Connecting souls to nature: the man behind Grant Park's "Suburban Soles"

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SOUTH MILWAUKEE, WI (CBS 58) -- A South Milwaukee man is using one of the area's largest and most beautiful parks to help connect souls to nature.

Brian Morrison's peaceful hobby has become a popular bi-weekly gathering for the community.

"Connecting people whether it's with nature, or the performing arts, just improving people's lives in any way that I can is really important to me, and it's kind of my mission in many ways," Morrison explained.

He is the creator of the Suburban Soles program, an idea that came to Morrison five years ago while on a nature walk with a few friends.

"We were like, wouldn't it be really cool to have a guide with us to tell us what we're looking at and all the different things," Morrison said.

He took that concept and jumped in feet-first, connecting with nearby nature centers to build his vision.

Regardless of how the plan would end up, Morrison knew it had to take place in Grant Park.

"It really is a gem of South Milwaukee if I might say so myself. It makes up over a quarter of our city, and we have this beautiful lakefront that pretty much has four-season interest. I come down here with my snowshoes during the winter months. There's always something to explore in Grant Park," Morrison said.

Suburban Soles was born 2017, and for five Summers since, the group meets every other Sunday for a walk through Grant Park guided by a nature expert.

"I give most of my credit to them because the educators are really who make this. I mean, I might grease the wheels to make it happen, but they're the ones that are really making it happen," Morrison said.

Each walk has a different theme, making every experience different.

"We tend to have our staple ones every single year, which are tree identification, native plants, we focus some on climate change. It's really across the board. This year we'll be doing one on dragonflies which is really exciting," Morrison said.

For five years, interest doesn't seem to be fading. In fact, the group that shows up every other Sunday seems to keep growing.

"There's almost too many people sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I love to see the people come out, but we have attendance from about 25 to up to 40, 45 people," Morrison said.

Morrison does all the event planning and setup during the winter months to prepare for which run from May through September, making Suburban Soles an all-year process.

Morrison says it costs about $2,000 a year for marketing and stipends for the nature guides, and funding for suburban soles comes nearly all from donations.

At the beginning, a lot of money came straight from Morisson's own pocket.

"It's important to keep it free to the public, and I usually don't put a cap on the sizes either, so it's welcoming everybody that can possibly make it out," Morrison said, "I guess in my own way i like to be a philanthropist and give back to the community any way that I can."

One part of the journey that came easy was picking a name for the program.

Morisson explains that the title, Suburban Soles, has a double meaning.

"'Soles' - it's meant to be not only the bottom of your foot connecting you to the earth, but also connecting your heart and soul on a Sunday with mother nature," Morrison said.

The first word, "Suburban," a nod to his love for South Milwaukee and Grant Park.

"I've grown up here my whole life, and it's so embedded in my DNA. I mean, this is a part of me. I was a kid going up and down these trails with my mother. I was in my teens walking around with my friends. It's just always been my backyard and it's always been a part of life. I've done a lot of travelling, and I've seen a lot of beautiful things across the country, but I come back and there's something special about this park, this community, this corner of the world," Morrison said.

In addition to Suburban Soles, Morrison finds many ways to stay involved in South Milwaukee. He is the community outreach coordinator for the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, the President of the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Council and the Entertainment Director for the South Milwaukee Downtown Farmers Market.

"I've lived multiple lives. It's been kind of an interesting path for me. I haven't taken a straight line, that's for sure," Morrison said.

After 15 years in the performing arts business, he has decided to immerse his soul in nature, currently working on degrees in Horticulture and Biology, with plans to earn a Master's in Natural Resource Management.

"My goal is finding a career that connects the community with nature, involves education, whether that be a national parks system of a nature center," Morrison said.

Of course, he wants to see Suburban Soles continue, but as his studies take precedent, he might need a little help.

"Best case scenario, I would like to hand this off to someone else to take the lead on it. I wouldn't wipe my hands clean by any means, but I just need someone to kind of step up and take that role on," Morrison said.

He hopes the success of Suburban Soles inspires people to start similar programs in other parks.

Morrison believes programs like this are especially important to inspire conservation at a time we need it most.

"Education leads to appreciation, and we are in a kind of turning point in humanity where we need to start making some environmental decisions that are wiser for the future, for the future generations," Morrison said.

There is a mental health aspect as well. Morrison said a walk in the woods can bring tranquility to the body and the brain.

"How wonderful it is if you have a bad day to come to the park and just sit and soak it all in, listen to the birds, listen to the wind in the trees, and just connect with it," Morrison said.

Suburban Soles is meant to serve as a reminder that peace, beauty, and education is right in our backyard.

"We go from our house to our work, and we're so busy that we're really disconnected from nature," Morrison said, "I think that no matter where you are, the suburbs, the inner city, wherever that might be, there's that disconnect there. It's important to bring people back to our roots and understand the significance of what Mother Nature has to offer."

For more details on Suburban Soles and upcoming events, click HERE.

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