The Kinnickinnic River neighborhood Water Story
The word Kinnickinnic comes from the Ojibwe language meaning "what is mixed." (The word referred to local plants mixed with tobacco to be smoked.) Today, the word aptly describes a new kind of mixture—a densely populated, ethnically diverse, and culturally rich neighborhood sharing as a common thread its namesake river: the KK. Instead of herbs and plants and bark, this mixture includes people of many ages, languages, and backgrounds—not just neighbors living next door to each other but members of a community finding new ways to care for one another, the land, and our water.
"We're packed," says Esperanza Gutierrez, a passionate member of the local neighborhood organization, the Kinnickinnic River Neighbors in Action. "It's the most dense neighborhood in the city, and it's the most youthful neighborhood. So we need to teach our young children self-respect, respect for their neighbors, and the respect for nature."
View videos featuring neighbors…
Meet the some of the KK River Neighbors in Action…
Travis Hope, 40, grew up enjoying Pulaski and Kosciuszko parks. Today he is raising his family off of 10th and Cleveland: "At one time, in my life, when I was a kid, we were able to walk up the river. We could walk up the river to Pulaski Park Pool, and go swimming. There wasn't a lot of water in it. The flow of the water is more now than what it used to be, maybe why the flooding got worse."
Linda Hope, 70, is Travis’ aunt. She recently moved back in with him in the neighborhood near the river she remembers as a kid: "We didn't call it the river; we called it the crick. It was all wild and rocks and trees."
Esperanza Gutierrez, 66, has lived across from Pulaski Park just north of the river for 25 years: "The secret I want to share is there's more good than bad. Sometimes people act bad because they're not aware, they're fearful. When I moved in here, I was the only Latina on this block and people were afraid. But there's nothing to fear about me. I work. I buy things with the money I have. [...] I don't have a lot, but what I have will share. If we talk, we find out we have more in common than we have against each other. I don't think we really have that much against each other. We all want the same thing as far as living peacefully, being able to provide for our own needs, not be a sponge that sucks the life out of things."
Marisela Martin raised her family in the neighborhood. She is proud and excited about improvements to Pulaski Park and the river: "My connection with the Kinnickinnic River is to be together as a community; and to come out from challenges; and to serve people who speak Spanish and don't know any English and to persuade them to keep going. Don't fail, just because you don't know the language. We have so many organizations that can help. I feel that we are beginning to promote a more positive environment in the area. Not to feel sad or mad because sometimes we have so many problems, but we don't have to focus on that. We can focus on the positive things. Like the changes we have now that we have the river—it’s a huge, huge empowerment that we can make together."
Explore connections to water, spirit & myth…
Public art panels featuring water deities by Gabriela Riveros were installed in 2018 between 13th and 16th streets north of the Kinnickinnic River.
Can you connect the deities listed alphabetically below with their cultural or spiritual traditions? (Click on each image to learn more.)
Animikii | Atabey | Chaahk | Chalchihuitlicue | Gonggong | Mishipeshu | Naiades | Nanshe | Osun | Veles | Zaj Laug
Each panel shows water deities drawn from the mythic traditions of an ethnic or cultural group who came to live here in the KK River neighborhood! Explore the walking path to discover their myths and stories, mixed and remixed—just like the neighborhood.
Discover who lives here…
Colorful bird and bat houses designed by Mollie Oblinger were installed in 2019 between 13th and 16th streets north of the Kinnickinnic River.
Can you find all six? Who lives where? From what native plant does each house draw inspiration? (Click on each picture for answers.)
Bat | Chickadee | Cardinal | Kestrel | Mourning Dove | Northern Flicker | Owl
Aster | Coneflower | Gentian | Goldenrod | Prairie Clover | Vervain
Explore the walking path to observe wildlife in our city. Check out the interpretative medallions attached to each post to learn more.
Enjoy snapshots of yesterday, today, & tomorrow…
Zoom out to a broader view…
Milwaukee Community Map tour on Milwaukee’s watersheds, featuring the KK (2019).
MMSD’s video overview on the KK River flood management project in Pulaski Park (2018).
Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers’ Stephanie Mercado on health benefits (2019).
Listen to more neighbor voices…
Click each image above to listen to short audio recordings from the special WaterMarks meeting of the KK River Neighbors in Action on April 13, 2019.
Learn about the KK Neighbors in Action…
KK River Neighbors in Action member Travis Hope shares how he got involved in making a difference in the community, and invites others to join the group at monthly meetings and other activities (2:01).
Add your voice: I remember, I hope, I promise…
Art panels located at the corner of S. 13th Street and W. Harrison Avenue were created in 2013 by Express Yourself Milwaukee, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, KKRNIA, and local youth. They are a physical signal that neighbors can influence the spaces in their neighborhood and that their ideas for community building initiatives are valuable and important to the success of the KK River Corridor.