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Commentary: Get Off The STL Urban Island And Explore The Sea Of Green Around Us

Great River Road, fall 2012
Mary Delach Leonard | file photo | St. Louis Beacon

St. Louis is an urban island floating in a sea of green. We may not think about it often, but our urban island is surrounded by corn and bean fields, cattle pastures, vineyards, oak forests and, of course, rivers and their valleys. This countryside teems with wild turkey, bluebirds, butterflies, geese and ducks, fox, deer and bald eagles. As all island-dwellers know, sometimes you just have to get off the island to be rejuvenated. Fortunately for us, that’s easy to do.

But instead of relying on Highways 40 and 70, plot a new course! Take Highway 94 … or the Great River Road … or follow the migratory bird flyway to the Confluence of the two greatest rivers in the nation.

The variety of natural and scenic wonders surrounding St. Louis is truly remarkable and they distinguish our region from many other cities. While we are justifiably proud of our wide range of cultural attractions -- the Botanical Garden, Zoo and Art Museum, Symphony, Opera Theatre and the Muny as well as City Museum -- it is sometimes "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to things just beyond our usual borders. Since it is an easy commute from city amenities to the many attractions in the countryside, we don't need to sacrifice one for the other.

Are you inspired by tales of Route 66? Curious about the adventures of Daniel Boone? It will be good for your soul and your family to find a two-lane blacktop and head for the hills … and valleys! Get out and experience Missouri’s spectacular countryside – you will develop or renew your love of the Great Rivers State.

Few of us know that Missouri ranked #1 nationally as the Best Trails State. Most of us don’t realize that our state parks system consistently ranks in the top three in the U.S. But many of us do appreciate that we are home to the longest rails-to-trails project in the country, the Katy Trail. The Katy is our most popular state park and provides a unique perspective on the Missouri countryside – make a date now to ride or stroll along the river bluffs, cruise through farm country and stop and learn about the historic train towns along the way.

The CityArchRiver project reminds us that St. Louis is the door that opened to the west. Many who will focus on the rejuvenated Arch in 2015 already have an interest in National Park and river-related activities. This will be a prime time to showcase our other "just around the river's bend" attractions: trails, rivers, parks, farms and forests that are closer than most visitors realize. The working farm landscape along the river valleys that many of us overlook or take for granted is truly rare.

We also have America's first Viticultural Area - an honor given to Augusta, Missouri, six months before the Napa Valley. People can still canoe the Missouri River to retrace the route of Lewis and Clark and can drive the Great River Road to see bald eagles on the Mississippi.

Like all island dwellers we can be nourished by and learn from the ocean that surrounds us - we are a part of it and its natural bounty is here for all of us to discover.

Dan Burkhardt is the founder, with his wife, Connie, of theKaty Land Trust.