St. Louis County Council Republicans call on Page to reopen parks

Bicyclists+enjoying+the+paved+path+at+the+new+Cliff+Cave+Trail+in+2018.+Bikers+also+have+the+option+of+an+unpaved+trail.

Photo by Gloria Lloyd

Bicyclists enjoying the paved path at the new Cliff Cave Trail in 2018. Bikers also have the option of an unpaved trail.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The St. Louis County Council’s Republicans are calling on County Executive Sam Page to reopen county parks.

Initially, parks and outdoor exercise were allowed under Page’s stay-at-home order issued March 21 to combat the coronavirus. That order expires April 22. But Page, a Democrat, ordered the parks closed April 3 after too many people congregated in groups inside parks, he said. The parks will also be closed at least through April 22.

Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson have instituted stay-at-home orders and other decisions related to the coronavirus response in collaboration with each other and other regional officials, with the notable exception of parks. Krewson has declined to close St. Louis city parks, including Forest Park.

Now three members of the St. Louis County Council are calling on Page and Parks Director Tom Ott to reopen a few of the largest county parks for resident use, including the “largest ones in all geographical areas of the county” — Jefferson Barracks, Lone Elk, Queeny, St. Vincent, Creve Coeur, Greensfelder, Sioux Passage and Tilles.

As of 10 a.m. Monday, St. Louis County had 1,687 positive cases of coronavirus, with 42 deaths. Page indicated Monday that he would consider extending the stay-at-home order into May.

Photo by Gloria Lloyd
A pedestrian bridge allows for an up-close view of the actual Cliff Cave, which is fenced off.

Page indicated on a county website that he would reevaluate the closures April 15, and the council members said they hope he changes his mind on keeping parks closed.

In a letter sent Friday to Page, the GOP trio — 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville; 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton; and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin —  requested that certain parks be opened on a “limited and controlled use basis at the earliest possible date,” according to a news release sent out by the council members.

“Residents have been overwhelmingly asking for these parks to be reopened for their use and enjoyment,” the release stated.

The council members concluded their letter to Page, “Our parks are vital to a healthy recovery from this pandemic. Many closed parks around the country have started to reopen, with appropriate precautions in place. We urge you to do the same as soon as possible.”

The council members believe Page’s order closing all county parks is driving more people to use St. Louis city parks and county municipal parks, which they believe is concentrating more people in a smaller space and making it harder to follow social distancing guidelines. Many state parks have remained open by following similar social distancing restrictions with five exceptions, including Castlewood State Park in Ballwin.

“County residents should be able to walk, run, hike and ride bikes in their county parks,” the council members said. “The opening of these parks is not only positive, but necessary for people’s physical and mental well-being.”

Small gatherings of 10 people or less should be allowed, they said, but hours could be limited and park shelters, playgrounds and athletic areas like basketball courts would remain closed.

“Enjoyment of these parks can be done in a responsible and safe manner,” Trakas said in the release.

“Our overall goal is to see ALL the parks reopened by the middle of May or sooner,” Fitch said.

Current social distancing and small gathering rules would still apply, the council members said. Park rangers and county police would enforce the rules. All indoor activities will remain canceled.

“We will focus on safety and protecting lives while restoring sensible access to St. Louis County parks in a responsible manner for the well-being of our residents,” said Harder.