To eliminate a $10 million budget shortfall, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley included closing 19 county parks and a community center in his 2012 proposed budget presented Monday. in Eureka, Lone Elk Park outside of Eureka on Interstate 44, as well as in Wildwood, are three of the designated targets.
(See previously published blog in July's Eureka-Wildwood Patch from George Weber about .)
The park acreage once was part of the 2,400-acre Tyson Valley Powder Plant used for testing and storing ammunition during World War II. It is included in the Meramec River Greenway, and has been in place for nearly 50 years.
In today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about proposed county budget cuts, the nearby World Bird Sanctuary, also off I-44, was referenced as a "financial drag on the county," however the sanctuary's founder and executive director, Walt Crawford, said it is an independent nonprofit organization that is separate from Lone Elk Park.
"I am totally opposed to the sale of Lone Elk Park," said Crawford, "because it is a very vital green space for the whole metropolitan St. Louis area."
Crawford said they witness "hundreds of thousands" of migratory birds using the corridor alongside Lone Elk and their location each year. "An unbelievably large number of species of birds depend on this open space," he said.
"Given that the Lone Elk Park property was given to St. Louis County, it's not their right to sell it."
Eureka-Wildwood Patch reader Cori Westcott today indicated online that she already wrote to county council members about the park. She reached out through Patch to Weber as an originator of Lone Elk, asking: "What now? What else can we do?"
Weber said he believes this is unfortunately a preview of what's to come with many societal elements. "The government's out of money, the county's out of money. This world is going to come to a screetching halt pretty soon."
However, Weber said he hopes that Dooley and county officials will study the situation more closely and reconsider any shutdown proposals about Lone Elk Park because it doesn't need a lot of people to run it, compared to other parks, given that its inhabitants are wild animals. The park includes free-roaming elk, bison, wild turkey, waterfowl and deer.
"Lone Elk is such an easy park to enjoy. People can appreciate nature in their own way there," said Weber.
Crawford echoed Weber's sentiments, but said selling the property is not a viable option. "If we as citizens want wildlife, we have to give them somewhere to live. One thing people have got to realize is that we have to pay for green space. It's absurd to think about closing it. What would they close it for? For putting up houses and malls and asphalting it all? When the hell are we going to wake up?"
He said St. Louis is extremely fortunate to have these parks as resources, citing that he sees nothing like them in New York or San Francisco when he is on lecture tours.
"These wildlife destinations and green spaces are damn worth it, especially for saving for our grandchildren," he said.
Dooley's budget also would close St. Vincent Community Center in North County, the pools at North County and Kennedy recreation centers and the farm animals exhibit at Suson Park, according to the budget summary. Of the 175 jobs that would be eliminated countywide, about 135 would come from the county's department of parks and recreation.
Regarding Greensfelder Park, Wildwood's Planning and Parks Director, Joe Vujnich, said Wildwood staffers and representatives recognize Greensfelder Park as one of the premier facilities within the entire St. Louis region, in large part due to the stewardship efforts of the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation.
"City officials and staff anxiously await the outcome of the budgeting process between the St. Louis County Council and the County Executive’s Office, all hopeful that it leads to assurances this park will remain an integral and active part of this area’s Greenbelt for many generations to come," said Vujnich.
County council members meet tonight at 6 p.m., but county spokesman Mac Scott said because the 300-page proposed budget only came out this morning, the council will not discuss it in-depth.
Residents will be able to comment on the proposed budget at the first public budget hearing immediately after the County Council meeting on Nov. 15 at 41 S. Central Ave., in Clayton.
Dooley's other cost-saving cuts in the $10 million total include increasing fees for construction permits and not plowing subdivision streets during winter storms with 2 inches or less of snow.
Dooley requested a 2.8-cent rate increase in county property tax this summer, but council members did not support that move at the time.
Editor's Note: If you are concerned about the potential closing of Lone Elk Park, Greensfelder Park and West County Tyson Park, please comment here as part of this article. We would like to know how many people are interested in an online petition for advocating to keep the parks open, or at least analyzing other creative solutions.