REI St. Louis has announced the recipients of its 2016 Stewardship Grants, which are awarded to select nonprofits that care for the outdoor places its customers use and love. The grant program is a grassroots process that begins with its store teams, who endorse nonprofits with whom they’ve forged meaningful partnerships. This year, local grants were awarded to the Open Space Council ($15,000) and Missouri River Relief ($5,000).

The mission of the Open Space Council is practical: to maintain the integrity of land and waterways for useful purposes, recreation and their natural beauty. The goal is for these spaces to be enjoyed now and for generations to come. The group’s boundless work in urban areas of St Louis to re-establish greenway space by building, maintaining and restoring trails after severe flooding and invasive honeysuckle removal made them worthy of grant application.

The two projects supported by this year’s grant will create and renew the recreational spaces and urban trails for St. Louis County residents and outdoor enthusiasts for years to come. Located 10 miles west of REI St Louis is Queeny Park. This local county park with 7.1 miles of trails is popular with hikers, bikers and dog walkers. Invasive honeysuckle removal combined with local flooding has left areas of the park devoid of any ecosystem and trails impassible in places. Trail renewal and replanting native species will protect these vital trails from further destruction and create a lasting ecosystem that will protect the trails from erosion.

Efforts of the second project will restore woodland areas after invasive honeysuckle removal by continuing removal and then replanting areas to create a viable ecosystem that will prevent erosion along the banks of Deer Creek. By preventing erosion after honeysuckle removal, the newly created bike and pedestrian path will not wash away into the creek; in its place, a beautiful natural area where people want to recreate will exist. The 0.7-mile connector trail between Deer Creek Park in Webster Groves and Maplewood to Big Bend Avenue parallels the creek and offers a direct connection to many urban areas for recreation, work and retail.

Missouri River Relief (MRR) is an organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through river cleanups, education, stewardship activities and the MR340 (the longest continuous paddle race in the world). December 2015 and January 2016 experienced record flooding here in Missouri, causing greater refuse to be deposited along the shores of the Missouri River. REI Stewardship Grant funds will assist in hosting the Big River Cleanup at the Confluence targeting the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, Confluence State Park, Lewis and Clark State park, Duck Island, Cora Island Unit of the Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

“We chose to fund this grant based on need and the effect it will have on recreating in this region. The impact of this cleanup is great, and the geographical area is expansive, covering roughly 24 miles of river north and south of the Sioux Passage Park,” said Susie Stevenson, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator for REI St. Louis. “The record flooding we have experienced regionally this year has created increased need in cleanup along the shores of the rivers and confluence. The rivers will be more accessible to paddlers and the trails cleared and re-established for safe usage. Many local residents and REI Co-op members recreate on and along the banks of these rivers.”