Whether you’re visiting St. Louis, Missouri or are a native to the area, you probably have heard a lot about the city attractions such as Forest Park, the Arch and Busch Stadium. However, just a short drive from the city you can enjoy the beauty and relaxation of the outdoors at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park.
Babler State Park is located in Wildwood, Missouri just thirty miles west of the city. Taking I-64 West and taking the Chesterfield Airport Road exit onto Long Road, you will be able to follow the signs past Chesterfield Valley and to the entrance of Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park.
Managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, this state park is one of eighty-two state parks and historic sites in Missouri. At 2,439 acres, Babler is also one of the largest and oldest parks in the Missouri State Park system. Babler State Park offers rugged hills, valleys, and ravines much like the Ozark region of Missouri.
Your first stop should be to the River Hills Visitor’s Center. Inside, you can get camping and travel information, park brochures, maps and you can also take a look through the exhibit hall where displays relate information about Babler’s diverse plant and wildlife community, as well as information regarding the rich history of the park. This building also serves as a headquarters for the park staff and is a great place to go with any questions you have about the park.
Babler State Park offers six unique trails. A horse trail, a paved trail and four looped hiking trails offer different views, landscapes and distances. All hikes are fairly easy, so distance and weather would be the best factor in choosing which one or ones to take. No matter what the season, these hikes offer beautiful views and an array of plants and animals for your observation.
Babler also offers a campground that is open year round with both basic and electric sites. Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-ICAMPMO while the remaining sites are open on a first come, first serve basis. The campground offers a recently renovated shower house, including hot showers and toilets with a dump station also available on the grounds. An outdoor amphitheater located in the campground hosts presentations on natural history and wildlife during the summer months. All presentations are advertised on numerous bulletin boards throughout the park.
If you don’t feel like hiking you can enjoy a scenic drive through the park. This is an especially fun activity in the fall when the leaves are turning bright shades of yellow and orange. During the warmer months, numerous picnic tables and four picnic shelters are available for use. Picnic tables are first come first serve, and shelters can be reserved by calling the park directly. Babler State Park has a outdoor swimming pool open in the summer months. More points of interest at Babler are historic CCC structures that can be viewed near the Visitor’s Center and on some trails as well as the statue of Dr. Edmund A. Babler located to your right when you first drive into the park. The CCC structures and the Statue are just a few reminders of the rich history behind the park.
Jacob L. Babler developed Babler State Park as a memorial for his brother, Dr. Edmund A. Babler. Jacob wanted a place where his brother’s good deeds and charitable spirit could be remembered and appreciated by visitors to the park.
Dr. Edmund A. Babler was one of the leading intestinal and reconstructive surgeons in the St. Louis area in the early 1900s. Edmund was well known and respected among his colleagues and was also said to have spent much of his time serving the unfortunate and poverty-stricken.
His older brother, Jacob Babler, was a successful businessman. Due to Jacob’s financial success and his work with the Republican Party, Jacob was one of the most influential Missourians of the time. An advocate of land preservation, Jacob often expressed his firm belief that Missouri’s geographical location and natural beauty made it one of the most outstanding recreation states in the country. He once said, “Missouri has the finest system of parks of any state in the union. I don’t know of any wiser use that can be made of state money than to preserve the vast stretches of beauty that nature has given us.”
Jacob’s love for Missouri scenery and for his brother came together to create a unique gift to the people of this state. In the early 1930s after his brother’s death, Jacob began to buy tracts of land with the intention of turning it into a living monument that would celebrate Edmund’s generous spirit.
Jacob’s plans to develop the park coincided with one of the most active periods of development for both state and federal lands. In the 1930s, the Great Depression had spread across all of America, affecting a large majority with poverty and economical ruin. In an effort to jump start the nation’s mired economy, President Franklin Roosevelt began to develop what he called New Deal programs that would create jobs in these desperate times. One of the most popular of these programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps implemented in 1933. Founded to help young men obtain critical employment, the CCC also provided for the conservation of national and state forests and soils.
By 1934, Missouri had more than 4,000 CCC men working on 40,000 acres of state park land. Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park was one of several beneficiaries of CCC activities in Missouri. 200 men worked at Babler State Park cutting roads through the hilly countryside as well as building scenic viewpoints, trails and shelters.
As with all CCC work, the building and bridges built at Babler blended in with the natural surroundings. The CCC men used stone that had been quarried from the area for the shelters they built as well as the monumental gateway that still greets park visitors. Other notable examples of work from the CCC era include the stone restrooms and the stone wellhouse that served as a park office for many years. These buildings are still in the park, located in front of the current visitor center. Twenty-two CCC structures at Babler State Park are now included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Along with developing the park, Jacob commissioned renowned New York sculptor, Charles Keck, to design a statue of his late brother. The bronze statue mounted on a pedestal of granite remains the focal point of the park even today. Carved into the pedestal are the figures of two mothers, their children, and two young men-a tribute to the time and skills the renowned surgeon spent helping those less fortunate.
Jacob Babler was determined that this memorial to his brother would stay available and beautiful for the enjoyment of visitors for years to come. He established a two million dollar perpetual trust to ensure that money would always be available to keep Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park a vivid reminder of his brother’s life as well as a beautiful place for people to visit.
Since the park opening in 1938, the interest from the Babler trust as well as monies from the general revenue and from the parks and soils sales tax have helped preserve the park’s natural resources and integrity as well as further develop facilities for visitors to enjoy outdoor recreational activities.
By the 1940s several St. Louis newspapers of the era were referring to Jacob Babler as “the father of Missouri’s parks” and the park he created as a memorial for his brother is one of Jacob’s finest achievements.
Combining the fascinating history behind Babler State Park and the beauty of its natural surroundings, Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park is a great place to visit. Take a day away from the city traffic, get a picnic together, and enjoy the relaxation Babler State Park has to offer.
Visit DNR’s website for Babler State Park at http://www.mostateparks.com/babler.htm or call the park from 8am-4pm, 7 days a week, at (636)458-3813 for more information.