The growl of chain saws last week signaled the start of a face lift for Forest Park - the first action after two years of talk about a master plan.
Crews began clearing bush honeysuckle and other non-native plants from the tangle of overgrown and aging woods known as Kennedy Memorial Forest in the southwest corner of the park.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, which in August 1992 signed a five-year agreement with the city to manage Kennedy's 80 acres, is doing the work. The job was stalled while some 125 meetings were held to devise the master plan.
Rob Emmett, the department's point man for the project, said the meetings pinpointed what the public wanted in Kennedy Forest.
"To restore and maintain native vegetation, improve and extend hiking trails and take care of this thing," he said, pointing to a rundown restroom that the department will rehab.
The Conservation Department was able to get crews moving quickly because the department is funded by a statewide sales tax and is eager to return some of that revenue to cities.
Asked for his budget, Emmett smiled. "We've been told, `Whatever it takes to do the job,' " he said.
Kennedy Forest's problems were evident during a visit on a rainy day last week. A thick undergrowth of honeysuckle and other exotic invaders choked out dogwoods and redbuds and prevented oak and hickory seedlings from sprouting to replace trees that toppled with age.
Water rushed down a haphazard maze of muddy trails, eroding soil from tree roots along the way.
But Emmett said the ingredients are there for a makeover that will bring out the beauty of the forest.
"We're talking trees 150 to 200 years old," he said. "And the wildlife's still here - we've seen turkey, red fox, coyote and tracks of raccoon, oppossum and skunk. It's a gem."
The Conservation Department plans to remove the exotics and plant native species such as oak, hickory, redbud and dogwood, as well as serviceberry, witch hazel and viburnum.
The restroom will be renovated, perhaps for year-round use.
A pavilion in what used to be called "the totem pole area" off Wells Drive will be rebuilt as an outdoor classroom and trail head. The gravel parking area will be paved.
Clearing Some Land
Two looping trails will be built. One will be a half-mile to three-quarters mile long and paved with asphalt. It also will have sections of boardwalk and a deck overlooking the valley. The second trail will be about 1.5 miles and covered with gravel.
Creeks may be dammed to create pools for wildlife, and a larger pond may be built. …