By KYLIE MCCOOL
For St. Charles County Parks Ranger Jerry Smith, the promotion to Chief Park Ranger has been 16 years in the making. For Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, Smith’s promotion seemed like the perfect time to take a walk in some of the County’s exceptional parks.
Smith, a lifelong outdoorsman, took hunting and camping trips with his father and was part of the Parks and Recreation club in college. In his 16 years with St. Charles County, Smith says the greatest change he has seen is in volume – the volume of attendants, of activities offered, of staff maintaining and overseeing the parks, and of the parks themselves.
Smith offered Mid Rivers Newsmagazine a private tour of three of those parks: Quail Ridge, Broemmelsiek and Klondike.
At the beginning of his job, Smith worked with a handful of other rangers across three parks. Now, he is in charge of a senior officer and nine other park rangers, with two more working through the interview process now, who are spread across the county’s 12 parks.
In alphabetical order, the parks are:
Bangert Island: Located in the Missouri River, just south of the Blanchette Bridge in St. Charles. Guests can enter from the Katy Trail to enjoy the park’s natural surface biking and hiking trails.
Broemmelsiek Park: Billed as “494 acres of natural beauty in Defiance, equipped with an off-leash dog area, astronomy viewing area, several large lakes for fishing and more than seven miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use.”
College Meadows Park: Operated in partnership with and located at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, the park features a disc golf course and an outdoor fitness trail for all abilities.
Heritage Museum: The County Heritage Museum at Heritage Park is located at Heritage Landing in St. Peters and offers free interpretive displays focusing on local and state history. The park’s Centennial Trail also provides an easy connection to the Katy Trail.
Hideaway Harbor Park: Nestled along the Mississippi River in Portage des Sioux, this scenic riverside park is a popular site for boaters, fishermen and eagle-watchers.
Historic Daniel Boone Home at Lindenwood Park: Newly acquired by the county, the Historic Daniel Boone Home sits on 300 acres of surrounding property in Defiance, Missouri.
Indian Camp Creek Park: Located in Foristell, Indian Camp Creek Park is the county’s largest park at 603 acres with a disc golf course; more than 10 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use; youth group camping; an eco-nature playground and more.
Klondike Park: This hidden gem is nestled on 250 acres in Missouri’s wine country in Augusta. The park features more than four miles of natural and paved trails for hiking and biking, scenic views of the Missouri River, cabin and tent camping, picnic shelters, a large fishing lake and playgrounds for children.
Matson Hill Park: Rugged and heavily forested, this parkland features six miles of natural surface trails in the Daniel Boone Region of Defiance.
Quail Ridge Park: Located in Wentzville, Quail Ridge Park’s popular amenities include an off-leash dog area, a disc golf course, National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame, natural and paved trails, picnic areas, lake and fishing pond. The park’s cedar lodge banquet facility and gazebo have made the park a “best wedding destination” for local brides.
Towne Park: Rich in history, Towne Park in Foristell features a reconstructed 1800s historical homestead, paved and natural surface trails, large fishing pond, forest-themed playground, rain gardens and the only certified nature explore classroom in St. Charles County.
Youth Activity Park: The 25-acre Youth Activity Park in Dardenne Prairie features a 33,000-square foot skate course, a sand volleyball court and an indoor facility with a rock climbing wall.
Activities in each of the parks abound and Nancy Gomer, a St. Charles County Parks and Recreation representative, said that plans already are lined up for the solar eclipse coming up in August 2017.
“We’re calling it ‘Total Eclipse in the Parks’,” she said, eliciting laughter from Smith.
On tour, Smith maneuvered down park streets and around turns with a practiced ease gained from following these routes every day. But Smith said that, while he knows all of the routes between the parks backwards and forwards, he doesn’t necessarily have to drive them every day. Day-to-day duties are split up among the dozen or so park rangers, who all alternate taking care of the different parks. Besides maintenance and enforcement of public safety, Smith and the other park rangers are also responsible for having extensive knowledge of the parks and the critters that reside in them.
“There are squirrels, of course,” Smith recounted, as well as deer, alligator snapping turtles, birds and even bobcats in a few of the parks. “There are classes that we can attend, to get more information on fish or the local wildlife.” Of the county’s wildlife preservation efforts, Smith said, “We call it protection. We want to protect the natural, the historical and the cultural [aspects] of our parks.”
In addition to staff education, the rangers also are devoted to educating community members.
As we drove, Smith waved at every car we passed and stopped to provide friendly directions to those in need of help. Early in the afternoon, we stopped by one of the buildings in Quail Ridge, where family members were preparing for a wedding taking place later that day.
“Some of these people, I know them by name,” Smith said. “I see them a lot on the bike route. I even know their dogs’ names.”
A few of the parks feature dog parks, but the astronomy viewing area in Broemmelsiek Park and the National Horseshoe Museum in Quail Ridge are among the more unusual park offerings.
“We sometimes get 800 or 900 people flocking to events for stargazing and things like that,” Gomer explained. “And we have lots of rangers overseeing things like that. It’s a tough job.”