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Saving the Green

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

As the years go by, the land around us changes. Cities sprawl. Buildings multiply. Green space becomes a scratch of lawn between apartments.

But many citizens, dissatisfied with concrete, are pushing a better idea: urban conservation. From single tree plantings to entire corridors of green, local residents like you are redesigning the future.

"Greenways and other projects are catching on nationwide," says Irv Logan, a Conservation Department metropolitan coordinator. "They're a reaction on the part of citizens to the need for open space."

Urban forester Jerry Monterastelli, also with the Conservation Department, says trees, overlooked for years, are getting some well deserved attention. "Trees should be recognized as part of a community's infrastructure, the same as schools or sewers."

In many Missouri cities, urban progress carries a green theme. In St. Louis, it's the Henry Shaw Corridor, an interstate highway preservation project. In Springfield, it's a rail-turned-trail and greenway. In Lee's Summit, a subdivision nestles new homes among old trees. And in St. Joseph, a nationally recognized parkway system runs from one end of town to the other.

Here's a closer look at a few urban projects to save some green - and the wildlife that goes with it:

Henry Shaw Corridor

Leaving the Powder Valley Nature Center in St. Louis, drivers heading west on Interstate 44 pass forests of swaying trees. They also pass looming billboards, automotive plants and motels without a hint of landscaping.

"Industrial development is important to the economy," says Terry Whaley, director of the Fenton Parks and Recreation Department. "At the same time, woods, parks and rivers are important to the quality of life. The Henry Shaw Corridor would combine the best of both worlds."

The Corridor is a 24-mile stretch of I-44 that Whaley and others hope to protect and preserve. It encompasses 40 miles of the Meramac River, seven cities and three counties.

Acting as the nonprofit Henry Shaw Ozark Corridor Foundation, Whaley and others plan to preserve undeveloped green space; restore native plants like deep-rooted grasses, wildflowers and hickory trees; restore historic landmarks and develop commercial property with nature-loving flair.

The Conservation Department supports efforts to educate businesses and homeowners about corridor benefits. The grass-roots campaign, still in the fund-raising stage, requires private cooperation.

"Haphazard development results in poor practices," says Irv Logan, the Conservation Department's St. Louis metropolitan coordinator. For example, Logan says, industrial discharge, highway runoff and home sewage can pollute the valleys draining into the Meramac. By contrast, the corridor represents coordinated development and cleaner water.

"Individuals will be responsible for their environmental impact," Logan says.

Whaley says corridor efforts focus on protecting existing wildlife, including deer, songbirds, hawks and eagles. "One thing we definitely want to do is save what's already there," he says. "That's the best place to start."

South Creek/Wilson's Creek Greenway

A 10-mile ribbon of green will soon be a haven for Springfield bicyclists and birds.

Parallel to two creeks and connecting three parks, a coming greenway runs right through the heart of the city. And that's the idea.

"Normally, key open spaces are consumed and fragmented by new construction," says Ron Coleman, former director of Ozark Greenways, a Springfield nonprofit organization that organizes greenway efforts. "We're trying to win some battles for conservation on the urban edge."

Joining in those battles are the City of Springfield, the National Park Service and numerous nature-conscious citizens. One, Grace Hasler, is motivated by memory. "Some years back," Hasler says, "a creek downtown was cemented over and developed. We decided to do something before the same thing happened to South Creek."

Hasler says the greenway, which parallels South and Wilson creeks, will be a thoroughfare for city wildlife, giving chipmunks, squirrels and birds a place to live or rest.

"If you look at an old map of Missouri, there once was a lot of contiguous land where birds could live," says Hasler. "That land was important to protect certain birds from predators. Now, we're trying to get it back."

"It's a sanctuary for birds and small wildlife used to a sea of asphalt and concrete," Coleman adds. A second sanctuary, now under construction, is a 30-mile rails-to-trails project between Springfield and Bolivar. Once the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, the link is about to become the second longest rail-turned-trail (after the KATY Trail) in Missouri.

With nearly 20,000 acres of public parks and lakes nearby, the "Frisco Highline" trail will act as a migration route for birds and wildlife. In 1995, Ozark Greenways began converting this essential 19th-century railroad into an easy nature stopover.

Winterset Park Subdivision & Nature Area

When Nancy Osborne looks out the window of her Lee's Summit home, she sees towering oaks, sprawling redbuds and precious walnut trees. In all, some 60 trees shade the Osborne's yard - almost as many as before the house was built.

That's because the Osbornes live in Winterset Park, a unique subdivision named after a Missouri rock. Devoted to saving trees, Winterset has earned kudos from conservation groups and homeowners.

"We and the developers both wanted to save every tree we could," Osborne says. Builders didn't just come and flatten the land. Instead, we built the house sideways on a corner lot. We also made sure construction trucks didn't trample the ground. The result is that we're surrounded by trees."

Mature trees boost property values, save heating and cooling costs and make life that much more pleasant. Winterset Park engineers map every tree more than eight inches in diameter, including some over 200 years old. Roads and lots are designed to leave trees intact, and builders who damage trees face fines.

"Our land plan goes with the terrain, instead of against it," says Winterset Park general manager Tom Guthrie, who has built and developed Kansas City property for 25 years. "It's more expensive, but the upside is conservation. And people love the natural look. We've had great success."

Winterset Park owns about 100 homes and plans to build 900 more on 500 acres. On the subdivision's east side, a 13-acre nature park complete with woodchip trails, small waterfalls and wildlife lures those seeking refuge from suburbia. Winterset donated the park's land.

"We've got deer, rabbits, coyote, fox, wild turkey," says Bill Rust, Winterset Nature Area supervisor. "Moving south in the fall, thousands of monarch butterflies and bluebirds stop by for a few days. It's a great place to come bird watch."

In fact, says Rust, Winterset may be the best spot for nature study in the region. And nature lovers can rest assured that here, bird nests and groundhog holes will be the only development going on.

St. Joseph

Mention green space to Tim Ripperger, and he immediately chimes in: "Well, St. Joseph has one of the nicest parkway systems in the nation."

Ripperger, regional supervisor of conservation agents for the Conservation Department, is talking about some 1,500 acres of parks, greenways and urban forest in St. Joseph. Scurrying red fox families, waddling ducks, white-tailed deer and Canada geese all live along St. Joseph's lawns of green.

On lazy, warm days, nature lovers roam a four-acre urban fishing retreat stocked by the Conservation Department. Catfish, carp and bass are the catch. Meanwhile, birdwatchers spy everything from finches, sparrows and cardinals to the occasional blue heron.

Among the miles of green, one stretch stands out. A 10-mile lane of grass runs straight through town, connecting the north and south ends. In place since 1927, this greenway earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

"That's our shining glory," says Bill McKinney, director of Parks and Recreation in St. Joseph. Still, like history, conservation marches on. McKinney says the town will soon add a walking trail to existing greenways.

"We're adding trails and planting trees," says McKinney. "To us, progress means always improving what we've got."

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