Looking out over Cahill Park Saturday morning, it was hard to believe my fellow volunteers and I were going to fill our brown paper grocery bags with garbage.
Although the park looked pretty pristine, it was only a matter of minutes before we were finding food wrappers, a big cardboard box and at least four beer bottles. Ours was one of 30 teams of volunteers, ranging in size from less than 10 to more than 30 – and ranging in age from 8 to 80 – that donated an hour of time to the clean-up effort included in the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation's fourth annual event.
While there were unusual finds across the village, including a full bottle of whiskey in , Dave Arnold, one of the event co-chairs, said he talked some volunteers that were disappointed by finding little to no trash on their beat. While it may not make for any exciting stories, it may tell a story of the community's eco-consciousness.
“I think that’s a sign that the community overall takes pretty good care of the village,” he said.
One new aspect of this year’s event was electronic recycling pick-up. The parking lot was flooded with old TVs, VCRs and computers, and those in charge of hauling the recycleables had to call in additional manpower to meet the demand. At least two semi-trucks and a smaller truck were filled with old electronics to be recycled.
“The collection part of the event not only brought people out to recycle, but it got people to come to the event, which was a good thing,” Arnold said.
The event also brought in a uniquely artistic approach to environmental sustainability, as the Civic Foundation showcased that were artistically painted by local artists. Ranging in theme from scenes of the Bay to the abstract, the rain barrels were placed up for bidding during the event, and they will remain on the auction block throughout the month of May as they adorn the sidewalks of sponsoring businesses on Silver Spring Drive.
One of the participating artists was Sue Ellen Christman. The Glendale artist said she has participated in other public art events, such as Shorewood’s Butterflies in Flight and Milwaukee’s Pigs in the Park, so she was eager to take on the challenge of painting a rain barrel - quite a bit different than her usual work of painting, sketching and wood carving.
As she was thinking of themes for the design of the rain barrel, Christman said she drew inspiration from the project's water theme. The end result, titled "The Beaches of Whitefish Bay," paints a portrait of sandy beaches and the choppy waves of Lake Michigan.
“Everything around us screams of nature,” she said. “We have Lake Michigan, and there are trees everywhere. I’m from out East, and it’s not like that there. But here, the community is very aware of the environment.”
Another local artist, Meta Zobec Novak, works mainly with pastels, so rain barrel art was also a change in pace for her. She said she drew inspiration from the Morning Glory flowers in her own garden to create a slightly more abstract twist of opaque green, red and blue petals that took two months of work and multiple layers of paint and sealants.
Next to the rain barrel display, children were engaged with their natural environment through play. John LaPointe, founder of Greener Roofs & Gardens, created a natural playground out of branches and trees, including balance beams, building blocks and teepees made out of natural wood.
“Once you give them an opportunity to engage with nature, they find their own ways to interact and engage,” he said.
For more rain barrel photos and program information, visit the Civic Foundation's Facebook page.