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The people’s park

The people’s park

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    The Grand Basin—part of the "heart" of Forest Park in St. Louis—features the St. Louis Art Museum. Photo: H3 Studio Inc.

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    A statue of St. Francis looks over the Jewel Box planting area, maintained by the Flora Conservancy. Photo: St. Louis Parks and Recreation

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    Weathered Wisconsin limestone with naturally occurring holes form the riffles east of Deer Lake. Photo: H3 Studio Inc.

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    A popular park feature, this restored Victorian footbridge is in Forest Park's Steinberg area. Photo: H3 Studio Inc.

Challenging Construction

Reclaiming the phantom River des Peres was no longer a viable option because it now flowed through sewer pipes running along the northern and eastern park boundaries. Engineers from Engle-wood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill worked with Hoal in exploring a way to connect the park's many lakes and lagoons into one continuous waterway.

URS Corp., San Francisco, served as program manager for local contractors that created a 2½-mile-long river spine for the park, complete with deep pools, recirculation lines, natural riffles and cascades, a stone bluff, island, gravel bars, wetland, savannahs, and prairies. One of the challenges to the waterway was the park's limited slope. While the upstream waterway drops 10 feet, the downstream portion drops just 4 feet. Despite the small slopes, the design team created rippling streams and waterfall features and used recirculation systems to increase the flow and velocity in the longer reaches.

A top priority of the master plan was restoration of “The Heart of the Park,” the historic center of the park and a major gathering place for the World's Fair, the celebration of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight, and other public events over the years. This 90-acre area includes Art Hill, Grand Basin, and Post-Dispatch Lake. Contractors dredged both lakes, repaired crumbling walls, and added islands to Post-Dispatch Lake.

In addition, the design integrates engineering technology into park aesthetics. The pump facilities blend with the landscape, but are still accessible for maintenance. Structural reinforcement enables the natural-looking ripples in the streams to withstand heavy flooding. Control structures such as weirs produce picturesque stream ripples and waterfalls. Before renovation a large concrete spillway connected Post-Dispatch Lake to a lagoon. To improve the appearance, the architects split the spillway into two levels of handicapped-accessible footbridges. Beneath the bridges, long, flat rocks serve as weir structures.

The design reduces dependency on city water. Prior to the renovation, park maintenance consumed almost 3 mgd of city water by filling six different stagnant pools. Riffles and cascades in the new design recirculate water while reducing consumption, decreasing usage to 1frac12; mgd.

Volunteer Efforts

Public support for the park has grown considerably over the years. According to Forest Park Forever vice president Lee Anna Good, the Hiram Leffingwell Awards luncheon drew a handful of people 15 years ago but enjoyed a sold-out attendance of 1100 this year.

Weil started the: Floral Conservancy volunteer group in 2000 to install and maintain landscaped areas starting with Pagoda Circle. When the city first bid out the Pagoda Circle landscaping, the bid was $650,000. A second bid came in at $450,000, but without minority participation it violated the city charter.

“In an unprecedented move the Board of Public Service bid the project using the Flora Conservancy volunteers, and it came back at $157,000,” said Weil. Four teams of volunteers averaged 200 plants an hour, planting 28,700 perennials in four days. This 130-member group of Master Gardeners and seasoned volunteers now maintains 56% of the priority areas. Weil values this volunteer contribution at $500,000 a year.

A second volunteer group, the Forest Park RiverKeepers, operates under the umbrella of the Flora Conservancy. The Missouri-certified stream team of 50 professionals and students from Washington University and St. Louis University focuses on water quality, watershed management, fisheries, and aquatic wildlife quality. Another volunteer group of naturalists maintains the savannah. Additionally, each of the five civic institutions within the park—the zoo, history museum, art museum, Muny outdoor opera, and science center—maintains its respective land-lease areas within the park.

“The public wants a continued voice in the evolution of park improvements, so we established a Forest Park Citizen Advisory Committee that meets a number of times each year and reviews every project to ensure compliance with the Master Plan,” said Hoal.

To ensure projects are finished on time, on budget, and within the vision, steering committees from Forest Park Forever, St. Louis Department of Parks, and the St. Louis Board of Public Service manage contracts for park improvements.