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Park Use Soars In St. Louis As Pandemic Drags On

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Great Rivers Greenway
Visitors enjoy the Mississippi Greenway at Cliff Cave Park.

As executive director of Tower Grove Park, Bill Reininger and his crew have been navigating big challenges this year. It’s not just the weekend-level foot traffic the park now sometimes attracts on weekdays — they’ve also been grappling with the downturn in event and reservation revenue, as well as sales tax funding.

At the same time, as Reininger explained on St. Louis on the Air, 2020 has also woken many St. Louis-area residents up to the fact that easy access to beautiful outdoor places is truly essential.

“People have come to realize that green spaces are a necessity and not an amenity,” he said. That’s been reflected in a significant increase in donations to Tower Grove Park even as its other income streams have dwindled.

And it’s not just neighborhood parks that continue to be among the liveliest places in a pandemic-struck region. Great Rivers Greenway’s 128-mile network of green spaces and trails has seen a 72% increase in traffic, totaling about 3 million visits this year, said Emma Klues, the greenway’s vice president of communications and outreach.

On Monday’s talk show, both Klues and Reininger joined host Sarah Fenske to share their insights on that increased interest in the outdoors, as well as what they anticipate as we head into winter.

Klues noted that while the uptick in outdoor activity is a welcome trend, there are learning curves for sharing the green space safely and thoughtfully.

“We’ve got people walking, running, biking, rollerblading, wheelchair, stroller, and so we do have continued campaigns and signage to encourage people to communicate and give people ample space when they’re passing, that type of thing,” she said.

Reininger said that in Tower Grove Park, people are generally behaving in careful ways.

“Everybody’s happy to have some place to go, and they want to make sure that they continue to have that opportunity,” he said, “so they’re being respectful to others and likewise.”

As fall turns to winter, both guests said they expect some fluctuation in activity levels and types, but still a lot of use.

“The cycling may slow down a little bit, but the other activities continue,” Reininger said. “You know, everybody still needs to walk their dog, no matter the weather, and a lot of folks, no matter the weather, they’re going to go out there and run, train and get that physical exercise.”

Klues touched on the fact that Great Rivers Greenway is celebrating its 20th year of existence and recently launched a survey aimed at helping the public agency envision its next 20 years. (You can fill it out now through Jan. 15 by visiting greenwayplan.org.)

The conversation also included discussion of funding challenges and comments from listeners who credited the region’s green spaces with helping them stay healthy both physically and mentally this year.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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