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A Tale of Two Trails: The Centennial & St. Vincent Greenway Trails

A Tale of Two Trails: The Centennial & St. Vincent Greenway Trails

Saturday was a glorious day made for bicycle riding.  And Craig and I made the most of it with a 30 mile day ride along two Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) Trails: the Centennial Trail and the St. Vincent Greenway Trail.  Click here to see our route.  What a wonderful day it was!!

We started off in Ferguson at 9:30am with a quick 2 mile downhill ride to the Ferguson Bicycle Shop.  Shop owner, Gerry, is our long time friend and bicycle riding partner and he would be joining us.  After picking up Gerry we pedaled over to the Ted Jones Trail, only about a half mile away from the shop.  The Ted Jones Trail is a 2.25 mile rail trail that begins in the heart of downtown Ferguson and ends at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) campus.  It’s a fun little tree lined trail with several bridges and a long tunnel underneath highway 70 featuring entrances covered with quirky 3-D murals created by local artists.

Local artists created quirky  3-D murals on both entrances to the I70 tunnel on the Ted Jones Trail.

Unusual 3-D murals by local artists adorn both entrances to the I70 tunnel on the Ted Jones Trail.

The Ted Jones Trail ends with a bridge over Florissant Road and a quick downhill jog to the UMSL north campus where it connects to the brand new Wayne Goode Trail. The Wayne Goode Trail was completed in Sept. 2012 and passes through the handsome UMSL campus grounds, over Natural Bridge Road and connects to the St. Vincent Greenway Trail in St. Vincent Park.  I just love the mile long trail through St. Vincent Park.  It starts with a flat section through a series of ballfields, passes by the playground and around the tennis courts and then plunges down into dense woods in a series of switchbacks.

The northern end of the St. Vincent Greenway Trail

The northern end of the St. Vincent Greenway Trail

The history of this area is fascinating.  Your first clue is the old nuns’ cemetery alongside the first switchback.  Further into the woods, an overgrown path from the old hospital (more on that in a minute) through the woods down to Engelholm Creek  is still visible where I’m told the nuns used to walk to collect their water every day.  The woods here are lush and thick and it feels quite remote although the St. Louis MetroLink runs nearby on the other side of the creek.  We can often hear the MetroLink train rumbling by but we can’t see it through the thick woods.

The nuns' path from the hospital to the creek along the St. Vincent Trail

The nuns’ path from the hospital to the creek along the St. Vincent Trail

The trail snakes around a turn and up a hill where we get our first glimpse of the stunning castle that was once St. Vincent Asylum for the Insane.  The psychiatric hospital was built in the 1880’s and run by the Daughters of Charity until the 1970s when it became a division of DePaul Hospital and patients were transferred to the Bridgeton location.  This huge building is absolutely spectacular abounding with towers, turrets and spires.  Rounding the corner to suddenly spot this exquisite structure towering above the trees can be quite a shock if you haven’t traveled this trail before.  It seems out of place here and completely unexpected.  Even more seemingly contradictory is that in the 1980’s the remarkable building was sold and the interior renovated into low income apartments.  It is all somewhat strange.  And I’m not finished telling you about the strangeness… oh no, there’s more…

St. Vincent Hospital.  Photo from Mark Abeln's photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/msabeln/3457633495/

St. Vincent Hospital. Photo from Mark Abeln’s photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/msabeln/3457633495/

Maybe you’ve heard that the infamous 1970’s horror movie, The Exorcist, was supposedly a true story.  Maybe you’ve even heard that the real exorcism took place somewhere in St. Louis.  Well, my friends, that horrific event took place right here in this St. Vincent Asylum for the Insane.  On the fifth floor.  It’s supposedly haunted.  They wouldn’t even build any apartments on the fifth floor.  I’m getting goose bumps just writing about it.

Moving right along… eventually the St. Vincent Greenway Trail will continue along Engelholm Creek, through Pagedale, Wellston, and University City all the way to Forest Park.  This northern end of the trail was completed several years ago and the southern end of the trail was finished just last year.  The final middle section is scheduled to be completed in 2014 and what a wonderful day that will be.  But in the meantime we have to forge our own trail on the streets of Vinita Park and University City.

The Centennial Trail along highway 170

The Centennial Trail along highway 170

Today we’re deviating from the future St. Vincent trail and cycling down to Olive Street to ride on a new section of the Centennial Trail.  Our route meanders through quiet neighborhoods and over two neighborhood cut-through sidewalks with bridges over creeks (my favorite!).  One cut-through is quite long with steps in the middle that I didn’t see in Google Maps.  But it’s not a problem.  We hoist our bikes up the steps and continue.

Snack time in Shaw Park

Snack time in Shaw Park

The Centennial Trail will eventually connect Forest Park with Creve Coeur Park (oh joy!) but for now it begins abruptly and unceremoniously right on the corner of busy Olive Street and highway 170.  This section of trail only opened this past April and runs along highway 170 from Olive to Shaw Park at Forest Park Parkway.   The trail is visible from 170 and we watched with anticipation as the trail construction progressed.  We were excited to try out the new trail.  It is a short section, just a couple of miles, sandwiched between 170 and condominiums.  My least favorite part of the trail is the crossing at Delmar.  It is not signed well and we were forced to work our way across the dangerously busy intersection in three different places before reaching the next section of the trail on the south side of Delmar.  GRG needs to find a better solution to this crossing.  It is quite treacherous right now.  A simple inexpensive solution would be to route us down Delmar a few blocks where we could then cross at a less dangerous intersection.

The bike lane on Wydown

The bike lane on Wydown

The trail ends at pretty little Shaw Park which is an oasis of green flanked by the tall Clayton office buildings.  It must be a lovely site to look down on from the offices way above.  I’m sure the inhabitants of those offices often wish they could be sitting in the sunshine in that pretty little park instead of sitting at their desks.  We took a snack break in the park and enjoyed our Sport Beans while we sat at a picnic table.

From Shaw Park we pedaled down Carondelet over Forest Park Parkway on the pedestrian bridge and then through the land of the rich people along Wydown to Forest Park.  This is the first time we’d cycled on Wydown and it is quite inspiring to pedal along admiring mansion after mansion and the meticulously manicured yards.  There is a bike lane the length of Wydown which is wide enough to cycle in comfortably and mostly clear of parked cars.  Wydown deposited us into the much too crowded Forest Park for the minute it took us to cycle one block north where the Centennial Trail picks back up through Washington University.

The Ackert Walkway from Wash U to the Delmar Loop

The Ackert Walkway from Wash U to the Delmar Loop

We ran into a Ferguson friend of ours while we cycled through the Wash U campus.  He told us he’d been keeping up with the bike blog of yours truly.  Thanks for reading, Steve!

The Ackert Walkway Trail connects the Wash U campus to the Delmar Loop area.  A pedestrian bridge gets us over busy Forest Park Parkway and down the other side via a long straight downhill ramp with evenly distributed short flat sections.  The result is an entertaining descent that feels somewhat like a carnival ride.  If I were brave enough to just book it down the ramp at full speed I do believe I’d be airborne a few times.

The southern end of the St. Vincent Greenway Trail

The southern end of the St. Vincent Greenway Trail

We stopped at Seoul Taco in the Delmar Loop for a delicious outdoor lunch.  Gerry bid us adieu to cycle back to his shop and get to work.  Craig and I cycled east on Delmar to hook up with the southern end of the newly finished St. Vincent Trail. WOW.  GRG has done a fantastic job on this trail with plantings, interesting sculptures and brightly colored shelters. We pedal the wide smooth trail north through the back neighborhoods of U City and then west along Etzel Street.  Currently the finished trail ends at Skinker but we continue along Etzel to Ferguson Street where we are reunited with the northern end of the trail and back home to Ferguson.  And a magnificent 30 mile day trip is history!

 

 

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