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A public legacy — and an opportunity to lead

A public legacy — and an opportunity to lead

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In the late 1940s, Trudy’s grandmother Alice Busch expressed her love for the Missouri countryside with a generous gift to create a conservation area honoring her late husband, August. Today a high-density private subdivision is being proposed on nearby land owned by the University of Missouri. Some history will help in understanding the gravity of the threat to this conservation corridor.

At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. government acquired thousands of acres, near what is today the town of Weldon Spring, where facilities were built for munitions manufacturing for the war effort. Following the war, a number of uses were pursued for this large tract of now-unused land.

Alice Busch provided funding for the Missouri Department of Conservation to purchase the land and create the Busch Conservation Area in 1950. Ultimately, the University of Missouri received several hundred acres of land at the edge of the Busch Conservation Area for use as an agricultural experiment station, where it eventually created a research park in the 1990s.

It is this land — obtained for use as an agricultural experiment station, next to the current research park — that the university has agreed to sell to a home builder. The developer is requesting that the land currently designated as agricultural be rezoned to residential in order to allow construction of more than 400 homes and apartments.

Fortunately for Missourians, the conservation efforts started by Alice Busch inspired others. Decades after the creation of Busch and Weldon Spring Conservation Areas, Ted and Pat Jones provided funding to create Katy Trail State Park, which adjoins this property and has become the nation’s longest bike path. In 1987, when the Katy Trail was being considered, the Post-Dispatch stated “the scenery along the Missouri River is some of the state’s finest.”

In recent years, Great Rivers Greenway constructed a walking and cycling trail to connect this incredible scenery to fishing, birding, photography and nature opportunities in the backyards of St. Louis and St. Charles.

This is a long history but reflective of the effort that many Missourians have put into creating and conserving a connected landscape that adds to the quality of life for thousands of visitors and residents. This public enjoyment is what those who worked so hard and gave so generously imagined. Alice Busch, Ted and Pat Jones, the taxpayers and donors who support Great Rivers Greenway, and Missouri taxpayers who support our exceptional Conservation Department didn’t envision a subdivision overlooking the hillsides and trails that they conserved and created. Ironically this is happening on land owned by Missouri’s land grant university.

Currently the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators is recommending the sale of this land for a private housing development. This land derives much of its value because of the conservation work “in the neighborhood” over the past 70 years.

Obviously, in challenging fiscal times, adequate funding for the university is a priority, and all assets must be evaluated. Nonetheless, this is an ideal time for the curators to lead and to preserve something of lasting value for all of our citizens. If the property must be sold, there are creative ways to restrict development so that it doesn’t affect the peaceful enjoyment of this beautiful and fragile bluff overlooking the Missouri River, Katy Trail and Busch Greenway. Perhaps, if given an opportunity, other “conservation buyers” would have an interest in purchasing this property — as Alice Busch did decades ago.

The university’s curators are dedicated public servants in a long line of custodians of these special public properties. As leaders, it is often necessary to act in ways that extend beyond the immediate, to respect the gifts that all of us have been given by generous donors. To us, this is such an opportunity, one that would benefit from additional thought by the university. This proposal would change forever the face of this very special place that others have worked for decades to conserve.

Trudy Busch Valentine is a registered nurse and conservationist. Dan Burkhardt is founder of the Katy Land Trust, and Connie Burkhardt is curator emeritus for the University of Missouri System.

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