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Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – West Tyson County Park

View from the top of one of the ridges in West Tyson County Park
View from the top of one of the ridges in West Tyson County Park

The Interstate 44 / Historic Route 66 corridor southwest of the St. Louis, Missouri metro area is an embarrassment of riches for outdoor enthusiasts. Opportunities for bicycling, hiking, boating, camping, fishing, bird watching and many other outdoor activities are easily available to Route 66 enthusiasts who want to take a healthy break from driving a motorized vehicle. Route 66 State Park is a must-see for the Route 66 fan but there are abundant other interesting choices for outdoor recreation in the area, many with historic connections to Route 66. Route 66 State Park is a great choice for flat walking and biking trails. If you’re in the mood for some hills, take a look at West Tyson County Park. You’ll see the entrance to this park on the way to Route 66 State Park if you take the Lewis Road exit (#266) off of Interstate 44.

Trail at West Tyson County ParkLast weekend I parked at the trailhead for the Flint Quarry Trail loop and started my hike. It was supposed to be about three miles, but there are lots of connector trails to other trails and other parks in the area and I was on another trail for some of the time and ended up hiking just under five miles. All the connectors make this trail kind of confusing, so be sure to have a map with you when you set out. Some of the twists and turns on this trail are extreme which makes it pretty easy to see where you are on the map. Without a map I would have felt apprehensive and it’s possible I would have gotten lost. While the trail is hilly and rocky, the switchbacks are really well done and the climbs tend to be broken up into short segments so I didn’t find it overly strenuous. Besides a map and your normal hiking safety gear, I recommend at least two bottles of water – more if you have room, in case you get off the trail – hiking boots with ankle support and a walking stick to make this hike comfortable and safe. The trails in this area are used by mountain bikers and horseback riders, so be alert and give them room to pass.

The main natural attractions on this trail are scenic views from the ridge tops, beautiful forest and intriguing rocky outcrops which were once mined by Native Americans to make stone tools. If you’re into the hobby of letterboxing, there are some man-made attractions here too for you to try to find. I searched for four letterboxes during my hike and actually found one. That’s typical of my usual ratio I must admit!

Tyson Valley Park Henry Shaw GardenwayOn the restroom / shower building at the trailhead is mounted this commemorative plaque which marks the transfer of ownership of a portion of the park land from the Federal government to St. Louis County. Like many parks in the St. Louis area, West Tyson’s history includes military use in WWII. The tract known as Tyson Valley Park was reclaimed by the U.S. Military in 1951 for use in the Korean War effort and repurchased by St. Louis County in 1963. The article “The Tyson Valley Area” by Conor Watkins helps explain who owned what when and is a great overview of the history and recreational opportunities in the area surrounding West Tyson.

The Henry Shaw Gardenway has its origin in the founding of the Missouri Botanical Garden Arboretum, popularly known as “Shaw’s Arboretum” as the garden itself is popularly known as “Shaw’s Garden”. In 1923 Missouri Botanical Garden purchased land in Gray Summit, MO to house plants that were in danger from St. Louis city pollution. In 2000, this land was renamed “Shaw Nature Reserve” and is a great place to hike and view nature.

In 1935, a portion of Route 66 from the St. Louis city limits to the arboretum in Gray Summit was dedicated as the Henry Shaw Gardenway. The well-known Route 66 landmark Jensen’s Point in Pacific was named after Lars Peter Jensen, president of the Henry Shaw Gardenway Association. It’s difficult to find much more information about the Henry Shaw Gardenway other than it existed and another remnant, a stone bus stop, is now located in the Shaw Nature Reserve. The CCC participated in highway beautification programs throughout the country in the 1930’s and the Henry Shaw Gardenway was one of the roads enhanced by their efforts. Blackburn Park in Pacific is another landmark extant on the Gardenway that I know of. It’s an intriguing part of Route 66 history that I want to know more about.

The Henry Shaw Ozark Gardenway was/is a modern-era organization with the mission of preserving the Ozark foothills along Interstate 44 and promoting maintenance and expansion of the Ozark Corridor series of parks. Their web site is not currently functioning and I don’t know if it’s still in existence. There is a great map of natural resources along the corridor here – Henry Shaw Ozark Corridor.