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Tower Grove Park’s restored stream teaches about the Osage Nation and reduces flooding

Tower Grove Park officials revived a stream buried for more than 120 years, pictured on Wednesday, May, 18, 2022, to reduce flooding in the nearby Shaw neighborhood in south St. Louis.
Tower Grove Park
Tower Grove Park officials revived a stream buried for more than 120 years, pictured in May 2022, to reduce flooding in the nearby Shaw neighborhood in south St. Louis.

Tower Grove Park revived a stream buried for more than 120 years to reduce flooding in the nearby Shaw neighborhood.

The restored stream on the east side of the park now contains rain gardens that capture and redistribute stormwater to prevent flooding.

It will also be the site where people in the St. Louis region can learn about Missouri’s first inhabitants, the Osage Nation. The park has renamed the stream Nee Kee Nee, which means “revived waters” in the Osage language.

In consultation with the Osage Nation, the park also will describe what the area was like before the park was founded in 1872, said Will Rein, Tower Grove Park’s director of special projects. The stream would have been above ground when the Osage people lived in the St. Louis region prior to their forced removal in the early 1800s.

For years, the dry stream flooded with water during heavy rains before it was buried, Tower Grove Park Executive Director Bill Reininger said.

“We believe because of sanitary reasons that the stream was put underground before 1913,” he said.

Now that the stream project is complete, it will help the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District keep excessive rainwater from storm drains, which could reduce flooding into the nearby Shaw neighborhood.

Five different rain gardens throughout the stream and a system of barriers and dams aid in soil reabsorption so water is returned deep beneath the ground’s surface to benefit plants and animals. That’s a different approach from other St. Louis parks, which only use one rain garden, Reininger said.

“We call it a treatment train where all the water for a rain event of 1.14 inches of rain, which is equivalent to over 300,000 gallons of water, is retained and treated and returned back to the soil within the park,” he said.

Tower Grove Park consulted with the Osage Nation’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office on the design of the stream, the direction it flows and the pawpaw, arrowwood and other native plants that surround the water.

“We have 61 trees, 137 shrubs, 9,126 perennial plugs and 1.9 acres total planted with native seeds we collected with our partners at Shaw Nature Reserve,” Rein said. The park will continue to consult with Osage representatives about information that will be at the site.

The park plans classes at Nee Kee Nee in which the community can learn about different native plants and pollinators important to the Osage Nation, as well as stormwater solutions.

“Through the Osage Nation’s partnership, there is now a new way for St. Louisans to learn about the land and the people that came before us,” Rein said.

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.