Living history celebration explores secret behind Powder Valley Nature Center name

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Published on: May. 3, 2011

St. Louis — Just what is in a name? Today, Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood is an ideal place to peacefully enjoy nature.

But the origins of its name come from war.

As part of the Nature Center’s year-long 20th anniversary celebration, Powder Valley will present a living history weekend Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, for a special two-day program called “Blast to the Past: A History Festival”. Visitors will explore the history behind the Powder Valley name and enjoy a fascinating and educational glimpse into the past of the area.

“Although we’ve only been here 20 years,” said Assistant Nature Center Manager Catherine McGrane, “this land has its own history.”

The powder was gunpowder. The “valley” was a series of caves that once existed under what is now I-270. According to McGrane, during the Civil War, Federal forces stockpiled gunpowder in the caves to use in blowing up bridges should the Confederate army attempt to invade St. Louis by way of the Meramec River.

The celebration begins Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. with presentations by three first-person interpreters, each representing a different Civil War-era perspective:  a Union soldier, Confederate soldier and a slave. A reception will follow the program allowing visitors to talk with each interpreter.

McGrane thinks it will be an ideal way to get a feel for what people were really like back then. “It’s one thing to stand and talk about it,” said McGrane, “it’s another thing to become the person. Your audience can relate better and be more passionate about it.”

The exploration of the past continues on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with events at both the Nature Center and nearby Emmenegger Nature Park. A free shuttle will allow guests to park at either site and visit both.

A variety of historic crafts will be demonstrated such as candle making, storytelling, wood carving and fire starting. Civil War re-enactors will be encamped at Emmenegger Nature Park. Local historian and musician Dee Ban will perform and interpret 19th-century music. A Civil War doctor will display medical instruments of the era. Participants will even have a chance to try their hand at historical skills like archery and the atlatl, an ancient spear-throwing device.

All events during Powder Valley Nature Center’s “Blast to the Past: A History Festival” weekend are free of charge and open to all ages. Reservations are required for the Friday evening program, but not for the events on Saturday. For reservations and more information, call (314) 301-1500.

Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center is located 11715 Cragwold Road, near the intersection of I-44 and I-270 in Kirkwood. Emmenegger Nature Park is also off Cragwold Road, just west of the Nature Center.

The Nature Center will continue to feature special events each month this year to commemorate its 20th Anniversary. Powder Valley first opened its doors to the public in October 1991.

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