Toward a Better Forest: Volunteers Join FPF Staff to Restore 3 Acres of Successional Forest

This past Saturday, amid the roar of wood chippers, more than 160 Forest Park Forever volunteers and staff — wearing gloves, goggles and boots — ventured into three acres of Forest Park’s Successional Forest for the 20th annual Invasive Removal & Forest Restoration Project Day.

“Nature Reserve Steward Josh Wibbenmeyer has been working on invasive species in this part of the Park for about five years,” Park Ecologist Amy Witt told the eager volunteers. “This is our last push in this area, and we can do a lot today because we have so many people here!”

Located between McKinley Drive and Carr Lane Drive, the forest behind Witt was thick with honeysuckle, white mulberry, Norway maple, non-native cherry, catalpa and ashes as she spoke. But when the volunteers had finished their cutting, spraying and hauling three hours later, they had cleared enough material to fill 10 dump trucks with wood chips, and the trail that travels the middle of the forest could be seen clearly from Carr Lane Drive. This incredible undertaking also helped open up the tree canopy to allow more sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, wildflowers and grasses.

“The work you do today is an important part of our mission to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park,” added Forest Park Forever President and Executive Director Lesley S. Hoffarth, P.E. “We want to make sure Forest Park remains the world’s greatest urban park, now and forever.”

This event’s origins go back to the installation of the savanna in Kennedy Forest across from Skinker Boulevard and Rosebury Avenue on the Park’s western border. Gary Schimmelpfenig started the project using carefully processed regional genotype seeds he and fellow members of the Kennedy Woods Advisory Group (KWAG) had gathered for the savanna. Fifteen years later Gary became a Forest Park Forever volunteer.

“It was a neat savanna, but the woods around it were being changed because of all the honeysuckle and other invasive species,” Schimmelpfenig recalls. “KWAG cleaned it up, and it’s been a tradition ever since. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Forest Park Forever to maintain our savanna as a high-quality ecosystem while helping the rest of the Park.”

Many volunteers attended the November 3 event as members of community groups. Washington University junior Sofia Miranda-Fred attended with Alpha Psi Lambda, a co-ed, Latino-interest fraternity.

“We thought this project would be a great way to have a direct impact,” Miranda-Fred said. “It is a chance to work with the Forest Park community.”

Other young people came from Rosati Kain High School as part of the Science National Honor Society or the Missouri Botanical Garden’s ECO-ACT program. Rosati Kain senior Alexis Robles participated because she “loves service” and bikes regularly in the Park.

“I had completed all my service requirements in the first week of school, so I came just because I love Forest Park,” she said. “Every time I come here I see something new.”

Local businesses joined in, as well. Diane Grimsley, a senior project manager for Tarlton Corporation, helped alongside Project Engineer Roy Jones as part of the company’s Green Team.

“Forest Park is my favorite place in all of St. Louis, and Tarlton is always looking for ways to be more green,” Grimsley said. “Right now, we are involved with construction at the Muny, so this is another way that we can help the community.”

Then there were those who came on their own, simply out of love for Forest Park.

“As a church secretary, I have more time than money,” said Karen Bencke, who lives at DeBaliviere Avenue and Delmar Boulevard, just north of the Park. “I heard about this project on Facebook, and because I live in an apartment, Forest Park is my outdoor space. I had to come.”

Tim Fox