Forest Park's New Hammock Garden Came Via Kirkwood Teen

Zachary Noland, 17, spent 110 hours bringing the project to fruition

click to enlarge Zachary Noland (center, in red) hammocking with friends in the new hammock garden in Forest Park. - COURTESY OF AMY NOLAND
Zachary Noland (center, in red) hammocking with friends in the new hammock garden in Forest Park.

The first-ever "hammock garden" in St. Louis' Forest Park owes itself to a Kirkwood teen and his Eagle Scout project.

Zachary Noland, 17, is a senior at Kirkwood High School. A few years ago, at the pandemic's height, he got into what he calls "hammocking." Setting up hammocks in a park or backyard created a space for him and his friends to enjoy the kind of free-ranging conversations they used to take for granted inside. "It's the appeal of being social when it's hard to be social," he explains. "We'd hang out and just chat."

So when Noland, a longtime Boy Scout, needed a project to earn Eagle Scout status, he couldn't help but think about bringing to St. Louis a structure he'd seen at the Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation — posts designed to facilitate hammock setup, without harming trees. Sometimes called hammock villages or hammock hotels, he found quite a few examples around the U.S. on Google once he figured out where to look.

In the spring of 2021, Noland made his pitch to a park in Kirkwood. His mom, Amy Noland, was skeptical. "I don't know that anybody's going to want this," she told him.  Sure enough, the park said no — and then so did the middle school and then the high school.

That might have been strike three but for a friend of the family with an "in" at Forest Park. Pitching the granddaddy of the city's parks might have seemed like a ridiculous act of hubris — except Forest Park Forever, the nonprofit that runs the park, seemed immediately intrigued. "It was a complete 180 from the other meetings," Amy Noland says. "They were looking for a hammock solution."

Dominik Jansky, Forest Park Forever's communications director, notes that the city's forestry ordinance prohibits hanging hammocks from trees. They can cause long-term damage, with problems that aren't always visible at first.

"We weren’t looking for a project like this exactly, but we do occasionally receive requests and questions about hanging hammocks from trees in Forest Park," Jansky says. "So this project certainly provides a useful and tree-friendly option for hammock lovers."

Even with the nonprofit's immediate interest, Noland's task wasn't exactly easy — as with anything in St. Louis, layers of bureaucracy envelop Forest Park's 1,300 acres. Noland estimates he personally put 110 hours into bringing the idea to fruition, adding in the time of park personnel, his mom and other stakeholders the total rises to 460 hours. But the park's enthusiasm kept him going through months of back and forth.

On Labor Day weekend, Noland was finally able to check the project off his to-do list, as Forest Park's first "hammock garden" opened to the public. To celebrate, Noland joined seven friends in, well, hammocking. "It felt good that I could use it," he says.

Equally rewarding has been seeing photos and social media posts of other people using it (the Nolands ask hammockers to use #hammockingforestpark online).

"It's pretty cool," Noland says.

It was also a true education — one Noland is grateful for no matter what happens to his Eagle Scout candidacy in the coming months.  He says it gave him a great lesson in the value of criticism.

"As we were going, I'd just ask everyone for any holes they could poke, anything they could find that didn't work," he says. "Everyone had some holes they could poke, and that was definitely a good thing."

Has the project given him a taste for project management? He's not sure. "I can't say it's something I'd look forward to, but I wouldn't shy away from it, either," he says. "Especially now that I've learned so much. The sense of completion is really satisfying."

And if you're into hammocking, thanks to Noland, Forest Park now has your back. Your head, too.

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Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of the RFT and its sister papers. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and continues to host its Legal Roundtable, as well participating as an occasional panelist on Nine PBS' Donnybrook. She lives in St. Louis.
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