Striving to be the Best
Located six miles west of downtown St. Louis, Forest Park was dedicated in 1876. It was created to rival the great city parks of Europe and other cities in the U.S. such as New York City’s Central Park. When it was initially surveyed in 1874, Forest Park was almost five hundred acres larger than Central Park and it still holds that distinction today.
Forest Park was the site of two of the largest international events of the early 20th century. In 1904 it simultaneously hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as “The World’s Fair”, and the Summer Olympic Games. The park was the site of the games’ swimming , diving, and water polo events. Francis Field and Francis Gymnasium, located nearby on the present day campus of Washington University, were the sites of the track and field events.
Today, over twelve million people visit Forest Park annually to enjoy its many attractions including the St. Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, Municipal Opera, Planetarium, two golf courses and a network of trails that winds over fifteen miles through the park.
Rebuilding & Preserving
Forest Park survived a period of neglect in the 1960’s and 1970’s, to be reborn through a number of rehabilitation projects. Remembering Forest Park’s past, Rich Anderson, president of the St. Louis Track Club explains, “In the 1960’s it wasn’t necessarily considered that safe of place, especially in the evening. It’s completely different now.”
Since its creation in 1986, Forest Park Forever, a local organization committed to revitalizing and maintaining the park, has made more than $100 million in improvements to the park’s facilities, landscape and infrastructure. “The look and feel of the park…Forest Park Forever does a good job (maintaining it),” Anderson says.
The 25_year anniversary of the organization was celebrated during the weekend of June 24-26 with the formal dedication of one of its latest projects, the dual path loop. The project was completed earlier this year and includes a gravel running path and a paved biking path. Both paths stretch approximately six miles around the perimeter of the park. The celebration included a ribbon cutting ceremony and the “I Love Forest Park” 5K Run/Walk.
With the growing popularity of running, the number of runners using the park has increased in recent years. In 2010, more than fifty organized running/walking events were held in Forest Park. Local running groups find the park ideal for training. During most weekends the park’s Visitors Center is bustling with runners from a number of groups including the St. Louis Track Club, STL Runners Meetup Group, Team in Training, Big River Running, Fleet Feet St. Louis, and Missouri Running Company. “The measured path…10k loop…without traffic, makes it a great place to train,” Anderson proclaims.
The St. Louis Track Club utilizes the park almost exclusively for its events including the Frostbite Series, Road Series and Pace Series. “Traditionally, the Track Club has always been here. Outside of the Track Series, all of them (Track Club’s events) are (held) here,” Anderson says, reflecting on the organization’s relationship with the park.
The Go! St. Louis Family Fitness Weekend, Missouri’s largest competitive fitness event, also uses Forest Park as the site of many of its events. The weekend’s 5k run/walk, children’s fun run and mature mile are all held in Forest Park and a section of the marathon course also runs through it.
Besides being a favorite training location for the St. Louis running community and hosting an abundance of local races, Forest Park is also recognized nationally as a premier running venue. In 2004, Forest Park hosted the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials and was recently selected by USA Track & Field to host the 2012 and 2013 USA Cross Country Championships.
Over six hundred runners, including many of the elite runners in the country will compete in the six men’s and women’s championship races with $35,000 in prize money at stake. Runners will be vying for national titles in the junior, masters and open divisions. The men’s and women’s open and junior teams, that will represent Team USA in international competition in 2012 and 2013, will also be selected from the field of the USA Cross Country Championships held at Forest Park.
Thanks to assistance from Forest Park Forever, St. Louis’ Forest Park stands as one of the best urban parks in the country. Its well-maintained facilities including an extensive network of trails and roads make it the center of the St. Louis running community and an ideal venue for local and national running events. As St. Louis’ favorite place to run, here’s to Forest Park being forever!