by Don Corrigan
For the past two decades, Great Rivers Greenway’s (GRG) expanding network of recreational trails have been a St. Louis success story. Now GRG officials are asking area residents to envision the next 20 years of trail expansion and amenities.
Area residents are invited to guide Great Rivers Greenway’s work by providing feedback through Jan. 15 at http://www.GreenwayPlan.org. One survey participant will be randomly drawn to receive a $300 grocery gift card.
GRG has built more than 128 miles of greenways that connect people to their jobs, schools, parks, rivers, neighborhoods, business districts, transit and more. Greenways typically include a paved trail, conservation projects to enhance the environment, amenities like restrooms and vital destination connections.
The trails have spawned “People of the Greenways” — hiking, biking, in-line skating enthusiasts and more. Korri Thomas of South County is one of those people. An Alabama transplant, Thomas said she loves to exercise safely and to explore the region via trails.
“I love to walk, run, and cycle and do these activities with minimal road crossings,” said Thomas. “I’ve always loved rivers so the views of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec Rivers from the greenways bring me so much joy.”
The Thomas vision for GRG’s next 20 years: “I would love to have more connections between greenways. I recently trained for and ran a marathon on the greenways. I’ve logged a lot of miles. Having longer segments connected would add more variety to training.
“The bridge connecting the River Des Peres Greenway and Grant’s Trail that was just completed in 2020 is wonderful,” added Thomas. “This is a big win for the running and cycling communities and I would love to see more of these types of projects.”
The greenways are funded by sales tax revenue from St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The GRG agency, created by a vote of the people in 2000, updates a long-term strategic plan every five years with community input.
“Your voices are central to bringing the greenways to life – these are your tax dollars at work,” said Dr. Bernard J. DuBray, GRG Board President. “A vision this bold takes all of us – thank you to all our partners and community members for their collaboration.”
Tracked by electronic counters, visits to the trails have risen 72% in 2020 as compared to 2019. The survey will add to such data. To request a copy be mailed to you, take the survey by phone or to learn about the history of Great Rivers Greenway, visit http://www.GreenwayPlan.org or call 314-436-7009.
“We’ve heard time and again that the greenways are an important part of people’s quality of life and our region’s well-being,” said CEO Susan Trautman for GRG. “That has been loud and clear in 2020. More people than ever have turned to the greenways for fresh air, to stay active and connect to nature.”
The Pandemic Effect
“With so many things closed as a result of the pandemic, people have turned to the outdoors,” said GRG Communications Director Anne Milford. “Being in nature and getting fresh air is a proven stress reliever.
“The greenways have been a place for people to feel connected to other people – safely and at a distance,” added Milford. “They get that important connection while doing their part to maintain their own physical health in a looming pandemic.”
The increase in trail traffic may be here to stay. GRG is attentive to resulting safety issues and that will be one focus it hopes to get some feedback on through the survey.
Grant’s Trail, also known as Gravois Greenway, is one of the most highly used greenways in the Webster-Kirkwood Times area and across the system. There can be challenges with so many people out walking, running and riding bikes.
“We are going to do a safety campaign in 2021 to remind people about how to share the greenways,” said Milford. “With Grant’s Trail, large signs will be added that include one rule or safety reminder at a time, with a photo, so they are easy to read and everyone understands what is expected.”
Pedal-assist bikes have not been an issue to date. They are generally used by people who need a little assistance due to physical limitations, such as bad knees. GRG’s goal is to get everyone to slow down, whether they are on bikes or rollerblades – and to be alert and communicative in order to react quickly when others are nearby.
Great Survey Response
“We are getting great responses so far, we’ve had more than 3,800 people respond,” said Milford. “At a quick glance, we’re seeing that many people love the outdoor settings and would like to volunteer for trail events.
“We’ve also gotten several comments that people wish more small businesses would set up along the greenways to vend food, drinks, local goods and more,” Milford added.
One national non-profit that has benefited from the greenways is Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Nearby Grant’s Trail is used for the site’s popular “Bike Through History” tours.
“Our visitors are so impressed with the greenway and the many interesting historic locations and parks that it borders,” said David Newmann of the National Park Service, which oversees the historic presidential site. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Great Rivers Greenway.”
Newmann’s vision for GRG’s next 20 years: “We are excited about the prospect of a new segment connecting the River des Peres Greenway and Jefferson Barracks County Park. Our visitors will then be able to continuously ride, walk, or run along the route that Ulysses S. Grant traveled from White Haven to the barracks back in the mid-1840s.”