Conservation Comes to the City
Last year, I attended All Outdoors Day, an event sponsored by the Conservation Department and Bass Pro Shops, at Bois D'arc Conservation Area outside of Springfield. Exhibits and demonstrations conveyed information on numerous outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, fly tying, canoeing, archery, trap and skeet shooting, muzzleloading and good forestry management. From "how to get involved" to "how to do" activities, the day-long event offered information and entertainment.
I asked Mark McCarthy, the Conservation Department's Springfield metro coordinator, what the goal of such an event was. "We want to give people in the urban area of Springfield an appreciation for the outdoors.
"It's an important part of our mission to protect Missouri's forest, fish and wildlife resources," McCarthy says. "The public should be aware of what we do and the resources we manage."
McCarthy says he grew up in an urban area and didn't have the opportunities to do the kinds of things families were doing at All Outdoors Day until he was older. "But I've tried to provide them to my son, Andy, and it's made a difference. For example, a few weeks ago, Andy noticed that I had a black walnut tree in my backyard. Hey, I didn't even know what the tree was and here is my 10-year-old telling me about trees in my own backyard. If we can get people from the Springfield area to become aware of all the outdoors offers...well, with awareness comes appreciation."
Mark pointed to a father with three small children along a fishing pond at Bois D'arc. "See that dad over there? He isn't fishing for these kids; he's fishing with them."
I asked the father, Mark Campbell, why he and his family were there. "When I was a boy, fishing and being in the outdoors kept me out of trouble," Campbell explained. "Especially with the way things are going nowadays, I want my children to have the same experiences. It's important for me to pass along the love of hunting and fishing to them"
"Yeah," piped up four-year old Hunter Campbell. "I like to catch fish, but what I really like is eating them!"
If one is looking for this same appreciation and awareness of the outdoors in the St. Louis area, they don't have to look far. I spent one day in the city of St. Louis visiting just a few of the partnerships the Conservation Department is involved with, and I was amazed by both the variety of activities that exist and the impact those activities have on the lives of the city's residents.
One discovery was of the city's neighborhood gardens. Residents renovated them from abandoned corner lots to well-maintained, productive flower and vegetable gardens. In the historic Soulard neighborhood I talked to John Durnell, president of the Soulard Restoration Group, a nonprofit organization comprised of homeowners and renters dedicated to the beautification and betterment of their Soulard neighborhood.
The gardens are the result of a partnership between Soulard, the Conservation Department and Operation Brightside, a non-profit organization dedicated to making St. Louis a cleaner, more attractive environment. It is part of an Operation Brightside project called Neighbors Naturescaping.
Funded primarily through grants from the Conservation Department, Neighbors Naturescaping provides neighborhood residents with assistance for project development, landscape design and plant selection. The program awarded at least 23 grants, with a maximum of $1,500 per grant for plant materials and maintenance supplies, to organizations for planting projects throughout St. Louis.
Durnell explained that there are about 13,000 vacant lots in St. Louis. Many come under the jurisdiction of the Land Revitalization Authority, which then leases the lots for $1 a year to organizations like the Soulard Restoration Group.
The Soulard demonstration site was once such a vacant lot. Besides supplying the soil, plants and expertise to create the garden, workshops were held on site to teach residents about designing, planting and maintaining gardens. According to Operation Brightside Executive Director Mary Lou Green, this is in keeping with the mission of the Neighborhoods Naturescaping Project. "Rather than just giving a group money, we want them to have the ideas, knowledge and hands-on-experience, so they can know for themselves what is possible," Green says.
I sensed the same spirit of rejuvenation when James Hogan talked about his Fox Park neighborhood. He showed me Fox Park Farm, a community vegetable garden where lush red tomatoes hung heavy from plants in neatly arranged planting beds.
Gateway to Gardening came to the Conservation Department to ask for financial support for this and other such greening projects, explains project coordinator Kathy Bosin, who accompanied us through the gardens. Bosin works for the Urban Gardening Partnership, a joint effort between the Missouri Botanical Garden, University Extension and Gateway to Gardening. The partnership provides planting and construction materials, site development, technical assistance and horticulture expertise.
"We used to have problems with crime around here a few years ago," recalled Hogan. "Now these corners are where many people congregate on summer evenings. They stop and talk to each other, whereas before they passed like strangers."
One of the richest natural treasures to be found in St. Louis is in the midst of Forest Park, with all the hustle and bustle associated with the St. Louis Zoo, Science Center, Muny theater and other features. Ken Cohen knows about this forest treasure and has come to Kennedy Woods for years to observe songbirds, particularly migrating warblers. "This is considered a premier birding area," says Cohen. "The concentration of songbirds in Kennedy Woods is much greater than anywhere in the Ozarks.
"I also come to get away from the stress of urban life," Cohen reveals. "This really is both a wildlife refuge and a human refuge."
Conservation Department Forester Rob Emmett calls this 80-acre parcel, which the Conservation Department manages for the city of St. Louis, a remnant forest. It's considered an old growth oak-hickory forest, as the trees here are in the 200- to 300-year old category, Emmett explains.
"This is probably the only place you can stand in St. Louis and see it as it was 200 to 300 years ago," Cohen surmises. Cohen and several other local residents are part of a citizen's advisory group that is assisting the Conservation Department in planning efforts for the area.
Current plans call for the Conservation Department to fund and build two trails with interpretive signage, bathrooms, a pavilion and an outdoor classroom.
"Some urban kids have never been in the woods before and may never get to the Ozarks," remarks Cohen. "This gives them an opportunity to experience the woods in an overall setting that they understand."
And this understanding is what McCarthy would say the Conservation Department's efforts in the urban areas are all about. "In the end," says McCarthy, "if we ignore the people in the urban area, they'll lose more than just an understanding of the Conservation Department; they'll lose the outdoors. By getting them to come outside, something changes for most people. It's one thing to look at pictures of the natural world, it's another to come out and actually experience it. When you experience it firsthand, it becomes yours."
A City Sampler
These are some of the partnership programs sponsored by the Conservation Department in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Grants to St. Louis in the last 5 years alone total nearly $4.5 million, including projects with the St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, World Bird Sanctuary, Soulard Youth Education Program, Henry Shaw Corridor and others.
The Conservation Department has acquired over 39,000 acres within 50 miles of St. Louis since 1977, offering a variety of opportunities for St. Louis residents to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
Capital improvements in the last 5 years total nearly $7 million and include the Forest 44 shooting range, the North Riverfront Trail improvement and boat ramp, Powder Valley Nature Center and Horse Shoe Lake. There is also the Outdoor Lab Program, which conveys conservation principles for use by school groups on Conservation Department areas.
Project Communitree, as part of Forest ReLeaf of Greater St. Louis, is organized to increase the tree population in the St. Louis area.
Established in 1993, Forest ReLeaf is a non-profit organization that promotes public reforestation efforts by working with cities, schools, churches, neighborhoods, communities, civic organizations and individuals in conducting public tree planting projects.
The Conservation Department has been involved with urban fishing programs in the St. Louis area for 27 years. The Conservation Department presently stocks 22 lakes in St. Louis City and County with carp, bullhead and channel catfish from April through October. Seven lakes are stocked with rainbow trout during the winter months. Fishing clinics are conducted primarily for youngsters, persons with disabilities and older adults. Approximately 3,300 people participated in over 150 fishing clinics last year.
Through the Community Assistance Program (CAP) agreements with both St. Louis City and County, the Conservation Department contributes to public fishing opportunities. The CAP package for St. Louis City totals $1.3 million and for St. Louis County, $614,000.
Over 155 STREAM TEAMS exist in the greater St. Louis area and are comprised of citizen volunteers who help the Conservation Department with river conservation efforts.
Earth Angels is a program of the Guardian Angel Settlement Association and is sponsored by the Conservation Department. This partnership creates conservation-oriented youth clubs in St. Louis. The clubs organize games, activities, recycling and trash pick-up efforts, field trips, guest speakers and projects for 150 inner city children in the St. Louis area. They learn about Missouri habitats and wildlife and forest management principles. The children have won at least 75 civic and environmental awards for their work.
The Conservation Department also offers young people, ages 11 to 15, the opportunity to hunt deer at the Weldon Spring Conservation Area, providing parent/sponsor supervision, hunter education training and equipment.
Kansas City area partnerships include a $2 million grant to the Kansas City Zoo toward construction of an educational pavilion, $1 million in a matching grant for construction of Lakeside Nature Center located in Swope Park, a $275,000 grant for expansion of the Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, a $500,000 grant for Earthworks experiential learning program called The Learning Exchange, and a $1 million grant toward construction of a $6 million Education and Visitor Center at Powell Gardens near Kingsville.
Conservation Department monies go toward a variety of other programs similar to those found in St. Louis, such as the Urban Fishing Program and Community Assistance Programs.
Conservation Department facilities in the Kansas City area include the Burr Oaks Woods Conservation Nature Center, offering educational programs, exhibits and hiking trails to about 100,000 people a year, the Lake City Range in the Blue Springs area, which serves more than 23,000 recreational shooters and hunter education students annually, the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, which is a 2,600-acre conservation area providing hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation activities (total of 1-day trips to the area annually were estimated at 127,500), and the Kansas City Metro Office, which responds to 27,000 callers and 9,500 walk-in visitors annually.
The Conservation Department has spent nearly $10 million in the Kansas City area for construction and development projects from 1980 to 1994. Capital improvements budgeted for the Kansas City area in 1996 were projected at over $8 million. Significant projects include the Cooley Lake Access, which will provide Missourians with a Missouri River boat launching facility, Happy Holler Conservation Area, which is a 77-acre public fishing lake, Platte County Hunter Education Shooting Range and the Platte Falls Conservation Area providing access to the Platte River.