People - The Cast of Characters
Photograph by Edward Crim
FOREST PARK'S GOT ITS REGULARS. The rebel dog-walkers who slip off the leads to let their pups frolic illegally on the hill behind…never mind. The drum circles that meet at the World’s Fair Pavilion, Anna Lum’s gently intense tai chi classes, a guy who practices the bagpipes late on Tuesday afternoons, the Scottish log-hurlers, Army recruits doing boot-camp drills in gray sweats at dawn… On a Saturday morning, you’ll see Mike Hockaday in tabard (“a piece of cloth with a neck hole and a belt”) and chain mail, leading 15 or so knights of the Realm of Arnor into foam-sheathed combat. Mounted park ranger David “Chopper” Leifheit covers his territory on Esmerelda, a deep-chocolate Percheron-Morgan mix, or her stable-mate Red, an Appaloosa. They hang out in a barn with piped-in classical music. “It’s as much for me as it is for them,” Leifheit admits.
If it’s sunny, Hiroshi Tada might be on the grass atop Art Hill, spinning tops through his legs and behind his back. He learned in the mountains of Japan, and he’s been perfecting his routine for seven decades. “When kids walk by, I show them what I do, and I show them a few very simple but amazing things they can do,” he says.
Oh, and if you’re anywhere on the perimeter of the park, you’ll see “Joe the Juggler” Welling joggle by, his clubs flashing as he tosses them. “It’s actually a pretty natural movement,” he insists. “Your hands are already moving that way when you run—and it’s an excuse for a slow runner to get a lot of attention. When I started doing it in the mid-’80s, I didn’t realize other people joggled!”
Take a tour, and see the park in a new light. There are options for all types.
For hikers: Download audio tracks from forestparkforever.org or borrow an iPod from the Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center to take any of five self-guided walking tours through the park. Or if you prefer the company and Q&A, stop at the Visitor Center at 1 p.m. Monday or 10 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday (except Friday) to take a free volunteer-
For riders: City Cycling Tours (314-616-5724) provides the bike, helmet, and guide; you merely pedal and listen as you traverse 10 miles and 12 stops over the course of the three-hour ride. At the Science Center, you can hop on a Segway and glide through the park at 12 miles per hour; there are a variety of tours, including a sunrise cruise to Forest Perk Café. For those who prefer to sit and relax, groups with their own wheels can book a guide to hop on the bus with them via Forest Park Forever. (Call 314-367-7275 for reservations.)
For nature enthusiasts: Led by an outdoors expert, naturalist tours explore the park’s less-traversed savannas, prairies, and wetlands. (Arrange a time by calling 314-367-7275.) If you prefer to make the trek on your own, the self-guided tree walk allows you to see 90 different trees in less than a mile. Pick up a map at the Jewel Box, the Parks Administration Building (near the greenhouses on the park’s south side), the Visitor Center, or the Forest Park tree display on Central Field’s south side.
Deer Lake Council Circle: Added late last year to the Deer Lake Natural Area, just south of the Gen. Franz Sigel statue, this circle of stones is arranged near the park’s winding river. It offers the ideal spot for outdoor classes or simple reflection in a quiet place.
Indian Tree: Take the gravel trail behind the Saint Louis Art Museum into Kennedy Forest, hang a right at the fork in the path, and walk about 350 paces. Created as part of the 2004 Corps of Discovery bicentennial, the Indian Tree is a combination of botany and art: an Osage orange sapling planted inside the hollow body of an old red oak tree, which points east to symbolize new beginnings.
Victorian Footbridge: Those who live in the Central West End often take this path, but many other visitors never make it to Forest Park’s northeast corner. Cross this elegant 19th-century black metal footbridge and enter the park with a fresh perspective.
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