Forest Park is one of St. Louis' 108 parks. It is the largest park and is clearly the crowned jewel of the park system. Per the city website:
Forest Park was dedicated on June 24, 1876, coinciding with the centenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. It played host to the 1904 World's Fair and Summer Olympics. The 1,300-acre park offers something for everyone — amazing destinations and institutions that challenge the mind, a Dual Path system that invites both leisurely walks and intense workouts, quiet places to picnic and read, and a variety of popular festivals and events — all set in the background of a city oasis, a place to escape it all.
This is one of the most visited places in the city. The park benefits from a rare St. Louis County - St. Louis City pooling of public moneys with the creation of a special taxing district where the vast suburbs of St. Louis County pay taxes to Forest Park as part of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD). Just look at what can be accomplished when resources are pooled! We have a world-class art museum, zoo, history museum and planetarium...all in Forest Park. Oh, and don't forget the Muny, Steinberg Ice Rink or the Jewel Box.
Bird's Eye View from Forest Park Forever (source)
The surrounding areas of this sprawling park include some of St. Louis' most swanky neighborhoods including Skinker-DeBaliviere, Central West End, Wydown-Skinker and DeBaliviere Place but Forest Park is also flanked by very affordable yet equally charming neighborhoods to the south including Hi-Pointe, Clayton-Tamm, Kings Oak and Cheltenham.
Now, you can't talk about the park without mentioning Forest Park Forever (FPF).
“At 1,300 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest parks set in an urban environment in the U.S., surpassing New York's Central Park by 500 acres. Much like other parks in urban cores around the country, heavy use — combined with decades of deferred maintenance — took their toll; by the 1980s, Forest Park was in an alarming state of decline.
Forest Park Forever was created in 1986 as a private, nonprofit organization to work in partnership with the City of St. Louis to reverse this downward trend and strive to make Forest Park a premier American urban park once again.” (source)
Forest Park Forever has done an amazing job re-investing in the park. And the good news just keeps rolling in for the park as a historic donation was made:
June 10, 2015 – Forest Park Forever announced today it has received a gift of $30 million from Enterprise Holdings founder Jack C. Taylor and his family. This gift marks the largest donation Forest Park Forever has received in its 29-year history and one of the largest gifts to support a public park in the United States. The Taylor family has designated the entirety of this gift toward Forest Park Forever’s endowment, which provides support for the maintenance and operations of Forest Park. (source)
As a result of the hard work and dedication of FPF, the current state of the park is nothing short of stunning. Not only has FPF raised a tremendous amount of money and volunteer capital for infrastructure and hardscape, they have paid special attention to wildlife-sensitive and Missouri-native plantings. They have also done the little things, like not cutting down all the dead trees which are critical habitat for several denizens of the park.
There are surprises around every corner. Everyone likely has their favorite spots, and in order to properly take in this park as a whole, you have to do it by foot. But that is not to say the park is only a pedestrian park. The park is accessible by foot, bike, stroller, Metro Link, Metro Bus' Forest Park Trolley and car.
Navigating the park has recently become much easier with the installation of beautiful and well-placed maps and way-finding signage.
So, in order to broaden the approach on covering this park, a collaboration was in order. A recent effort of the City of St. Louis' Web Content Specialist/Writer was updating the data on the City's park website; they reached out to a small group of like-minded, outspoken park enthusiasts. That small group included, among others: Claire Wolff, Nick Speiser, Sonia Emmons and Liz Kramer from the website "Park Picnic Project" and myself; all city explorers vowing to visit and talk about each park in St. Louis.
We decided to get together and talk about ways to give Forest Park a proper shake. We decided to break the park up into four sections and split up to give the four corners of the park a different perspective.
Here are the arbitrary borders of our sections:
I covered section 1, Claire, Liz and Nick took sections 2 and 4 and Sonia covered section 3.We made separate, in some cases repeat trips to the park to take it in and capture the essence of the park. We converged over coffee and hot chocolate at Rise Coffee in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to share photos, talk strategy and tell our stories.
One common thing that stuck out was that this park is functioning like a healthy city park should. At most parks you will see fisherman, joggers, picnickers, kids playing, adults exercising, etc. This park had it all and in the greatest numbers of any park we'd visited.
The park goers in Forest Park were from all walks of life. More than any other park, this is a perfect cross section of all of St. Louis as well as the inner ring suburbs of Clayton and University City. The level of diversity is high and it is easy to feel comfortable no matter who you are in the park. There is something there for everyone, and probably many others. The overall activity and healthy vibe in the park is infectious and inviting.
Not only are there world-class cultural institutions, facilities for multiple sports (jogging, cycling, softball, rugby, football, hand ball, racquet ball, cricket, tennis, golf, archery, etc.), ponds, lagoons, brooks, picnic pavilions, historical markers, statues, and fountains there are also woods in the Kennedy Forest on the southwest corner of the park. This is more than just a tourist destination, it is a neighborhood park and a regional gathering place all at the same time. This is everyone's space.
We took hundreds of photos and there is a lot you can say about the history and the recent renaissance of the park. You could easily write a book about the Zoo, Art Museum, etc alone. We decided to take the approach of keeping it short and simple and letting the photos do most of the talking.
Simply jump to the sections below to follow each of our lenses and perspectives on Forest Park.
This final park post completes my personal goal to visit and write about all 111 St. Louis parks, now officially 108 parks after the City revisited the published list. Thanks to Liz, Claire, Nick, Sonia, Jeff Wunrow and Cari Cleeland. You guys make me hopeful for the future of St. Louis.