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Forest Park Forever raises $139 million to care for the park

Replacement of the Liberal Arts Bridge was one of the projects funded by "Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park's Future."
Forest Park Forever
Replacement of the Liberal Arts Bridge between the Muny and the Boathouse is one of the projects funded by "Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park's Future."

Forest Park Forever has raised more than $139 million in gifts and pledges to fund needed improvements and to ensure the long-term care of Forest Park, the private nonprofit conservancy announced Wednesday.

Forest Park Forever partners with the city of St. Louis to care for the 1,300-acre park.

Conservancy president Lesley S. Hoffarth credited the community for surpassing the goal of $130 million.

“We are deeply inspired by the community’s commitment to restoring and sustaining Forest Park,” Hoffarth said in a statement. “While our work here will never be complete, we are so proud to celebrate this milestone with the Forest Park community.”

The fundraising initiative, titled “Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park’s Future,” was announced in 2013.

The goal was twofold:

* To raise $30 million for urgently needed maintenance and restoration projects. Forty percent of those funds have already been spent on infrastructure projects, ranging from fixing fountains and drainage issues to improving athletic fields, paths, roads, sidewalks and waterways. All projects are slated to be completed by 2022.

* To expand the Forest Park endowment by $100 million so that money is available every year to maintain the park. Those funds will address a need that was identified in an independent study conducted in 2008. The study determined that there was an annual $5 million gap between the amount of money being spent on park maintenance and the amount that should be spent to keep the park from falling into decline.

Forest Park Forever is not part of the Zoo-Museum tax district and depends on private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.

Forest Park Forever was founded in 1986 to work with the city of St. Louis and the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park. Between 1995 and 2003, Forest Park Forever and the city raised $100 million in private funds to restore many landmarks in the park, including the Grand Basin, the Boathouse and the Jewel Box. The park attracts 13 million visitors every year.

To mark the successful conclusion to the campaign, Forest Park Forever will host a public celebrationon April 11 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Pagoda Circle.

Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.