County Grounds Park
Photo Credit Eddee Daniel https://www.flickr.com/photos/eddeedaniel/albums/72157623843201347
Friends of County Grounds Park (FOCGP) formed in response to the City of Wauwatosa’s 2019 re-zoning of 58-acres, including Sanctuary Woods, into conservation status. This land will be annexed to the existing 55-acre County Grounds Park. To protect and improve the natural areas and wildlife habitat of the County Grounds and to continue the tradition of using this land to promote community health and wellness.
Navigate to "Events and Updates" to find out more about how to receive email updates, attend our monthly meetings, volunteer for park improvement projects, and/or attend any of the guided park tours. Park tour topics include history, mammals, butterflies, botany, fall colors, coyotes, cemeteries, birding, and hydrology!! Appropriate for all ages.
Opportunities for individuals, teambuilding and/or service work. With over 100 unique acres including a historic forest (some trees >300 years old); rolling prairies; ponds, creeks and wetlands; 2 cemeteries; century-old landscaping inspired by Fredrick Law Olmsted; diverse wildlife habitat supporting several at-risk species - we can find an opportunity that matches your enthusiasm.
Also actively seeking corporate sponsorships including sponsor-brand support.
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About the Park:
With its rolling hills, wide vistas of downtown Milwaukee, and unique combination of habitats, County Grounds Park is poised to join other county gems like Whitnall Park and the Lakefront. It is accessible from 87th Street north of Watertown Plank Road and Discovery Parkway south of Swan Boulevard in Wauwatosa.
County Grounds Park especially appeals to naturalists, hikers, birders, photographers, and educators. The historical site of the farms, woods, and gardens of a former behavioral healthcare facility, it also appeals to enthusiasts of history, cemeteries, and health care.
County Grounds Park consists of significant, distinctive habitats that host several endangered species alongside historic infrastructures and includes several acres of an old forest known as Sanctuary Woods. In 2017 Sanctuary Woods received national recognition when The Cultural Landscape Foundation included it on its annual “Landslide” list of threatened cultural landscapes. In 2019 Sanctuary Woods was featured as chapter 84 in the recent tour guidebook, 111 Places in Milwaukee You Must Not Miss by Michelle Madden. Also, in 2019 there were three events for the removal of buckthorn, an invasive species, to help restore the life-cycle of the historic hardwood forest.
Photo Credit Eddee Daniel
County Grounds Park and Sanctuary Woods are north of Waterplank Road across from the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
In Google Maps / Apple Maps / Waze -- search "Sanctuary Woods Parking"
By vehicle, it can be most easily visited:
Start at the intersection of 87th & Watertown Plank Road. Three searchable businesses close to there include:
RMHC Eastern Wisconsin (Ronald McDonald House)
Wisconsin Athletic Club
**PLEASE GO SLOWLY, there are blind corners with frequent bikes, pedestrians and pets.
Travel north roughly two blocks to a “Y” intersection.
At the "Y" go northwest (left) for 0.3 miles to a dead-end circle which has space for parking
Sanctuary Woods is any forested area south of that circle
There is no formal signage, but there is a network of informal path systems. Please stay on the trails.
There are no bathrooms or garbage cans. Please be thoughtful to only bring what you can pack out.
Select the map image to open the interactive Google Map layer
in your browser (opens a new viewing tab)
When this map is opened on a mobile browser, the upper right corner contains an optional Google sign-in (sometimes plain white box). Selecting this will open the map in Google Maps app (if loaded) which will then show a visitor’s location relative to any of the entries.
There are always multiple images for each entry which may require selecting the lead picture to reveal the rest.
Over 150 years, the hand of humanity has touched this space, gracing it with elements like fieldstone staircases, and a split-boulder pavilion to complement the infrastructure of the formal behavioral health hospital.
To enhance the enjoyment by modern-day visitors, an interactive map has been developed highlighting some of the former and current infrastructure.
It aims to answer questions from the origins of a 6-foot dolphin vase next to a former lake, to how a crumbling cement porch used to look out over sunken gardens. Each entry uniquely connects a location with several historic photos or maps and an extended description. Together, these assist visitors in bridging a century of history with the infrastructure and natural beauty that remains.
Some points of interest are included beyond the Sanctuary Woods to further expand the adventure. Since there is no formal path system, each visit can be a custom-crafted adventure to new points on the map.
Guided Tours / Questions / More to Add?:
There have been years of guided tours of the area, which includes maps and photos spanning 150 years. The tours passionately inform people about this space so that they can also unfold the mystery of the remaining artifacts and the unique dense urban forest. With this connection, more people can help ensure it is protected through respectful engagement and support of Friends of County Grounds Park.
Tours have been provided for elected officials, MRMC students and administrators, TV producers, authors, photographers, and social groups. Coordinating with other passionate tour-guides we can accommodate groups up to 50, in nearly any season.
We are always seeking new resources to include, from pictures to personal experiences, and can be reached at email@example.com.
1924 hand drawn map
Sanctuary Woods featured in March 2020 and April 2021 by CBS 58
Sanctuary Woods at the Milwaukee County Grounds gets national recognition - Highlighted in Milwaukee Magazine
Michelle Madden's "111 Places in Milwaukee That You Must Not Miss" featuring Sanctuary Woods
Eddee Daniel has compiled a stunning book "The Milwaukee County Grounds: Island of Hope". There is also a companion 6 minute video produced by Friends of the Monarch Trail. This is an excellent overview of some of the beauty captured in this space. Eddee Daniel also maintains a nature blog featuring many attributes of the County Grounds an other areas at A Wealth of Nature
The interactive map includes frequent references to a 1916 book describing this area:“The Institutional Care of the Insane In The United States And Canada” - Volume III - By Henry M- Hurd, William F. Drewry, Richard Dewey, Charles W. Pilgrim, G. Alder Blumer and T. J. W. Burgess - Starting at page 85
Special thanks to the local historic societies who have preserved historic photos and made them available. They are now so prolific on the internet it is difficult to ascribe source. Please support these institutions.
Special thanks to the County Grounds Coalition who strives to recognize and preserve the remaining undeveloped area
Near the Echelon Apartments (Eschweiller Buildings) is the Monarch Trail
The Milwaukee County Parks Volunteer Agreement:
The Milwaukee County Parks COVID-19 Volunteer Waiver: