Great places like Forest Park in the heart of St. Louis provide a little bit of green among the concrete jungle, but for all of the benefits of that grand expanse, it is a long way from unspoiled wilderness.
Those places are getting harder to find, especially in close proximity to a giant urban enclave. That’s why efforts to preserve a place like the LaBarque Creek watershed just south of St. Louis County is such a positive goal.
For the past several years the Missouri Conservation Commission has added to the acreage under public control, including the December 2016 purchase of almost 51 acres of land and acceptance of a donation of an adjacent 25 acres as an addition to the 1,145-acre Hilda J. Young Conservation Area in the northwest corner of the county.
The Young properties, nearby LaBarque Creek and Glassberg Family conservation areas and the newly opened Don Robinson State Park protect the LaBarque Creek watershed, which has been designated for conservation because of the unspoiled nature of the property so near a metropolitan area.
The additional property and the new 818-acre state park in the area bring the total of publicly protected land in the LaBarque Creek watershed to more than 3,700 acres. The watershed is approximately 13 square miles, and about half of the area is publicly owned.
The conservation areas include stream access, fishing ponds, restricted hunting opportunities and several miles of hiking trails.
“It is important to maintain this high-quality watershed for area residents and wildlife,” said state Conservation Department forest management chief John Tuttle.
The 75-acre expansion is bisected by John McKeever Road and is connected to the southeastern portion of the existing Young Conservation Area.
“The three tracts are forested with no open land or water features,” Tuttle said. “The property is entirely wooded with quality dolomite woodlands similar to the existing Young Conservation Area.”
There are no existing structures on the new property but two old roads lead into the acreage from John McKeever Road. Those two passages will be used by the Conservation Department for access as they prepare the property for public use.
The timetable for public access to the new properties is undetermined, but it will take at least six months, Tuttle said. Nothing can begin until the real estate transaction closes.
“The department will have to have the deed in its possession and then mark and sign the boundaries of all tracts so that both visitors and neighbors will know what they are,” Tuttle said. “Sometimes new surveys are necessary, which can take more time. Department staff will also remove all litter or illegally dumped items from the property.”
Management plans for the new property are yet to be determined, but part of the property restoration will be natural resource management that will include removal and elimination of invasive species.
Once the property lines are properly identified, the state will post boundary signs and update printed and on-line maps of the area so that the new area can be open for public use.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback from both the residents in Jefferson County and the area visitors to our conservation areas in the LaBarque Creek watershed,” Tuttle said. “Many have been instrumental in making our management possible and in recognizing the quality of this watershed and the importance of conserving it for future generations.”
LaBarque Creek is more than six miles of permanently flowing stream. It supports 52 species of fish with an underlying sandstone geology that produces dramatic landscapes including steep narrow valleys, canyons, bluffs and shelter caves.
The creek enters the Meramec River as it exits the Young Conservation Area. Evidence of the significant damage that over-use and development can cause is not far downstream.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. Send e-mail to email@example.com or follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.