COVID-19 Will Pass. Greenways Are Here to Stay. St. Louis Knows Why.

In mid-March, COVID-19 drastically changed the way we move through our world. Shelter-in-place orders obligated many of us to work remotely and even homeschool our children. We shifted workflows and grocery store behaviors and redefined what constitutes entertainment or an outing. We continue to grapple with this pandemic and evolve our day-to-day lives.

Since then, we’ve heard from many of you about the impact of the greenways in your own lives. Whether you are working on the front lines or cooped up at home, you’ve turned to our region’s many public spaces for so many different reasons over the past four months.

You’ve told us that you’ve been:

  • Stressed out, anxious, depressed
  • Feeling stuck, confined, limited, stagnant
  • Wrestling with a loss of control and normalcy
  • Worried about staying healthy
  • Reinventing what it means to connect with others

We’ve heard from you that you’ve turned to greenways and parks to:

  • Boost your physical health and get some exercise
  • Connect to nature — remembering that some things, like the seasons, do move forward
  • Get out of the house and get some fresh air, a break from screens and limited movement
  • Make a plan and have some control over how you spend your time — whether it’s a casual walk, setting a new personal record on a run or exploring the region by bicycle
  • Relax in a new setting and do a mental health check-in
  • Have some alone time away from others in your household
  • Have community time, even if distant, seeing others and feeling a sense of belonging
  • Find a literal change of scenery — even if it’s just to read a book or eat a meal
  • Refresh your creative juices or get some perspective
  • Get around town to check on a loved one, get to work or get supplies
  • Experience something with your loved ones that’s free, accessible and fun

Since March, the frequency with which Missourians have visited parks has ballooned by 73% and that trend has carried forward to the greenways as well. From April through June of this year, greenways across the St. Louis region saw a nearly 60% increase in usage compared to the same three months in 2019. Moreover, several greenway segments – including portions of the Dardenne, Meramec and Centennial Greenways – have seen usage more than double during the pandemic.

And if metrics were not enough, your comments on social media have made the value of the greenways during these strange times even more clear.

  • Sunday morning #run along the @GreatRiversSTL River Des Peres Greenway. Thankful for wide paths and sunshine
  • I’m so thankful for the greenways!! They are my go to for runs and walks…and in the last few weeks they are the silver lining in my day. People are doing a great job of following the social distancing rules, thanks for continuing to remind us all.
  • You all do great work and I really love the Greenways and what they do for our community. Keep it up! The Greenways have been a Wonderful Life Saver and a huge help during the covid-19 pandemic.
  • We enjoy greenways for cycling and connecting to areas we wouldn’t normally be able to ride comfortably.
  • Thank you for your work & passion….in an age where families are weakening & screen time soars, these types of projects are needed more than ever. It not only creates a healthier community, it also brings pride, & attracts others to our area.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the original vote that created Great Rivers Greenway. Twenty years ago this November, residents of St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County bought into the idea of a sales tax-funded network of greenways to connect all 120 municipalities. With hundreds of partners and thousands of you, we’ve built 128 miles of greenways (and counting). You’ve shown us time and again you understand what greenways can do for our quality of life and the civic well-being of our region — so much so that you passed another tax initiative in 2013.

We’re not the only proof that people here “get it.” St. Louis boasts some of the most amazing urban green spaces in the world: Forest Park, Citygarden or the Gateway Arch National Park, to name a few. From small-town parks and greenways to our Katy Trail State Park, residents have understood the power of public green space for decades.

People in our region (and our state) support their conservation, trail and parks projects with overwhelming majorities in voter initiatives, volunteerism and fundraising. When something can enhance the health of our economy, our environment and our community members, it’s a worthy investment in our future.

You use the greenways and recognize how they make our region a vibrant place and how our lives are better for having them around. You show up to public meetings and give us valuable input that guides these projects. You donate your time and your financial resources to support the mission. You let us know how we’re doing and hold us accountable.

You, the residents of the St. Louis region, continue to fuel this innovative model to connect three counties with a network of greenways — with conservation projects, amenities and destinations along the way. Eventually, COVID-19 will pass. Thanks to you, the greenways are here to stay.