FEATURE — Summer 2005

The Lindell Pavilion underwent extensive renovations and is now the Dennis and Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center.

Picture-Perfect Park

A decade of effort between public and private entities results in a renewed Forest Park, the University's backyard and the "soul of St. Louis."

By Teresa Nappier
Photography By David Kilper

Every Friday night in winter, my mother delivered me and my best friend to Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park. We couldn't wait to lace up our Bauer speed skates and get on the ice. We weren't serious speed skaters, though; in the late '70s, the long blades made a fashion statement.

A green heron rests by a flowing waterway.

Corralled at the gate, each skater desired to be among the first on the silvery, smooth surface, made fresh by the Zamboni machine. "When the rink attendant lowers the chain, all may skate, all may skate" trumpeted from the loudspeakers giving us permission to go.

New fountains present a dynamic display in the Emerson Grand Basin.

Youthful delight filled the cold winter air as we went round and round, putting down fresh cuts. The bustling rink provided a haven for hundreds of city teens intent on skating, talking to their friends, listening to the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," and sipping hot chocolate by a blazing bonfire.

Today, not only does Steinberg Rink have a new surface and refurbished look, but the entire park shines anew.

Thanks to public and private efforts and a fantastic master plan, over the last decade Forest Park has been restored. The St. Louis Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry partnered with the private, nonprofit Forest Park Forever to bring back the park's luster and to create an ecological, sustainable balance—where recreation, culture, and nature coexist in style.

Forest Park plays host to the Balloon Glo, on Government Hill, a precursor to the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race.
New bike and jogging/walking paths wind throughout the park.

"The mayor of St. Louis appointed a planning committee, including city officials, members of Forest Park Forever, professionals in such fields as design and landscaping, and a few seats selected by the county executive," says Lee Liberman, M.L.A. '94, Ph.D. '04, former chairman of the University's Board of Trustees and a life member of that Board, and former board chair and current vice chair of Forest Park Forever. "Once we knew what we wanted to do, such as refurbish the World's Fair Pavilion, we determined the costs and how to go about raising the funds.

Wildflowers dot the park's landscape.
A commemorative turtle rests by the World's Fair Pavilion.

"Many contributed in substantial ways to the park's rehabilitation," Liberman, chairman emeritus of Laclede Gas Company, continues. "Financially, for example, another friend of the University, Jack Taylor (BU '44 and emeritus trustee), along with his family and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, helped enhance the Boathouse, because when asked, Jack said that as a young person he had always liked the boathouse and the boats and wanted to restore these fun things to Forest Park. As for overseeing all the restoration details, and keeping the project on budget and on time, Jim Mann, president and CEO of Forest Park Forever, among many others, should be commended for all the hard work."

Overall, Forest Park now boasts refurbished roads, bridges, and entryways; improved historic structures; renovated ball fields and golf courses; new flowing waterways and habitats for wildlife, and much more.

Open waterways allow boaters access to more areas.
The Saint Louis Zoo is a perennial favorite.

Each year, more than 12 million visitors delight in this urban oasis. Park-goers frequent the Saint Louis Art Museum, Science Center, Zoo, and Missouri History Museum. Many enjoy theatrical performances at The Muny and the annual summer Shakespeare Festival. Scores spend time at the expanded Boathouse, where guests rent paddleboats, listen to live music, and drink frosty cold beer. Enthusiasts use the renewed bike and jogging/walking paths, Central and Aviation ball fields, and the Norman K. Probstein golf courses. Young and old can be found bird-watching in Kennedy Forest, fishing at Jefferson Lake, playing tennis at Dwight Davis Tennis Center, reading by the Grand Basin, or just kicking back and relaxing on Art Hill. Couples can be found at the sparkling Jewel Box on weekends getting married. And, of course, in winter, skaters still flock to Steinberg—and now beach volleyball players bump, set, and spike there in the summer.

In between the Hilltop and Medical campuses, this 1,371-acre refuge—with forests, wetlands, prairies, savannas, lakes, and lagoons—is the University's backyard, where students, faculty, and staff can be found among the visitors.

With this photo essay by University photographer David Kilper, we pay tribute to our refurbished neighbor. May the lure of a fresh surface propel your next visit.

Teresa Nappier is the editor of this magazine.
David Kilper is the assistant director of the University's Photographic Services.
(See the spring 2001 online magazine for a previous article on Forest Park, "Re-Building Common Grounds," at magazine.wustl.edu/Spring01/.)