Happy Earth Day: St. Louis Will Save Money (and the Planet) By Letting Parks Grow Au Naturale

Apr 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm
click to enlarge Is it a Missouri National Grassland or Forest Park? Maybe both, come next year. - Image via National Geographic
Image via National Geographic
Is it a Missouri National Grassland or Forest Park? Maybe both, come next year.
The bad news: St. Louis is facing a $46 million budget deficit that will force layoffs, furloughs and reduced trash collection.

The good news: The fiscal belt-tightening has produced an idea that will save the City an estimated $500,000 annually and help the environment in the process.

The plan, as explained by city parks director Gary Bess, is to let large swaths of park land grow as they would in the wild. That means clearing out invasive species but letting hard-to-reach areas such as ravines, gullies and open meadows sprout into "un-mown savannahs" or "prairie areas."

"It's a a way to reduce the area that we mow but still maintain the same amount of park acreage that the city owns," Bess says. "It's an environmentally positive way to still offer park service and reduce the amount of carbon emissions you emit when you're cutting grass."

The program is already in place in about twenty-two percent of Forest Park. Bess says his department will "try to find a fit for it in almost all city parks," but public green spaces less than ten acres and high-visibility areas such as the Gateway Mall will likely remain as closely cropped as they were before. Bess mentioned Chain of Rocks Park along the river North St. Louis as a prime candidate for the program because it already has large swaths of grassland.

The parks department will also have it's manpower reduced by about ten percent as part of citywide cuts. They will lose ten full-time employees and thirteen seasonal workers.

As for citizen concerns that their neighborhood green space will grow into an overgrown jungle, Bess says the savannah areas will knocked down once a season, either in early spring or late fall. "These things do get maintained just to a lesser degree," he adds. "Plus we're getting native plants that can offer a certain degree of flowering and are somewhat attractive."