Savanna in Forest Park – Enjoy & Help Restore this Treasure in the City

Savanna Forest Park

By Linda Wiggen Kraft,
Healthy Planet Green & Growing Editor

There is a special place, some may even say a sacred place, in Forest Park that honors and nurtures the history and living lineage of the land before settlers. Old growth savannas once covered millions of acres of Missouri. Now there are just a handful of these unique beautiful ecosystems. We have a treasure in the city with the Kennedy Forest high-quality restored eight-acre Savanna along the south west edge of Forest Park. This area is a savanna which, like all savannas, has open sunny areas with mature trees at the edge. It is where prairie meets woodland, but a unique ecosystem unto itself. There is no more than 30% crown coverage from the trees. The unique habitat is an ecosystem of trees, grasses and forbs (soft-stemmed flowers). There is the beauty of sun-loving prairie native plants and there is also coverage of trees which means birds, bats, insects and other life that need trees live here. There are shady areas and open sunny areas. The diversity of plants and animals is immense. On the Forest Park Forever website one of the features of this savanna is its diversity. The website states: “Today, visitors can enjoy a sunny summer walk to view the ever-changing wildflower blooms. Birders can regularly catch sight of large raptors like the red-tailed hawk perched in a dead tree snag looking for another meal. Most notably, this site offers a sunny opening with many wildflowers to attract a wide array of pollinators including more than 33 species of bees and wasps and more than 20 species of butterflies and moths.”

The restoration of this savanna is an ongoing project. It began in 1999 and continues with a once-a-year volunteer spring planting of hundreds of plants. (See below how you can help).

Gary Schimmelpfenig is the leader of the spring planting. He leads the volunteers with song and inspiration in the almost hidden teepee of branches gathering spot at the edge of the savanna. After that planting takes place. It is a joyous occasion for volunteers, plants, animals and the land. Gary is part of the original Kennedy Woods Advisory Group (KWAG), science minded folks lead by the late Ken Cohen. Ken in 1998 convinced Forest Park leadership to support the reconstruction of an old growth savanna. The process of ecological restoration began with the help of DJM Ecological Services and volunteers who collected seeds from native plant populations. Sometimes the seeds were collected hours before being bulldozed away for development. The original plantings grew but according to Gary: “unfortunately, over the years, historic processes like periodic burns were not initiated and the savanna wildflowers and grasses began to be replaced by tree saplings, grapevines, and invasive plants. In 2015, Forest Park Forever (FPF) partnered once again with KWAG to help bring the savanna back to a high quality state, including one public planting each year in April – this year on Earth Day, April 22, 10-12.”

Please join Gary and other volunteers on Earth Day this year to help give back to the land and help restore the treasure of Kennedy Forest Savanna. You must sign up with Forest Park Forever to help. Check in early April on the FPF Volunteer page for sign-up