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An elk secretly survived Army hunters. It inspired St. Louis and created a park

A large elk with antlers bends its head to eat grass.

Danny Wicentowski
An elk munches grass on May 13 at Lone Elk Park in west St. Louis County.

Spread over 500 acres in St. Louis County, Lone Elk Park is home to herds of elk and bison. But the park’s origin, and its distinct name, presents a story that writer and history fan Jackie Dana describes as “a testament to history's ability to blend natural beauty and wartime necessity.”

That combination inspired her to dive into that history, which she chronicled in a detailed post on her Unseen St. Louis newsletter on Substack. The piece, published July 31 and titled “How a single animal changed history,” takes the reader through the area’s origin as a mining town, its multiple stints as property of the U.S. Army, and the decision by Army officials during the late 1950s to eradicate the area’s previously imported elk population.

But in 1964, when St. Louis County reacquired the land, a single bull elk was discovered roaming the park. It had apparently survived the Army’s efforts because it was young and looked similar to a deer. A wave of public interest followed, leading to efforts that eventually built new herds of elk and bison.

It wasn’t until a recent visit, and an encounter with a knowledgeable park ranger, that Dana learned of the park’s complicated history.

“I have to admit, I hadn't bothered to really examine the history of Lone Elk Park before that,” Dana told St. Louis on the Air host Elaine Cha on Thursday. “I thought the name was just kind of a fun name. I didn't realize that the story really was a lone elk that had survived ... and that he had given the park its name.”

There are still parts of the story of Lone Elk Park that surprise Sgt. Cheryl Fechter, a St. Louis County Parks ranger who has spent years leading visitors through the park — visitors like Dana, who was inspired to write about it.

“Every time I go to Lone Elk Park I see something new,” Fechter said, “something different that I totally enjoy.”

To hear more from Jackie Dana and Sgt. Chery Fechter, including more details about the Army’s involvement in the area, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

How Lone Elk Park got its name
Listen to Jackie Dana and Sgt. Cheryl Fechter on "St. Louis on the Air."

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."