Getting Outside in St. Louis | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
Beth Gentsch
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Getting Outside in St. Louis

I like to think of a semester as represented by a graph with two peaks ---I had to use the internet to figure out that this phenomenon does, in fact, have a name, and it is recognized as a “bimodal graph.” The first peak represents the initial first few weeks of classes---the first assignments, papers, group discussions. It could even mean engaging in a social work practice lab session where you realize, for the first time, that it’s possible to simultaneously feel that you have no idea what you are doing, yet that you somehow can do new things. The second peak hits deeper in the semester, when professors gently remind us that we are full-fledged graduate students, or when the first excitement about a practicum opportunity reminds us of the future and where we will someday be.

 Of course, semesters look different for everyone--some graphs may have additional jagged edges here and there, or throughout the entire time. We are all navigating challenges and figuring out what works best for each of us during this time, and it won’t look the same for any one person. Working from home often requires important breaks for the sake of preserving our energy. I find exploring the outdoors in the St. Louis area is a helpful way to gain self-reflection, appreciate recreational time and safely catch up with a friend! Before heading out to the parks or trails, remember to bring a mask and check the park websites for updates if needed. 

Local Spots & Trails

In addition to holding major cultural institutions such as the Missouri History Museum and the Saint Louis Science Center, Forest Park offers a lush refuge of interconnected pathways that both encircle and wind through the center of the park. The park is a short distance from the Brown School’s Goldfarb Hall, and accessible to many of the surrounding neighborhoods, including Skinker Debaliviere, Central West End, and the Grove. Park-goers can catch a glimpse of people catching up in wide folding chair circles, enthusiastic squash players calling out to each other from across the court, and perhaps even stumble across an occasional offshoot trail winding through tall trees that you previously did not even know existed. 

Check out this interactive map to see the “ connector paths” outlined in purple dashes. Many of these paths are trails, including those that run through the Kennedy Forest! 

A few miles south of Forest Park, Tower Grove Park offers trails (seven whole miles of them, with a three-mile encompassing loop around the outer edge), water lily ponds, 325 tree species, and many natural areas to view wildlife. Beginner bird-watchers and competitive birders alike may find solace in the Park’s Gaddy Wild Bird Garden and Savannah Complex, which can be located on the park map

If you’re living in surrounding neighborhoods of the Grove, Tower Grove East/South, or Shaw, you may find yourself taking advantage of the quick access to the park---perhaps even becoming a regular at the weekly farmer's market (with necessary COVID-19 precautions). Other spots around St. Louis include the Compton Hill Reservoir Park, which may appeal to individuals living in or near Compton Heights, Tower Grove East or Shaw. The park is located around the Compton Hill Water Tower, a St. Louis landmark and one of the last remaining standpipe water towers in the U.S. Built on one of the highest elevation points in the city, visitors can climb the 198 steps of the water tower for spectacular views (especially on full moons) when the facility is open for tours (someday, folx). 

Benton Park is located---you guessed it---in the neighborhood of Benton Park, which is nestled between Tower Grove East and Soulard. The park contains a lake with fishing opportunities, tennis courts, and is built on top of a large network of limestone caves, the entrances of which have mysteriously not been seen in decades.

A DRIVE AWAY

The Weldon Spring Conservation Area, located roughly 45 minutes outside of St. Louis, contains two trails (the Lewis and Clark trails), with both a 8.3 mile loop as well as a 5.2 mile loop (whichever one you choose, you’re an eager beaver in my mind). Early mornings on weekends or weekdays might be the optimum time for a socially distant trek. You won’t want to forget a pair of sturdy shoes, water, and snacks! Be prepared for about 900 feet of elevation gain, but with beautiful views of the Missouri River. There are benches located at various points along the trail to catch your breath and take in the views. 

If you thought there were no hills in Missouri, think again. Engulfed in a variety of oak and hickory trees, Castlewood State Park offers seven different hiking trails with a variety of intensity levels. If you want to spend less time squinting at the hilltop in the distance trying to figure out how to reach it (not that I speak from personal experience),  check out the River Scene Trail Loop for limestone bluffs that offer great river views followed by a downhill, flat finish in the valley. Be wary of crowds; earlier mornings may again be optimal. For those who prefer non-steep routes, the Castlewood Trail winds along the river and may be well-suited for any furry friends coming along for the ride. (Swimming is not recommended in the park due to strong currents). Visitors can catch a peep of white-tailed deer as they hop away, wild turkey, and even the majestic great blue heron.