MISSION: Ten million dollars—that’s approximately how much it costs annually to maintain St. Louis' crown jewel, says Forest Park Forever (FPF) president and executive director Lesley Hoffarth. By providing volunteers, monetary contributions and general support, FPF is able to take on some of the responsibility of Forest Park and work together with the City of St. Louis to maintain and improve the beloved area.
HISTORY: Since its inception, FPF has worked alongside the City of St. Louis to better Forest Park. "We were founded in 1986 by a group of people sitting around the kitchen table saying, We have great childhood memories of the park, we hate that it's falling apart—let's do something about it," says Hoffarth.
The deterioration had come after many years of deferred maintenance. At its start in 1876, the park was advertised as a way to get out of the city. The area was used—and largely cleared—for the 1904 World's Fair; Hoffarth says that the park is, in a way, still recovering from the Fair because of this clear-cutting, and most of the trees seen now were planted after the Fair. The next major changes came from park commissioner Dwight Davis, who Hoffarth says brought recreation to the park through activities like golf and tennis. Then, during an approximate 50-year period of decline, the park began to fall apart. "It looked like a very sad, tired, one-time-beautiful place," Hoffarth says.
So FPF stepped in to help. One hundred million dollars later, the 'Restoring the Glory' campaign brought some of the park's icons back to life, wrapping up in 2003. After rebuilding much of the park, in partnership with the city, FPF decided to stay after realizing it would be needed in order to maintain the improvements. "We've grown as an organization; and today, we provide capital project management, maintenance, operations, visitors' services, and education assistance to the city," says Hoffarth. "We work in partnership."
COMMUNITY IMPACT: From the Boathouse to the Jewel Box, the Emerson Grand Basin to the Nathan Frank Bandstand, FPF has helped improve many of the landmark sites of St. Louis.
Outside of architectural and landscaping work, FPF runs a number of programs, such as the Summer Youth Experience—which brings 60 Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis children to the park for outdoor enjoyment and education—and the Voyage of Learning Teachers' Academy. This eight-day program is focused on training teachers to use Forest Park as an outdoor classroom, says Hoffarth. An estimated 70,000 students have been impacted by the program, which is in its 14th year.
Additionally, FPF manages the park's Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center; and offers themed tours, which include topics such as bird watching, wildflower recognition and park history.
"When you take the time to get to know this park, you can't help but fall in love with it," Hoffarth says.
WHAT/WHEN/WHERE: 2014 LEFFINGWELL HAT LUNCHEON, JUNE 5, 11:15 A.M., WORLD'S FAIR PAVILION IN FOREST PARK
Grab a hat and head to the park! "This is a great way to be together with about 1,100 of your closest friends at the World's Fair Pavilion," says Hoffarth. "We have great prizes; there are secret judges in the crowd during the reception who are looking for the best hats in different categories."
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: For more information, call 367-7275 or visit forestparkforever.org.
ON THE BOARD: STEVEN FINERTY
"I think it’s the focal point of St. Louis for most people," says FPF board chairman Steven Finerty. "All economic levels mingle in the park. It has some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world, and they're free. It almost has more open space than any other city park in the United States."
Finerty says that the Hat Luncheon has an amazing turnout, and that it is the organization's largest fundraiser of the year. "It's a great way to celebrate what we have in St. Louis and Forest Park Forever, and it’s a great way to see a lot of people mingle at a big social event who may not go to a lot of social events."
Finerty is a principal at Moneta Group and is chairman of Argent Capital Management. His nonprofit work extends beyond his involvement with FPF, as he serves as chairman for the St. Louis Symphony Endowment Trust, and is involved with the Saint Louis Zoo Association, John Burroughs School, and other area organizations.