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Stop and Smell the Flowers

© Sherry Heida

Enjoy the green oasis of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park

By Susan Manlin Katzman

There is always so much to enjoy in St. Louis when my daughter and grandson visit from Denver, but no matter what other activities we have on the itinerary, we make time for a day trip to Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. This recreation-rich park, the first and largest in the St. Louis County system, sits on 2,145 acres in the Maryland Heights suburb of St. Louis and offers an outdoor retreat that is a holiday in itself. 

The lake has been a popular vacation destination since the late 1880s when the area sported a resort, dancing pavilions and an amusement park. Two railroads served the lake, but most St. Louisans seeking a break would hop on an electric trolley that traveled round-trip to the lake from midtown St. Louis. (Tennessee Williams wrote a one-act play, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, that references trolley rides to the park in the 1930s—I mention this for trivia fans.)

Today, the resort, railroads and trolley are long gone, but the park is super easy to reach by car, as major avenues and expressways not only surround the park, but also transit it.

At first visit, it’s a little difficult to orient yourself as the park is officially divided into upper and lower sections and unofficially boasts more areas of enjoyment. Maps posted in different park spots help with the navigating and all are worth exploring.

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As my family varies in age and ability, we approached the park agreeing on activities that we all enjoy doing together, but splitting up at times to accommodate different capabilities. 

My daughter, 11-year-old grandson, poodle Mojo and I usually find paths and walk to the different sites, but due to creaky joints, my husband prefers to drive. Because my grandson was age eligible for the Go Ape! Treetop Adventure, we reserved space for late morning making, the obstacle course in the forest-filled upper park the centerpiece of our trip.

And because my husband loves sitting, talking and fishing, we began our day fishing at the 320-acre lake.

After gathering our gear—fishing equipment and licenses for the adults, sunscreen, bug spray, lounge chairs, a picnic lunch, water bottles and Frisbees—we drove to the park’s Lake Front entrance off Marine Avenue. If you want to enter the park near the lake, this is your best bet. 

While Grandpa found the perfect spot to drop the fishing lines, the rest of us walked the lakeside trail to Dripping Springs, the pretty waterfall that serves as a backdrop for park weddings. (Yes, I admit, we took selfies.)

“You know how the park got its name?” Grandpa asked when we arrived back at our fishing site. “Seems a Native American princess fell in love with a French fur trapper who did not return her affection,” he continued. “Brokenhearted, she threw herself off the waterfall cliff. Creve Coeur means ‘brokenhearted’ in French.” 

My daughter suggested that the story is a fishy tale as no one is sure about the name, while the tween rolled his eyes at the “fishy tale” pun.

We fished for a while, hoping to catch some of the catfish, crappie, sunfish, black bass and white bass that call the lake home, before my daughter, grandson and I climbed 120 stairs to the tree-packed upper park for the Go Ape! adventure.  

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We checked in at the brick building that once held the trolley electrical charging station and turn-around point. There my daughter and grandson were fitted harnesses and took a 30-minute safety briefing before being let loose to follow the course at their own pace. 

Preferring more ground adventure over the treetop excitement, I chose to walk the trail under the course and photograph the kids having face-flushing thrills jutting across wobbly suspension bridges, climbing ropes, swinging through the trees Tarzan-style and speeding through the air on zip lines. 

© Go Ape!

After the high-flying adventure, Grandpa picked us up for a short drive to the scenic, cliff-high Greensfelder shelter for a picnic. Although we would have been happy spreading a blanket under the ancient oaks or picnicking at one of the park's many shelters, we loved Greensfelder’s majestic view.

Still up for after-lunch fun, we drove back to the lake, where we rented a kayak and canoe for more water fun. 

The last stop before we were all fully depleted of energy was the 18-hole disk (Frisbee) golf course. 

What a day it had been! Exhilarating, exciting and exhausting. I was too tired even to think about cooking dinner, so we drove around the park to the Lakehouse Restaurant located on Mallard Lake. After claiming a patio table and ordering, we reflected on the day, counting our good fortune to be together and enjoy magical times in such a beautiful natural setting.

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