The Harbor District Habitat Hotels are underwater habitats retrofitted for steel sheet piling. They provide multiple vertical layers of habitat, including underwater plants, hiding 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.