Treetop park in Wildwood? Residents voice concerns
By: Sarah Wilson
St. Louis County is monkeying around with bringing a treetop activities course with a zip line, swings and hanging obstacles into its Greensfelder Park in Wildwood.
“This is another recreational opportunity for the citizens of St. Louis County that will also help us with revenue share,” said Tom Ott, acting director of St. Louis County’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
Laying at the foothills of the Ozark mountain range, Greensfelder Park already features shaded trails, horse boarding, equestrian and group camping, hayrides, trails, a nature learning center, picnic sites and shelters, a playground, a trim orienteering course and an Alpine tower. Ott said the proposed plan is not dissimilar from a high ropes course that used to be in Greensfelder Park.
Chris Swallow, director of business development with Go Ape!, based out of Rockwood, Md., said the company chose St. Louis County based off its recent success at a similar park in Indianapolis.
“So we contacted the county thinking it had the market to support a course like ours,” Swallow said.
The St. Louis County Parks Department in July presented its business plan for the upcoming year, which said it included a $500,000 shortfall for 2013, but Ott said the proposed plan is in line with the county’s five-strategies business plan to bring in revenue.
“Part of that was to decrease our costs and increase our revenues, and this falls right in line with one of those strategies, just like our food trucks this year and some of the other stuff we’ve done,” Ott said.
Joe Vujnich, Wildwood director of planning and parks, said the city has not received a formal submittal from St. Louis County yet.
“Therefore the department would be hard-pressed to give some specific comments about how it looks or how it functions or the impact on the park from the perspective of the city’s regulations,” Vujnich said.
However, he said he has talked to Ott, “and it seems like from that conversation, they’re trying to take into account all the existing users and design around them versus around the other way, and I think that’s very positive.”
The department in October hosted its first meeting to inform the public and get input about the course.
Ott said he thinks, initially, there was a lot of concern.
“There was a lot of information out there that wasn’t accurate about what this was,” he said. “Once they understood where it would be located and what the course was and what it wasn’t, there was a better comfort feel that this would not impact the other uses in the park, and this was something that could be another used for other people in the park, other than bikers, hikers and trail equestrians. Certainly there are still some who are still very opposed to it and does not want to see it come about.”
One resident brought up the concern that on one would be monitoring the course after hours, but Ott said the landing space stations are fenced and locked and the ropes would be taken off each night so that people could not access the course after hours, which would be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Another concern was lack of parking.
“So I feel that we’re going to be within the current constraints of the parking, and it’s not going to flow out into the different equestrian areas, but we’ve been willing to do some other things, which is pilot a lower appointment size to see what those initial impacts would be so that we’re not affecting other uses within the park,” Swallow said.
Eva Brinner, who lives close to Greensfelder Park, called the plan “an outrage.”
One issue, she said, is safety. She said horses are only allowed in a few parks in the county, and horses would hear a zip line throughout the park.
“Horses have very keen and sensitive hearing, and they will hear and react to the noise in fear, and that could be very dangerous for the horses and the rider,” Brinner said.
She said the real issue is the park department’s values.
“It used to be that they were there to preserve, protect and maintain natural beauty and surrounding,” Brinner said. “The question now is what does the public want their values to be? Do they want their parks to be protected for their natural beauty or is the park department becoming recreational developers? I guess it’s boring to just appreciate nature, maintain it and take care of it.”
However, Swallow said Go Ape! is not only receptive to what the parks want to do but also to the community and the people who currently use the park.
“We work with parks around the country, and we have a great relationship with each of the parks and the community, so we look forward to having the same in St. Louis,” he said.
Ott said the parks department thinks the course is “a great opportunity for people to get out in the park and enjoy nature and do a physically challenging activity that is also so incredibly rewarding.”
“This provides confidence building, teamwork and and also an opportunity for the parks department to have a revenue stream that would be ongoing,” he said.
Anne Klein, assistant director of St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, said if the department decides to go forward with the project, the goal would be to open in the spring of 2013.
St. Louis County is hosting an informational meeting regarding the outdoor adventure course on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8:30 a.m. at Greensfelder Park Learning Center, located at the corner of Henken and Allenton roads. The meeting is open to the public.