St. Lou…is Forest Park
By Robin Frankel
No place says St. Lou IS like Forest Park, an expansive 1,300-acre multi-use urban greenspace that is rich in tradition and resources.
Rather than being a singular destination, Forest Park is home to the renowned Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum and Saint Louis Science Center, as well as The Muny, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre. It also is home to three golf courses, eight baseball fields, two tennis centers, racquetball and handball courts, more than 30 miles of paths and trails, 10 lakes, 15 picnic grounds, playgrounds, and a lot more.
As many visitors know, Forest Park is also home to some of the region’s most iconic festivals and events.
“With over 1,300 acres, Forest Park is an ideal setting for anything from a family picnic to a large civic event such as the Great Forest Park Balloon Race,” said Greg Hayes, director of parks, recreation and forestry for the City of St. Louis. “Park visitors seem to appreciate the value of these events to the region.”
Frank Kartmann, senior vice president of park operations for Forest Park Forever, the private nonprofit conservancy that partners with the City of St. Louis to care for the Park, adds that the Park’s topography contributes to its attractiveness as a venue.
“As a host site for some of the region’s largest and most well-attended, family-friendly public events, Forest Park’s land configuration provides natural amphitheaters for programs from rock concerts to symphony performances,” Kartmann said. “During St. Louis’ long warmer-weather months, hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed events such as Fair St. Louis — hosted here in the Park during Arch grounds construction — the two-day LouFest Music Festival, and the St. Louis Symphony concert on Art Hill.”
Because of its size and scope, at the same time that tens of thousands of people are attending a special event or program in one area of Forest Park, regular use of the Park continues in other areas. With 10 different entrances, it is easy to manage multiple uses simultaneously.
The credit for this ingenious flexibility goes to the planners who designed Forest Park in the late 1800s. Just a few years later, Forest Park undeniably proved its ability to host a multitude of special events simultaneously when it hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, one of history’s most successful World’s Fairs.
But maintaining an urban park of this size and scope is not easy or inexpensive. Fortunately, the City of St. Louis Parks Department and Forest Park Forever have a 30-year history of partnership, bringing together their two teams for the benefit of Forest Park’s 13 million annual visitors.
The City and Forest Park Forever raised $100 million between 1995 and 2003 to dramatically restore many landmark destinations in Forest Park, including the Emerson Grand Basin, the Boathouse and the Jewel Box. Today, the City and Forest Park Forever are completing $30 million of new improvement projects, including renovating spaces such as Central Fields and the Festival & Parking Plaza above the Muny. (Funds are being raised through Forest Park Forever’s special Forever capital campaign.)
For every major event in Forest Park, the Parks Department and Forest Park Forever work closely and communicate consistently with the cultural institutions and all entities within and around the Park to ensure the success of these events. Forest Park has been frequently recognized nationally, and the established events that take place in it continue to create fond memories for all who come to enjoy them and all the Park has to offer.
“The shared goal of the City and Forest Park Forever when it comes to these large events is to work with each organizer to minimize the impact to the Park grounds and maximize the fun for visitors,” Kartmann said. “We know how special Forest Park is to the community — and how important it is to preserve the grounds for future generations.”