Formation of the FFBP

FFBFP Organizational History

In 2005, north St. Louis County residents and members of local community groups formed a new organization, the Friends of Fort Belle Fontaine Park (FFBFP), to serve as a support group for the St. Louis County Parks Department. The Friends are dedicated to preserving this park, improving facilities there and marketing the park at this historic and natural site overlooking the Missouri River in north St. Louis County.

Although the FFBFP is a new organization founded in October 2005, many organizations and individuals have been working to support this park for many years. This new “Friends” group is a collaborative effort of all the organizations detailed in the following paragraphs:

Fort Belle Fontaine Historical Society

In 1993 the Fort Belle Fontaine Historical Society was formed. Over the next ten years members worked to restore the stone building. The Society also researched and collected historical documents pertaining to the fort and held regular meetings to learn about the history there. A member of the Society transcribed the letters of General Wilkinson to Lieutenant Colonel Kingsbury that pertain to Fort Belle Fontaine. The Society also erected two informational signs that now stand at the top of the Grand Staircase.

The Society, working with the University of Missouri, conducted two archaeological excavations in the summer of 1994 on the site of the fort. Later that year the Historical Society conducted an archaeological open house at the fort site. Over 600 people attended. In 2006 the Historical Society was made part of the newly formed Friends of Fort Belle Fontaine Park and the Society’s former Treasurer is a member of the Friends’ Board

Living History Re-enactors

The Living History Re-enactors (LHR) organization was started in 1995 by a group of local individuals interested in supporting historic sites and educating the public about America’s history. Their members share a love of history and a desire for historical preservation.

A primary goal has been the reclamation of the Fort Belle Fontaine historic site and their members have donated well over seven thousand volunteer hours in the park. LHR’s activities ranged from picking up trash to clearing underbrush and cutting up trees felled by the County Park’s Forestry Crew. LHR played a lead role in the Bicentennial Celebration of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. In September 2006 LHR hosted two re-enactments at the park commemorating the return voyage of the Corps of Discovery to Fort Belle Fontaine. The event attracted hundreds of visitors. Some LHR members served on the National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission. LHR is still very active and is also represented on the Board of FFBFP

Spanish Lake Community Association

The Spanish Lake Community Association (SLCA) was formed in 2000 by the St. Louis County Planning Department after the department conducted a Community Area Study in this unincorporated community in North St. Louis County. The study helped define the purposes of the Spanish Lake Community Association. One purpose was to enhance a sense of pride among Spanish Lake residents by identifying and developing the assets of the community. A very major asset to the Spanish Lake Community is Fort Belle Fontaine County Park.

In fall 2003 the SLCA worked with the St. Louis County Parks Department, the Fort Belle Fontaine Historical Society and the Living History Re-enactors to apply for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Lewis & Clark Conservation Grant. . St. Louis County agreed to provide in-kind services of $15,000 as fifty percent (50%) match. The SLCA received a grant of $15,000 for its Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail Project at Fort Belle Fontaine Park – one of only fifteen such grants awarded statewide and the only one in St. Louis County.

This Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail Project completed a 3.2 mile hiking and biking loop trail that now begins at a new parking area inside the park entrance, through a newly restored 50 acre upland prairie planted with native grasses and wildflowers, along Coldwater Creek to the Missouri River, past the important Lewis & Clark site and below the Grand Staircase. Five interpretive signs and benches were also installed along this trail. Although the original budget for this project was $40,000, over $80,000 worth of improvements were made at Fort Belle Fontaine Park by the completion of this project. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded a $7,000 grant that will restore a 10 acre wetland near the upland prairie. Implementation of the trail project began in the spring of 2004. A Dedication Ceremony was held on October 17, 2004. The Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation was the featured speaker and many St. Louis County and other local officials attended.

Other groups that worked collaboratively on this Interpretive Trail Project, included:

  • Forest Re-leaf Inc.,
  • City of Bellefontaine Neighbors
  • Hazelwood School District
  • Trinity Catholic High School
  • St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley
  • Christian Northeast Hospital
  • Central Stone Quarry

This very successful project was a catalyst to form a Steering Committee to explore the formation of a new not-for-profit organization working with St. Louis County Parks Department in support of this park. The Committee formed the Friends of Fort Belle Fontaine in October, 2005.

Friends of Fort Belle Fontaine Park

FFBFP held its first event on September 17, 2006. This event was a special preview for dignitaries and the media to raise awareness for the 2006 Fort Belle Fontaine Historic Encampment and Shoot sponsored by St. Louis County Parks Department and Living History Re-enactors that was held the following weekend. The event was supported by St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, County Councilman Mike O’Mara, State Senator Tim Green and State Representatives Tom George and Gina Walsh.

Prior to the event FFBFP was instrumental in facilitating the State of Missouri’s demolition of two dilapidated buildings adjacent to the Grand Staircase. The buildings were in deplorable condition and posed a hazard to the many visitors that were anticipated for the Bicentennial Anniversary Celebration for the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery.

In January 2007, the Friends held another public event at the top of the Grand Staircase – an Eagle Watch. Over 200 people attended this event and for most of them it was the first time they had ever been to the park.

In March of 2007 the Friends cosponsored, with St. Louis County Parks, the War of 1812 Symposium, which was held at the historic Bissell House in Bellefontaine Neighbors. General Daniel Bissell was one of Fort Belle Fontaine’s commanders. Over 10 papers were presented and over 100 people attended. Another Eagle Watch was held in January of 2008 with 400 people attending. The next Friends’ event will be a Prairie Walk on May 18, 2008.

These projects are a testimony to what community associations, businesses and government can accomplish when they combine their efforts and pool their resources. Fort Belle Fontaine Park is unique. It is a beautiful and nationally historic park. This park is a noteworthy tribute to the past 200 years of history here in St. Louis.