout are a good indicator species of pollutants because they require clean water to live.

Yellow Perch3

Yellow perch, also known as lake perch, are native to the Atlantic, Arctic, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River basins, as well as some other areas of Canada. They live close to the shore of slow-moving rivers, streams, and lakes, feeding on small fish and insects.

Lily Pads
Brook Trout are freshwater fish that is native to Eastern North America and Canada, but they have been introduced throughout North America and even Alaska. They can grow to be 3 ft. long and live up to 9 years. Brook Trout are a good indicator species of pollutants because they require clean water to live.

A girl is a young female human, usually a child or adolescent. Humans are characterized by erect posture, bipedal movement, high manual dexterity, and heavy tools use. They also have open-ended and complex language, and a general trend toward complex brains and societies. Humans are known for greatly altering their environment to suit their needs and wants.

Community Engagement Our Work

Education Programs

Education Programs

HDI has worked with a number of schools that fall within a two-mile radius of the Harbor District to create fun educational experiences. Students are given a number of in-person class visits by HDI staff that range from community building to ecologies and are then brought to the Harbor District for a field trip.

Field trips range from wildlife field data collection to boat tours of the Harbor District. Our educational programming is free and flexible. More information can be found in our brochure linked below.

Community Engagement Our Work

Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC)

Neighborhood Advisory Commitee (NAC)

The Neighborhood Advisory Committee is made up of nearby residents who serve as our neighborhood experts. The NAC advises us on outreach methods, event ideas, and decision-making that will benefit neighborhoods surrounding the Harbor District.

If you live in or near the Harbor District and would like to be a part of the NAC please contact Natalia Hernández at

Environmental Improvements Our Work



Even though the Harbor District is in the very heart of Milwaukee and has been the center of economic activity for centuries, there is still a healthy community of organisms that live here. From mammals like deer, coyotes, gray and red fox, muskrats, beavers, groundhogs, squirrels, and bats all the way down to dragonflies, insects, and barely visible invertebrates in the water, a rich ecology is thriving just out of sight. The Harbor District has identified ways to improve habitat so that more things besides humans can find a home here, through rebuilding ecological functioning of the landscape. We do this by considering the needs of organisms for food, reproduction, shelter, and movement. Finding opportunities to re-introduce native plants and reserving space for animals is at the heart of this implementation, while also encouraging everyone to remember that nature is right here if you just stop to look and listen.

Harbor District has partnered with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee Public Museum to learn more about the wildlife present. In 2019, we conducted surveys of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bats, and mammals. We found over sixty different species!
A great way to help collect information on wildlife and plants in the Harbor District is to use the smartphone app iNaturalist. It connects you with experts who can identify the species you find and keeps a log of everything you have observed.
Even within our developed urban landscape, many different kinds of animals make a home or roam through. We can improve the Harbor District’s ability to support wildlife by considering their needs and incorporating native plants and trees, connections between green spaces, and softening armored shorelines.
The Harbor District Terrestrial Habitat Plan (2020) identifies current and potential habitat areas and a vision for improving the ability of the Harbor District to support a rich and diverse biotic community.
Milwaukee’s waterways, including the inner harbor at the heart of the Harbor District, bear the legacy of decades of pollution and contamination from past industries, dumping of sanitary waste, and other degradation. In fact, the EPA has characterized our estuary as one of the most “impaired” around the Great Lakes and designated it an “Area of Concern.” Harbor District, Inc. is active in efforts to clean up the contamination, repair ecological function, and make other improvements that will allow us to remove the Area of Concern designation.
Environmental Improvements Our Work

Trash Wheel

Trash Wheel

Harbor District, Inc. is exploring the possibility of having a “trash wheel” on the Kinnickinnic River to help collect trash and debris before it floats to the Inner Harbor and to Lake Michigan.

The trash wheel, a stationary trash-collecting device, includes a water wheel which runs a conveyor belt. A pair of booms direct trash floating down the river to the conveyor belt, and then trash is collected in a dumpster for removal.

The trash wheel technology was pioneered in Baltimore in 2014 by inventor John Kellett. There, “Mr. Trash Wheel” and “Professor Trash Wheel” have collected over 1.3 million pounds of trash in the past 3 years out of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel is very active on Twitter and is helping to spread the word about the health of Baltimore’s waterways. We think Milwaukee would be a great place for Mr. Trash Wheel’s cousin to get to work cleaning our urban rivers, too.

To learn more about our inspiration, Mr. Trash Wheel, please visit

Environmental Improvements Our Work

Habitat Hotels

Habitat Hotels


The Harbor District Habitat Hotels are underwater habitats retrofitted for steel sheet piling. They provide multiple vertical layers of habitat, including underwater plantshiding places for fish, and food for fish, and mimic the habitat that might be found along more naturalized river shorelines.



The downtown portions of the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee Rivers are dominated by steel sheet piling shorelines, making it extremely difficult for plants to grow along the bank. Steel sheet piling provides almost no habitat benefits, but it is used widely in urban areas because it serves other important purposes: protecting buildings and properties from flooding and storms, providing deep channels needed for shipping and boating, and allowing large freighter ships to easily dock. Further, the inner harbor is also dredged to maintain depths of 25+ feet to support shipping and industry in the area. As such, the inner harbor area of Milwaukee is known as an aquatic desert, lacking habitat and opportunities for fish to find food and cover. The Habitat Hotels provide needed “pit stops” for fish as they travel through the inner harbor between Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s three rivers.

By introducing Habitat Hotels in the Red Zone, we are connecting areas of better habitat in the rivers to the habitat in Lake Michigan. Many fish swim between the rivers and the Lake to reproduce or to complete other life stages, so the inner harbor serves as a very important intersection.

Where are they?

Habitat Hotels are currently installed in three distinct locations across the Harbor District and are marked with fish art painted in the Harbor District colors. As the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences continues working on their Harbor Habitat Mapping Project, we will prioritize future installation locations based on potential improvements to habitat connectivity – essentially making a string of Habitat Hotels between other areas of rich habitat – in the Inner Harbor.
Repurposed restaurant grade fryer baskets serve as underwater planter baskets.
Water Celery that was planted in 2017!
Habitat Hotel being visited by a yearling perch!

Habitat Hotel Benefits


Project History

We received funding from the Fund for Lake Michigan to explore habitat solutions for steel sheet piling. This funding allowed Harbor District staff to work with scientists, staff, and students from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences to inform the Habitat Hotel design process. In April 2018, the Habitat Hotels were granted a provisional patent shared by UW-Milwaukee and Harbor District, Inc.
We received a Mini Grant from the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, initiating the pilot phase. The pilot study included building 8 Habitat Hotels and installing them in May 2017.
Welding students from Bradley Technical High School build the Habitat Hotels as part of a class project. Over 100 students have been exposed to the project and have learned about Milwaukee’s aquatic ecology. Students get to apply the technical skills they are learning to a real-world solution.
We work with great partners who serve as “site hosts” for the Habitat Hotels, including The School of Freshwater Science, Elementis LTP, and Paul Davis Restoration.


Bradley Tech students perfecting welding skills.
Students operate the plasma cutter.
Elementary students present habitat plans
Students plant native vegitation.

Project Funders

Our Work Public Spaces

Kinnickinnic River Trail

Kinnickinnic River Trail

The KK River Trail (KKRT) is 2½ miles of off-street paved trails and on-street bike lanes following the river through a densely populated and industrial corridor. The trail links the Harbor District with Bay View and offers natural greenery and gritty industry.

The segment between Lincoln Avenue and Maple Street utilizes bike lanes on South 1st Street. The KKRT is a segment of the Bay View to Downtown route, which includes the raised bike lane on Bay Steet and bike lanes on South Kinnickinnic Ave.

The KKRT is part of the larger Kinnickinnic River corridor revitalization efforts underway that are improving the health and quality of life for city residents in general, and South Side residents in particular. 

Our Work Public Spaces




The waterfront of Milwaukee’s Harbor District has largely been off-limits to the general public for most of the City’s history. As much of the waterfront is no longer needed for heavy industry and shipping, there is an opportunity to open up the waterfront to public use and to reconnect surrounding neighborhoods to the waterways that flow through their community, while preserving the ability for marine-based businesses to operate or expand. A public Riverwalk extending from the northern end of Walker’s Point at Bruce Street up the Kinnickinnic River to Lincoln Avenue will be a great asset to the Harbor District, surrounding neighborhoods, and the city as a whole.


In 2018 the City of Milwaukee Common Council approved the Harbor District Water and Land Use Plan (WaLUP) as an element of the City’s comprehensive plan. The first of four catalytic projects in the WaLUP is an “Improved Waterfront Experience”, which proposes a new vision for the waterfront of the Harbor District as a “multi-purpose multi-use waterfront” that includes a public Riverwalk.

With the WaLUP completed, Harbor District, Inc. (HDI) and the City of Milwaukee are now moving forward with efforts to develop a public Riverwalk along the western shore of the inner harbor and the Kinnickinnic River. The first step in that process took place over 2018 as HDI and City staff worked with waterfront property owners to create and approve the Harbor District Riverwalk Site Plan Review Overlay Zone (SPROZ). This overlay zone covers the western shore of the inner harbor and both sides of the Kinnickinnic River up to Lincoln Avenue.

Following the adoption of the Harbor District Riverwalk SPROZ, a consultant team developed design standards, concepts for addressing challenging Riverwalk segments, and concepts for capitalizing on several more significant public spaces and access points. The Harbor District Riverwalk Design Standards will ensure the Riverwalk operates as a cohesive network with a common aesthetic theme and meets high standards for elements such as furniture, lighting, landscaping, natural habitat, and stormwater management.


The Harbor District Riverwalk SPROZ includes all waterfront parcels on the western shore of the Inner Harbor and waterfront parcels on both sides of the Kinnickinnic River between the Union Pacific rail swing bridge and Lincoln Avenue.  City Plan Commission approval is required for all projects located 50 feet landward of an existing dock wall or ordinary high-water mark. For any property located within or partially within the overlay zone, a Riverwalk that complies with the requirements of this overlay zone and associated design standards shall be constructed at the time of any new construction or substantial improvement of a principal structure on the property.  The requirement to construct a Riverwalk shall apply even in cases where the principal structure itself is not located within the zone.

For questions or comments related to the Harbor District Riverwalk Overlay Zone, please contact us at


We are excited to announce the Harbor District Riverwalk is a new member of the High Line Network, a group of infrastructure reuse projects located across North America. For more info, visit

Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk on the north end of the Harbor District. Rendering by UWM Community Design Solutions.
Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk and waterfront park along the Kinnickinnic River on the south end of the former Solvay Coke & Gas site. Rendering by SEH.
Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk and waterfront park along the Kinnickinnic River on the south end of the former Solvay Coke & Gas site. Rendering by SEH.