Friday, January 27, 2012

A Walk Back in Time

As I walk the grounds and trails of the World Bird Sanctuary today I often wonder about the feet that trod these grounds before me. 
 The grounds of the World Bird Sanctuary as they appear today
The site of what is now the World Bird Sanctuary, Lone Elk Park, and Tyson Research Center has a long and interesting history.  I thought I would share some of this history with our readers today.

Native American cultures inhabited this area as early as 12,000 B.C.  This area, called Crescent Hills, contains high quality chert, and many of the ridges here show evidence of prehistoric quarries. 

Western settlers first arrived in the late 1700’s and established small farms.  During the 1800’s the white oak forests supported a thriving lumber industry.  Most of the oak was sent to a barrel factory in Pacific. 

This area sits on top of the Kimmswick Formation, which contains high-calcium limestone.  In 1877, the Hunkins-Willis Company established a mining town called Mincke, after Henry Mincke, the mine owner.  In 1927, the mine closed and Mincke became a ghost town.  The foundations from some of the houses, the school, and the underground cavern created by the mine itself are still present within Tyson Research Center.  During World War II, Mincke Cave was used by the Army as a garage.
 Mincke Cave
In the early 1900’s the land overlooking the bluffs along the Meramec became a resort area known as Morschels.  Some of the foundations for the cabins, cisterns and cement stairs leading to nowhere can still be seen on what today is the site of the World Bird Sanctuary.  These “weekenders” would take the train that serviced the town of Minke to reach their cabins, which dotted the hills and bluffs along the Meramec River.

In 1941 the Federal Government used eminent domain to acquire the land from Henry Mincke and the Ranken Estate.  This acquisition was mostly the land that is now Tyson Research Center and Lone Elk Park.  The area became a support site for the St. Louis Ordinance Plant, located in North St. Louis.  The land was used to store and test ammunition.  According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the government invested $3,194,000 and built "complete water and sewage systems, 21 miles of all-weather roads, two stables, 52 igloos [concrete storage bunkers] and a number of other buildings, and a trail around the inside of the fence."  The building the World Bird Sanctuary uses for storage today, which is within Tyson, was used to store oxidizing chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives.
 103 elk such as these were declared a nuisance, rounded up, and shot in 1958
 In 1947, the military sold the land mentioned in the last paragraph to St. Louis County, and Tyson Valley Park was established. In February, 1951 deer, elk and bison were released on the land.  However, in September of 1951, the federal government reclaimed the land for military use during the Korean War.  According to an article published by Conor Watkins in his series of articles  about the Missouri Ozarks, " 1958, after one of the bull elk rammed an army truck the animals were declared a nuisance, rounded up, and shot."  

In 1961, the army declared the land surplus.  They transferred West Tyson to Washington University (now Tyson Research Center) to use for biological research.  The eastern section was resold to St. Louis County (now Lone Elk Park). 
 A Lone bull Elk such as this one was spotted during fence construction in 1964.  That bull became the nucleus of today's herd
In 1964, during construction of a fence between the sections, workers spotted a single elk that had survived the extermination.  This elk eventually gave the park its name.   Students from Rockwood Elementary schools collectively donated $300 to have more elk transferred from Yellowstone National Park.  Any student contributing a dime or more received a certificate of “Elk Stock.”  The event received national attention and was even covered by Walter Cronkite. 
 "Elk Stock" which was issued to any child contributing more than ten cents
Lone Elk Park, and the surrounding areas, which played such an interesting role in the history of the nation and the region, continues to be a positive influence in the lives of the people who live in this area today.

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

No comments: