Town backs transfer of Grant’s Farm to National Park Service

No one speaks against potential transfer of Grant’s Farm at last week’s meeting


A resolution in support of transferring Grant’s Farm to the National Park Service was adopted last week by the Grantwood Village Board of Trustees.

The board voted 5-0 to adopt the resolution at its July 20 meeting, which more than 200 people attended to hear a presentation from the NPS of the potential addition of Grant’s Farm to the National Park System.

The resolution states the board “fully supports” the NPS taking over the 273-acre property from the Busch family “(i)n recognition of the value and importance of Grant’s Farm to the town of Grantwood Village and the surrounding community, and with the best interests of its current residents and future generations in mind …”

Earlier this year, the National Park Service conducted an initial study to determine the significance, suitability and feasibility of adding the property to the National Park System.

The study — known as a reconnaissance study — provides neither final recommendations or a timeline for the acquisition of the farm. The U.S. Congress determines which sites become part of the National Park System.

Grant’s Farm opened to the public in 1954. In the past six years an average of nearly 550,000 people have visited the site, which features Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales and a zoo of more than 400 animals. Several private buildings, such as the Busch family mansion — the Big House — also are located on the property.

Grant’s Farm is a free attraction, with the exception of a parking fee for visitors. The farm employs 234 people from mid-April to October when the park is open to the public, and 10 year-around staff members. The study states the farm loses between $3.5 million and $4 million annually to operational costs. Grant’s Farm took in $4.2 million in revenue in 2008, the study states.

The site is owned by the August A. Busch Jr. Trust and Grant’s Farm Manor Inc., which are controlled by members of the Busch family. Anheuser-Busch InBev Inc. leases and operates the public facilities and owns the animals.

The study states the NPS “believes there is potential for a positive determination of national significance” of making Grant’s Farm part of the park system. In addition, the Busch family is “very supportive” of the idea, according to the study.

However, the study also raises questions about the suitability and cost of the NPS taking over the site. The immensity of the property — and the menagerie — could prove challenging for the NPS to manage, the study states.

“The question of whether the NPS should endeavor to manage the animals as they are now, in reduced numbers, or at all, would be a major focus of any further study. It is not within the mission of the National Park Service to manage zoos, however, the menagerie at Grant’s Farm is a historic use of the property and maybe be found historically significant,” the study states.

It later states, “The cost of acquiring the estate, including the house and the art collection within it, would be well beyond the start-up costs of a typical national historic site. Of more concern would be the potential cost of operating the farm’s menagerie and maintaining the extensive maintained landscapes and structures over time.

“The NPS faces critical staffing and funding shortfalls in current units of the National Park System and would be hard-pressed to find adequate funding to support the Grant’s Farm resources to the level sustained by the Busch family.”

However, Tim Good, superintendent of the neighboring Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, reiterated several times at last week’s board meeting that the final decision rests with Congress, which would “customize legislation” to direct the NPS on how it should operate the site.

“There are 392 sites in the National Park Service. I would suggest that each one of them is unique,” Good said. “If the United States Congress wants the National Park Service to take care of the animals, we will take care of the animals — including any Clydesdales. It all depends on how Congress writes the legislation.”

He said transferring Grant’s Farm, already a St. Louis County landmark, to the NPS would be the best option to keep the site “as-is.”

“If you want to see residential or commercial development of Grant’s Farm, you should not advocate for a National Park Service option,” Good said. “That is not our business. We’re a preservation, we’re a conservation agency.”

Good said he has seen sites become part of the park system when such a move is endorsed by five groups: Residents, property owners, community leaders, local congressional delegation and the press.

No one spoke against the potential transfer of Grant’s Farm during a period for public comment at last week’s meeting.

Former state Rep. Jack Goldman, who was part of the successful effort two decades ago to have President Grant’s home, White Haven, designated as a national historic site, said the process begins at the local level.

“That’s where it began with White Haven,” he said. “We had a meeting with residents where we sat down and talked about what was available, what we could do with it … The No. 1 thing that came out of that was the leadership got together.”

He added, “The citizens were behind it. I can’t emphasize enough how important that was. We had a fundraiser in Crestwood. We were looking to get 300 people and over 1,000 people showed up. That caught everybody’s attention.”

Goldman said it took the White Haven group five years to get their request before Congress, but in the end, it was worth it.

“What the park service has done with this property has been magnificent,” he said. “If anybody has any concern about what’s going to happen to Grant’s Farm, just look at what they’ve done to White Haven. You will be amazed.”

Goldman encouraged residents to spread the word about the Grant’s Farm proposal, form committees, let their elected officials know they support it and “move forward.”

“And keep moving forward,” he said. “Don’t let this thing die. Because if you walk out of here tonight and you don’t do this, it will go away.”