Maintaining a Treasure: The Forest Park Forever/City of St. Louis Partnership at Work

Honeybees pollinate flowers while gathering nectar. Purple Martins nest in abandoned woodpecker holes. And Forest Park Forever stretches donors’ generous maintenance dollars through its partnership with the City of St. Louis.

Thanks to our conservancy’s growing donor-supported endowment and our strategic public-private partnership, Forest Park Forever has been able to greatly increase its annual investment in tackling significant repair and maintenance projects across the Park. In recent years, these larger-scale projects — which are above and beyond routine maintenance and Park care — have included overhauling the popular handball courts behind the Visitor Center and repairing Kerth Fountain at the base of Government Hill. 

“In 2018, Forest Park Forever has been able to spend about $2.8 million on these large repair and restoration projects all over the Park,” says Forest Park Forever Director of Park Planning & Projects David Lenczycki, PE. “With more than 13 million visitors a year, Forest Park sees a lot of wear and tear. Restoring and maintaining it is too much for any one group alone, and the Parks department has more than 100 other parks to manage. We need each other’s help.”

Forest Park Forever’s maintenance agreement with the City of St. Louis’ Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry not only provides the organization access to specialized skills and equipment, but also helps the maintenance fund go further.

For example, this fall Forest Park Forever started a project to replace the wooden deck surface on the historic Victorian Bridge in the Park’s northeast corner. But as the old wooden slats came off, badly rusted steel trusses emerged.

“The original budget was $115,000, but we knew that wouldn’t cover replacing the trusses,” Lenczycki explains. “Just like when you find a problem while remodeling your house, we had to fix it — especially because this is the first bridge built in the Park, dating back to the late 1880s. And it’s used by visitors every day.”

At this same time, Forest Park Forever had a project underway to replace 7,000 feet of curbing along Union Drive next to Central Fields. The Parks Department had a suggestion — the City’s Streets Department could complete the asphalt work themselves, saving Forest Park Forever those dollars. That money could then be transferred to the Victorian Bridge project.

“Thanks to our partnership, the Victorian Bridge now features beautiful, hand-polished steelwork and is safe again for our visitors,” Lenczycki says. “Plus, the bicyclists and runners love the new curbs.” 

At the top of Art Hill, Lenczycki proudly shows off another large project — two large renovated ornamental planting beds in front of the Saint Louis Art Museum. The sizable project required not only cooperation with the Parks Department, but also coordination with the Art Museum.

“We had to re-do the drainage system, because the evergreen yews at the beds’ edges need drier soil, while the annual plantings in the center need wetter conditions,” he says. “The Art Museum had the street closed for another project, so we used that time to tie the new drainage systems together. Now we have healthy yews in the planters for winter visitors to enjoy.”

Nearby, another historic site offers yet another example of our partnership at work. Flegel Falls, the 75-foot waterfall also known as the Cascades, was built in 1937 to honor the famous cascades that flowed down Art Hill during the World’s Fair. The well-loved feature — the backdrop to millions of photos — is also the symbolic start of the Park’s water system. In the spring, the Parks Department helped find a leaking pipe that was causing erosion, and Forest Park Forever restacked the Cascade’s flagstones.

“If it hadn’t been for that $94,000 project, we would not have been able to turn on the Cascades this year,” Lenczycki says, “Our donors’ support helps restore and maintain so many favorite Forest Park icons all year round,” he says.

And that may be the most wonderful partnership of all.