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Commentary: The Natural World Offers Many Opportunities To St. Louisans During The Pandemic


Of course I hate the awful situation that we are trapped in and I realize how fortunate I am. I count my blessings on a daily basis.

Usually, we take some sort of a trip in the summer and I don't even think about a staycation, but, if nothing else, this pandemic has opened my eyes to looking at what we do have in St. Louis.

Last month, I talked about the many arts opportunities in the region. I am also finding stimulation and excitement from what Mother Nature has given us to look at right in our own back yard.

We have been visiting city and county parks, nature reserves and conservation areas from one end of our town to the other. We've crossed both rivers to enjoy incredible views and soak in the glories of nature. After all, nature is art.

Let's start with the county parks farthest south in St. Louis county. Bee Tree Park is on land originally owned by Southwestern Bell Telephone company founder Eugene Nims. In 1929, Nims hired the St. Louis architectural firm Maritz and Young to design a mansion for a weekend retreat which still stands. In 1968, Walston Chubb led a fundraising effort through the Open Space Foundation to purchase the property and the group gave the land to St. Louis County for use as a park, and what a park it is. There are incredible views of the Mississippi, a stocked lake, great hiking trails and more.

Cliff Cave Park, also a St Louis County Park, is named after Cliff Cave, a natural cave located in the park that is historical and an archaeologic site. The park contains woodlands, wetlands and rocky hillsides and is adjacent to the Mississippi River. It has three great trails for hiking and an active train track which runs through the park. The park won the "Best View of the Mississippi" award in 2009 granted by "The Riverfront Times."

Also, my favorite County Park, Laumeier Sculpture Park, is not as far south in Sunset Hills. Founded in 1976, Laumeier is one of the first and largest dedicated sculpture parks in the country. Today, Laumeier is an internationally recognized, nonprofit arts organization that is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and operates in partnership with St. Louis County Parks. Projects and programs are supported by the Mark Twain Laumeier Endowment Fund, the Regional Arts Commission, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Missouri Arts Council and the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis.

And in way north county is Fort Belle Fontaine, about 20 miles north of the city. Built in 1805 under the direction of Lt. Col. Jacob Kingsbury, the fort was the first U.S. military installation west of the Mississippi River. The trading fort was an important gathering place for officers and enlisted men, Native peoples, and French, Spanish and American settlers, trappers and traders. Lewis and Clark visited the site on their way back to St. Louis from their famous trek west. The St Louis County Parks are the managers of this beautiful park with a view of the Missouri River.

These were three of my favorite St Louis County Parks. The City of St Louis includes over one hundred parks. I won't even say anything about Forest Park which we all visit and recognize as our great queen. She is even larger than Central Park in NYC.

Tower Grove Park, designed in the gardenesque style by James Gurney Sr., has been designated a National Historic Landmark as one of the nation's finest examples of a late 19th century public park. The park is home to nearly 400 species of trees, bushes and flowering plants. It is a well-known birdwatching area, particularly during the spring and fall bird migration seasons. It is part of the Mississippi Flyway and migrating birds rest in the park along the journey. Forty percent of North American songbirds and water birds use this route.

Carondelet Park ranks as St Louis' third largest park. It boasts a beautiful boat house, walking paths and all the amenities of a first rate city park. The park was established in 1875. It takes its name from the former city of Carondelet (founded 1767), now a section of southeast St Louis and worth a trip in and of itself.

Practically every one of our cities in the county have very special parks. Two of my favorites were Wild Acres Park in Overland and Blackburn Park in Webster Groves. Both have great walking paths. Wild Acres has a lake and it was fun to watch the kids fish and Blackburn has a wonderful bird sanctuary off one of the paths.

We also visited nature reserves and conservation areas to enjoy the beautiful spring and summer days. Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Mo.has17 miles of hiking trails and one can take a short walk or a long hike. It is an extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden, which of course we frequented, and we were also thrilled to visit the fields of sunflowers at Columbia Bottoms Conservation area at the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

We didn't let the rivers stop us. We crossed both and enjoyed the scenery along Highway 94 along the Katy Trail and drove the Great River Road past Alton which overlooks the Mississippi where it converges with the Missouri and Illinois rivers. Driving along this beautiful river byway, one can witness the masterpiece of nature with whistling birds, colorful trees unique plants and etched river bluffs.

Upon returning home each day, I felt comforted and satisfied that I had made great use of what still remains good in our city and the environs and in the world.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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