Public Land v. Private Use: Kirkwood Wrestles With Thorny Issue

Proposed; multi-use (cycling, running, walking (1+ mile), and cycling only (~1-mile) recreational trails in Kirkwood Park Forest.

By Don Corrigan

America has seen some major battles over special-interest use of public lands. Those fights have usually involve mining, timber, oil and gas interests. The fight came to Kirkwood recently when a mountain bike concern sought use of Kirkwood City Park.

Dave Schulz of the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) sought use of a forested area of the city park for cycling trails for his organization. Public reaction was swift and by the end of January, Schulz appeared to be backing off.

This GORC trail has imported rock/gravel to construct a ramp, and the width has been greatly expanded. Bluff View/Rock Hollow Park, Wildwood, MO.

GORC  will no longer support the addition of cycling within the west forest at Kirkwood Park. Following discussion with Kirkwood’s Parks Director Kyle Henke, the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) will no longer support the addition of cycling within the forest at Kirkwood Park, according to Schulz.

A bicycle playground and family-oriented bike area outside of the forest are still being considered. Dave Schulz of GORC told the Webster-Kirkwood Times that Henke spoke with him on Thursday, Jan. 20, regarding the proposed updates to Kirkwood Park’s trail system, which would include mixed-use areas permitting cyclists.

Natural foot-path in Kirkwood Park forest, letting visitors experience forest ecology. Our parks are intended for multiple uses, including cycling enthusiasts on pavement and mountain (dirt) trails. Cyclists deserve a piece of the pie (park). But ecological impacts should be recognized and reduced to the extent possible.

During their conversation, Henke told Schulz that the Kirkwood Master Plan, along with other documents, does not support using the forested trails for GORC’s cycling. Henke cited conflicts with the master plan — which states that Kirkwood residents believe the trail system should be designated as “passive natural” — as well as environmental concerns regarding detrimental effects of biking.

Schulz said GORC — a non-profit organization for the advocacy, design, construction and maintenance of multi-use trails — would continue to help with improving Kirkwood Park’s current damaged trail system, despite the fact that mountain biking is no longer included in the proposal.

Large-scale, man-made “trails” (road by any other name), fragment and degrade forests, and creates barriers some animals will not cross. Bluff View/Rock Hollow Park, Wildwood, Missouri.

This controversy over public land use in Kirkwood appears to have been settled before it began. Monstrous battles over use of public lands by mining, timber, oil and gas interests are not so easily resolved. Often, the public interest is trumped by special interests.

One big reason that the  public loses the monster battles is because state and federal lawmakers are influenced by monstrous campaign contributions by mining, timber, oil and gas interests. And so, the trees are clear cut, the mountains are decapitated, the woods are lost to strip mining and the land quakes with the machinery of fracking.

The dilemma over the special recreational use of a Kirkwood Park is obviously on a more benign and smaller scale than the monster state and national battles which the public so often loses. Still, these micro controversies can be instructive about the macro controversies that take place in the United States of America.

In the Kirkwood case, the local public interest was well-represented by nature groups that enlisted the help of experts like Scott George, PG. Master Naturalist Environmental Science Consulting, LLC. According to George’s study of the Kirkwood Park situation:

Kirkwood Park birds: Barred Owl. (Audubon)

Intact natural communities are uncommon in the metro St. Louis area. Kirkwood Park Forest is a small (14 acres), but biologically diverse community, with 186 plants identified in three communities; upland forest, bottomland forest and riparian zone. Over 103 birds use Kirkwood Park, with several rare (listed) migratory songbirds, along with Barred Owls and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Most areas have been restored by volunteers (honeysuckle removal/planting natives). This area is designated as Passive/Natural Area in the Kirkwood Parks Master Plan.

GORC (Gateway Off-Road Cyclists) bike trail with high ecological impacts, constructed in Bluff View/Rock Hollow Park, Wildwood, Missouri. These large bike “roads” fragment the forest, impacting plants and animals. Wildlife avoids the constant disturbance and some fauna will not cross the open barrier.

GORC proposes a network of mountain bike/recreational trails, totaling over 2 miles. These will not be foot-paths, but large trails with clear lines of sights (removing trees), grade controls, and berms/rolling shapes, which mountain cyclists enjoy. Mountain bike trails can be very destructive; fragmenting natural communities, disturbing and impeding wildlife movement, eroding/compacting soil, introducing exotic species, and turning many trails into mud. Bikers seldom stay on defined trails, but cut cross-country, heavily impacting flora/fauna.

Human movement/noise disturbs wildlife, driving it from natural areas. A meta-analysis of 274 studies assessing recreational impacts to wildlife, found negative impacts in almost every case (Larson 2016) (USFWS 2018). Some wildlife will not cross human barriers; e.g., woodland salamanders, for example (Marsh 2005).

Parks are intended for multiple uses, including cycling, but ecological impacts should be recognized and avoided, when possible. We can see no need to develop the Kirkwood Park Forest, which should remain a natural area, as intended by Kirkwood citizens.

Beautiful Park, let’s develop it! Construction may never stop in Bluff View/Rock Hollow Park. Each red box is new task.

7 responses to “Public Land v. Private Use: Kirkwood Wrestles With Thorny Issue

  1. I love my mountain bike and ride it everywhere. Castlewood’s trail along the Meramec River up to the miniature railroad is very enjoyable, but the proposal to place a small mountain bike trail, to entertain 12-15 yr. olds, in our sacred Kirkwood Park is just wrong. Currently many of the people using the trails in the park are senior citizens and kids flying around them on bikes would be detrimental to the peace and safety of seniors.

    So, let’s find a better place for a real mountain bike trail. I’ve heard there is a larger area near the ballfields on Marshall Rd and an area near Grant’s trail that would be appropriate for what my four yr. old granddaughter calls the “up/down” park. Let’s work together to make everyone happy. Send an email to Laurie Asche, and ask her to forward your letter to the Park Board and the Kirkwood City Council. Attend the Park Board meeting via Zoom on January 24, 2022 at 7pm. Please help save Kirkwood Park!


  2. It appears you have a significant amount of information incorrect. We would be happy to help clear that up. As a basic example it was local residents asking for a place to ride bicycles in Kirkwood and they suggested Kirkwood Park. They simply asked GORC to draw up an idea of what that could look like. However, after extensive review of hundreds of pages of documents and months of reviewing the site we came to our own conclusion that cycling within the trail specifically would go against the intended use. We also noted that the area is in significant decline due to miles of unplanned trails found in eroded unmaintained conditions. Some of the trails are as much as 10 ft wide average now with no signs of slowing. A warning was given by their own biologist plant study 10 years earlier. It would also help if you got the size of the property correct at 92 acres approximately with 37 + acres of wooded area cut by a road down the middle and a water tower. Again please feel free to reach out to us and maybe it would help you to understand the environmental levels that we go through to ensure the most sustainable systems possible with the least impact possible. Mr. Scott seemed amazed once he actually spoke with us versus going off the info initially provided by just one person.


  3. To the person who hides behind the name, GORC Gravity, if you read Don’s statement above, he is correct and your are incorrect. He references, “Kirkwood Park Forest is a small (14 acres),”. Because you are not from Kirkwood, you may not understand that the 14 acres of “Kirkwood Park Forest” is only a portion of the entire 92 acres of Kirkwood Park. So you are making a misleading statement. By doing this you are contributing to the discrediting of GORC. Is that what you really want to do?


    • The park director referred to the forested area as 30+ acres throughout the entire site walk. Simply measuring the site shows about 37.87+ acres with the road cutting through the middle and the water tower. This is the entire forested area where all the trails exist. If you measure all the current planned and unplanned trails that comes out to about 2 miles not including anything outside the forest.

      The app appears to have auto placed the GORC Gravity name in place of mine. This is Dave Schulz. To answer your question what I really want is for the facts to be used. Have a nice day.


  4. I think the entire wooded area of Kirkwood Park is about 30 acres. The east woods, the original area considered, is about 18.5 acres.

    It was my understanding that GORC withdrew their map/proposal after the Parks Director released a 5-point statement in the January Park Board meeting packet describing reasons the city could not recommend. Interestingly enough, the statement pretty much reiterated the conclusions of the Trail Committee report in July, which was unfortunately disregarded at the time. Had the report been given more consideration, perhaps we would all have been spared a 5-month fracas.


    • Yes, I agree. I included the total area encompassing the water tower due to the outer edges being part of the forest and all the unplanned trails cutting through that area.

      I requested a conference call between the myself as a GORC representative, the residents who presented the idea of rehabilitating the Kirkwood trails and including cycling elements, and the Kirkwood Parks Department. We all shared our findings and came to the agreement that cycling specific elements would not be appropriate within the Kirkwood forest. GORC then offered to still help the community find appropriate experts to repair their damaged trail system. Before the Parks Director released his written statement, on Jan. 20, 2022 I released an open letter sending it to all the officials in Kirkwood ensuring they clearly understood our position. It should all be included in their public record. Please note that one of the Parks Board members mentioned it during the Jan 24th meeting.

      For your info I did request every document totaling around 100+ pages from Kirkwood. Much of it was the Master Plan, the EnVision Plan, Surveys, Maps, and more. It was never brought to my attention that the Trail Committee had a July report. It likely would have been very helpful.

      It may surprise the concerned residents to know that I actually fought against modern cycling elements that were placed on a local trail which had an extensive history of other uses. The cycling elements were removed and the trail was restored. And in the last few years GORC has helped a city change its mind about logging over 100 acres and instead turning it into a park. GORC helped rehabilitate a man made erosion disaster that was impacting local creeks and retention ponds. GORC helped rehabilitate former surface mining areas, heavily logged private property, and an illegal trash dump all turning those into sustainable parks.

      Have a good day.



  5. Volunteer work building trails has benefited many naturalists, hikers, cyclists and runners. Getting people outside, away from screens and cars is a worthy goal. Many restoration projects include trails to help control human impacts to natural communities.

    Recreational trails in natural areas, however have real ecological impacts; many animals avoid disturbance, some won’t cross small barriers, soil compaction affects tree roots/soil ecology. These impacts have only recently been studied in detail and possible mitigation methods proposed; e.g., wetland/stream buffers, avoid high quality/unique habitat and wildlife breeding areas, leave the largest (contiguous) habitat as possible, and allow for wildlife movement along corridors.

    Should some areas be avoided to limit impacts to breeding birds or salamanders? Not easily answered. Following can help; Missouri Department of Conservation, Audubon, local nature groups, native species databases, and site-specific habitat evaluations.

    Intact natural communities are uncommon in St. Louis metro-area, and nature exposure has many proven human physical and mental health benefits. These island refuges in highly urbanized matrix are cherished by many, as demonstrated by many volunteers for restoration work (honeysuckle removal, planting natives, controlled burns, clean stream teams). These volunteer efforts are great ways to get families out in nature, away from screens.

    With so little left of the natural world (metro-area), impacts to even small remnants, takes on heighten importance. The proposed trail in Kirkwood Park would have impacted a designated Heritage Forest, zoned Passive/Nature Preserve, with high biodiversity and long history of volunteer restoration. Some residents were concerned the proposed plan would be approved, impacting their hard work. The Nature Preserve has trail issues, but bike traffic is too much for small area.

    Trails prove many human benefits (I use often!), but we should not ignore the impacts or possible mitigation methods.


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