Birders Warn Proposed Treetop Course Threatens St. Louis Habitat, Bird Species
St. Louis bird enthusiasts and conservationists plead with St. Louis County Council members to reject a treetop adventure course proposed for Creve Coeur Park, which originally was targeted to go in Greensfelder Park in Wildwood.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley at Tuesday's meeting proposed moving the location of a to-be-built treetop adventure course from a more remote area of West St. Louis County, Greensfelder Park in Wildwood, to a more urban setting of the county, Creve Coeur Park. But a St. Louis Audubon Society (SLAS) spokesperson was at the meeting to represent the interests of migratory fowl and birds in the Creve Coeur corridor, indicating such an intrusive addition would threaten the fragile wildlife and bird habitat being restored there.
“Creve Coeur Park is a critical environment for migrating bird species currently facing habitat decline,” said Ballwin resident and SLAS Conservation Vice President Jean Favara at the meeting.
SLAS Executive Director Mitch Leachman told Patch on Thursday their concerns and opposition to a treetop adventure course in Creve Couer Park are simple and direct:
- While Go Ape! spokespeople bend over backward to acknowledge how protective their company is of trees, there is no acknowledgement of the obvious impacts that people wondering through the area tree canopy will have on birds, including nesting and foraging ramifications.
- Public outreach, especially to those living closely around the Creve Coeur Park, basically has been non-existent and even less than it was for the Greensfelder Park location. He said he just was informed about the project on Saturday (and not from the county parks and recreation staff), three days before the agreement legislation already was to be read at the county council meeting.
- They find this type of development frustrating, particularly given that several thousand volunteers helped develop a couple dozen habitat projects at Creve Coeur Park on 25 acres over the last two years, including areas west of the Maryland Heights Expressway. Most recently they organized and funded habitat restoration in the upper park. He said the proposed treetop course is "a stone's throw away" from the area they just restored in conjunction with county park staffers.
- With a 300-acre lake and power boat races, there is no need to prompt more visitation at the Creve Coeur Park. With millions already visiting that park, it seems more practical to put a treetop course into one of the other, struggling county areas to help drive traffic.
SLAS was established in 1916 as the St. Louis Bird Club. In 1944, the Bird Club became the first local Audubon chapter in the United States. Today, the chapter consists of nearly 3,000 members across the St. Louis Metro Region that includes portions of 11 counties in Missouri and Illinois.
Concerns from SLAS members about placing a treetop adventure course at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park stem from the fact that—like the proposed project at Greensfelder Park—Favara stated in a letter to county council members Tuesday, the Creve Coeur location is within a nationally designated Important Bird Area (IBA).
The letter reminded the IBA provides critical habitat for migrating and nesting bird species that are undergoing population declines. It further stated the following:
The Missouri Department of Conservation, Audubon Missouri and Audubon chapters including the St. Louis Audubon Society, collaborated in 2006 to identify sites across the state that contained critical habitat for nesting, feeding, or resting of at-risk bird species. IBA designations focus limited conservation resources and encourage the restoration of declining wildlife populations before they become officially threatened or endangered. These species depend upon the canopy of a forest to forage for food or locate their nests. The species at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park that use this park include 18 species of wood warblers, five species of vireos and six species of woodpeckers. Of these, five species of warblers (Cerulean, Bay-breasted, Blue-winged, Kentucky, and Chestnut-sided), are officially listed as species of conservation concern by Audubon or the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Leachman said they are not opposed to recreation in St. Louis County Parks. "Biking, hiking and birding take place alongside each other in many public spaces around the region," he said.
"However, this GoApe! adventure course will take place in the actual tree canopy—a type of disturbance that can disrupt the life cycle of vulnerable species. In addition, nearly all 'traditional' activities are episodic and not continuous. Simple economics suggest that GoApe! will maximize client participation, with canopy-life having only limited breaks from that disturbance."
He said that while they appreciate the measures that GoApe! representatives say will be taken to minimize the negative impact on trees, the lack of appreciation for wildlife disturbance is "doubly concerning," especially considering the impacts will extend through migration and breeding seasons.
"We are also very aware of the budget pressures facing the Parks Department. We gave testimony before the County Council on behalf of the department, objecting to a budget proposal that would have eliminated 133 staff positions and closed 23 park facilities. We are pleased there have been no closures, but are distressed that St. Louis County Park Department has provided no public discussion or input about this newly proposed GoApe! tree-top adventure course," Favara stated in the letter.
"I don't care if Barack Obama proposed this legislation Tuesday night. Countless people know nothing about it, and nothing justifies shortening the public process," said Leachman.
With no environmental assessment completed to evaluate the impacts on the flora and fauna of the park currently planned, he said at a minimum, they request one be done before approval of installation.
Read previous articles for background and historical sequencing of this issue: