Nonprofit Spotlight: Open Space STL

In the fall of 2023, Bonnie Harper, Executive Director of Open Space STL (OS STL), was working with volunteers restoring the Gravois Creek conservation area. A group of school children were helping to remove the many invasive species encroaching on the conservation area and obstructing the view of the water. One young girl was working alongside Bonnie as they wound their way toward the creek. When they finally reached a spot where the water was visible, Bonnie heard her companion take a sharp intake of breath and then exclaim, “That’s so cool! I’ve never seen a creek before!”

Bonnie, who has spent her career in environmental conservation, smiled inwardly at the girl’s reaction because a child’s delight in nature is just one of the many reasons the work of OS STL is so important and why she’s proud to be a part of the organization.

The nonprofit has been instrumental in maintaining green spaces and protecting natural resources in the St. Louis region for almost 60 years.  Founded in 1965 in reaction to urban sprawl and a recognition of the need to protect natural green spaces from development, Open Space STL (formerly known as the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region) has a mission to conserve and sustain the natural resources of the St. Louis region for the health and well-being of the area communities.

Some of the most popular parks and green spaces in the St. Louis region owe their existence to OS STL’s practice of land acquisition, which employs a variety of mechanisms to conserve land in the region. Beetree County Park and Castlewood Park were among the first areas OS STL helped preserve, but they were far from the last. In fact, the group’s land acquisition efforts are ongoing. Once the land is acquired, though, OS STL assists in its preservation and maintenance.

Through ongoing stewardship efforts, the nonprofit ensures people in St. Louis and a hundred-mile radius of the city work together to protect these spaces. Bonnie explains, “We work with volunteer teams to help them create a habitat management plan for their park, and they sort of adopt the park to work to achieve their management plan.” OS STL provides the resources and tools they need and helps them recruit the necessary volunteers.

Volunteers alongside a boat in a river.Among their popular (and fun!) volunteer programs are the well-known Operation Clean Stream, which has been held to clean up the Meramec River the fourth Saturday in August since 1967. Their annual Trash Bash volunteer efforts clean up the River des Peres and the Missouri and Mississippi River watersheds are also important ways OS STL helps ensure St. Louis is a great place to live.

Of course, while these programs are popular and draw thousands of volunteers, there is always more work to be done and a need for funding. People interested in volunteering to clean waterways or remove invasive species can visit the Open Space STL website to learn more. And, for those that might not have the time or ability to participate in honeysuckle hacks or trash removal, they can help OS STL fulfill its mission with a donation that can be made directly through the website to donate at their convenience.

Of course, Give STL Day is a great time to support OS STL, too! Depending on the timing, donations on Give STL Day may be increased by matching funds or other cash prizes that support the important work of organizations like OS STL, which sees the event as an “essential resource in their work to conserve and sustain land, water, and other natural resources for the health and well-being of people throughout the St. Louis region.”

Why is Open Space STL’s mission important? Climate change, polluted waterways, excess trash, biodiversity decline, and more threaten our environment. However, one little girl’s delight in the sight of a creek is a reminder to us all that preserving the natural beauty of our region is not just good for the planet, it’s good for humanity.