“Mooooooom? Can we go to the park today? Pleeeeaaassseee?”
The question does not surprise me. It’s a perfect day to load up the stroller and spend the afternoon outside.
Five minutes and one stoplight later, we are met by the cool green and fresh air of Tower Grove Park. My three year-old, Eloise, hops out of the stroller to run down the path toward the playground while my one year-old, Oliver, kicks happily in his seat, a lap full of Cheerios.
Eloise wastes no time in making a friend to climb the jungle gym with and to balance the other side of the teeter-totter. Oliver climbs the stairs toward the slide. From behind me I hear the splashes and giggles that characterize the splash pad. I glance around and notice many other families out to enjoy the beautiful weather. As Oliver toddles over to the swings and I lift him in, I think about how much of our life has happened here in this park. It is a part of our family history in a way that no other space could claim, but the again, Tower Grove Park isn’t like other spaces.
Tower Grove Park was founded in 1868 after Henry Shaw, founder of the Missouri Botanical Garden, donated the land to the city of St. Louis to be used as a park. The 289-acre expanse has undergone many renovations, improvements, and changes, but has always been an important green space in South City. With approximately 2.5 million annual visitors, the park is home to festivals, 5k races, food truck events, concerts, and picnics all year long. It is a place that brings people out and brings them together.
When my husband and I married in 2013, our wedding photographs were taken in the park. We wanted photos captured somewhere green and beautiful, and the park was the perfect location. Our first apartment was across the street and I spent many afternoons there reading a book after work, stretched out in a patch of grass I claimed as my own front yard. In the early days of my running career, I would run to the Turkish Pavilion and back, the red and white striped roof a beacon to guide me to the top of the hill. Since then, I have run hundreds of miles in the park and seen countless sunrises from paths I now know well.
When our family grew with Eloise’s birth, we continued to enjoy the park for walks and picnics with friends. Two years later, many of Oliver’s first summer mornings were spent asleep in the stroller while his big sister ran around the splash pad. Evenings were filled by family runs with the double stroller to the Piper Palm House and back.
We began the search for a new house in June and one of the biggest criteria was to be within walking distance of the park. We bought a house two blocks away and spend more time there than ever. Food Truck Friday, Farmers Market Saturdays, and family walks fill our weekends. No walk is complete without a stop to visit our friends Sheffield and Moonshine, the park’s resident pony and horse. There is nearly always someone else standing outside their enclosure, calling the horses by name and completing their routine visit as well.
Tower Grove Park is home to us. It is deeply imbedded in our family rhythms and its 289 acres hold countless memories. I’ve trained for races and become stronger while running its paths. My kids have grown in bravery as they climbed higher than before on the playground or tried running through the fountain for the first time. Friendships have deepened as we passed food and beers across picnic blankets. Our picnic blanket has spent more time in the grass of Tower Grove Park than anywhere else. It is a place of enrichment and is woven into who I am. The park has been host to arguments with my husband and frustrating moments with my kids. It is a haven and an escape when the days feel long. Spring in the park is a delight with flowers in bloom at every turn and the fall foliage is breathtaking. Every time the seasons change, it is a source of joy to find such beauty and life in one place.
Everyone wants to have a place of belonging that they can call their own. Tower Grove Park is that place in South City, a public place so beautifully shared and possessed by so many. My family is not unique in our love for this park. On any given day, the park sees hundreds of visitors. It is a place that cultivates belonging and pride in our city. Tower Grove Park is one of the things that makes St. Louis such a special city.
“Hey Mom, look at this!”
I turn from the swing to see Eloise climbing up a ladder she’s never mastered before. Today, she summits the top, triumphantly planting her foot on the playground equipment. Oliver squeals and claps from the swing. My children are growing here, in this park, right before my eyes. It has all happened here in our park. This great, green space fosters life to trees, flowers, and wildlife, but it fosters life to people too. To all the residents that enjoy its cool, fresh air each day, it’s fostering life to us too. We are all making strides here, all finding places to grow.
“[Parks serve] not only as ornaments to a great city , but as conducive to the health and happiness of its inhabitants and to the advancement of refinement and culture.” -Henry Shaw
Amy Grass is a wife and stay-at-home mom to two littles in Tower Grove South. She is a small town Missouri native who fell in love with the city after marrying her husband Joel in 2013 and moving to South City. She loves going on adventures with her kids, reading, baking cakes, and running. When not doing any of those things, you can find Amy sharing a meal with good friends. She’s usually wearing stripes and almost always wants a donut.