Urban Hiking: St Louis County’s 30/30 Hikes Program

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Name this Column: I have yet to come up with a decent name for this column.  “Happy Trails” seems overused, as does “Walk this Way.”   I’m toying with “Walk for Your Life” but that seems a bit drastic.  I do like “The Path Taken,” although it feels a bit overused as well. Any creative walkin’ soul out there who has a great idea – PLEASE send it my way!  (Post on our Facebook page, or email to me at: optinpr@gmail.com.) Meanwhile, here we are at Week Two.

The 30/30 Hikes Program – Saint Louis County: This is a great program – mentioned in my first column – sponsored by St. Louis County, and with the goal of getting everybody walking but also exploring parks and trails that may not be in your immediate community.  Here’s a brief description of the program: “Our 30/30 Hikes Program designates 30 trails all over the St. Louis County area that take approximately 30 minutes to complete.”

I have done quite a few of these already and plan to do more, but there have been a few roadblocks over the 15 months since I started.  For starters, last year, at the early peak in the pandemic, many of these parks and trails were closed to protect over-enthusiastic exercisers, who were so ready and anxious to get outside they weren’t protecting themselves and others by maintaining safe distancing. However, people seemed to get the message, and today the parks are mostly all open again. (Always check the County website before venturing out. Some trails may periodically close due to flooding or other weather-related issues.)

The second issue – also now resolved – was the rebuild of the County’s website, which resulted in many months where department pages were simply not available, so we couldn’t access the 30/30 Hikes program.  However, just last week, those pages were re-launched.  Many thanks to Molly Olten, Public Information Coordinator with the County, for keeping me up-to-date on its progress! Here’s the link to the 30/30 Hikes Program. Click on the link for details about the program and how to complete the challenge and claim your prize.

I will periodically offer up a review and tips about some of these County parks and trails. Here’s my first one, and it was literally the first one I attempted.

Signage for Champ Park
Muddy Trail at Champ Park

Champ Park Trail (Hiked October 2019):  The first thing you notice about the Fleurdelis trail in St. Louis County’s Champ Park (in Florissant) is how overgrown it is.  It technically is a trail, but the park is also an eco-park, so there’s a lot of wild growth, including a profusion of beautiful wildflowers in the spring.  Sometimes the trail itself is a bit overgrown, but don’t let that stop you.  This is the best kind of urban hiking trail – it’s nearby, meaning you don’t have to drive two days to get to it, plus it’s challenging enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming, and it’s full of the kind of nature you don’t expect to see in an urban setting.

Walking sticks for this “earthen trail” will help a lot. You can use them to check the path in front of you for unseeable thick roots, which when muddy can be tricky and trip you up. You can also use your stick to swipe at the spider webs that criss-cross the path at regular intervals. 

How it went:  I had mentioned the 30/30 hikes program to my brother, so one Saturday at about 1:30 in the afternoon, after a busy morning, he called to ask if I wanted to start the program that day with him and his wife – like, within an hour or so. While I am not the most spontaneous person on the planet, for some reason, his invitation struck me as absolutely perfect.  So off we went.

Champ Trail or Champ Park Trail, depending on which website page you consult, is listed as a 0.9 mile hike through the only “designated ecological park in the system,” according to the County website.  What we didn’t know, and what the County Parks’ department apparently didn’t know, is that over the years, hikers have apparently cleared new off-shoot paths from the designated trail.  The new paths are great, but because County parks’ staff were unaware of them, there was no signage along the main trail to indicate the existence of these off-shoot trails. So of course, our three-person entourage promptly and unknowingly took one of the off-shoots and then, well, we got lost.

We weren’t really lost, like you would be in a national park, because this is after all a small urban park, but when we found ourselves coming upon the same uprooted tree a second time, we laughed, took a short video (posted to social media with pleas of “come get us if you don’t hear from us in a couple days”), and got out our GPS and compass apps. It was at that exact moment that it started to rain. It was a brief shower, and we found our way out, but our 30-minute hike turned out to be 63 minutes total. 

Trees Down on the Trail
Hikers on the Trail

St. Louis County investigated almost immediately after they got my email about the lack of signs, and they found the same off-shoot trails. They promised to post new and adequate signage for future hikers. (Note: This was October 2019, and I have not been back to check on this.)  But don’t be afraid.  Take the Champ trail.  It is a beautiful urban forest, a trail with some adequate challenges for both inexperienced and seasoned hikers, and a great way to get some nature into your urban existence.  Just be sure to take your GPS-loaded phone, water, and a whistle – basic hiking stuff you should have with you anyway.

Getting There: Champ Park is located at 3991 Grand National Drive, Florissant, MO 63034 (GPS address). From I-270, take the James S. McDonnell exit in Hazelwood (exit 23). From the south, use the left three lanes to turn left. From the north, turn right. Follow McDonnell Blvd. as it becomes Howdershell and then Shackelford and eventually Old Halls Ferry Road (about 1.4 miles). Turn left at Portland Lake Drive. Turn left onto Debridge Way and then left onto Augusta Manor Court – which ends at the entrance to the park’s parking lot. (It looks like a trail head but is actually the entrance to the park and the parking lot, so feel free to drive in.)

Next Column: Check Out the “Walk Ferguson” Program!