From its naming to its military background, Lone Elk Park has a rich history. Originally part of the 2,600 acres of land acquired by the United States Government in 1941, it made up the Tyson Valley Army Powder Storage Farm. The farm was used to test and store ammunition. By 1947, after World War II ended, the farm was declared surplus land. A year later St. Louis County Parks opened Tyson Valley County Park.
Twice the size of Forest Park, and already with a fence built around it, the land was ideal for wildlife. With this realization, the park gained some new inhabitants. Through the National Park Service, the area acquired elk from Yellowstone, buffalo from Oklahoma and deer from Grant's Farm. The test site was needed again, though, as the United States got involved in the Korean War. The Department of the Army reclaimed most of the land back. With less land for the animals to roam, the buffalo were removed. Between 1951, when the elk were first introduced, and 1958, the herd grew to 103. However, soon thereafter a bull elk caused damage and safety concerns after charging into an Army truck. The army decided to remove the entire herd.
After the Army relinquished the land in 1961, the County wanted it back for park use. Washington University was also interested in it for a research center. It was not until 1963 that an agreement was made. The university received roughly 1,966 acres while the parks department received 405 acres. As the land was being surveyed, large animal tracks were found around the Park. Then one morning, a park worker sighted a full-grown bull elk. Somehow, one elk calf had survived the elk hunt of 1958, thus the name Lone Elk Park.
While the parks department originally wanted the park to be used for a winter recreation area, the discovery of the lone elk generated a different idea from the public. Students from the Rockwood School District collected funds to purchase additional elk from Yellowstone. Any student donating a dime or more earned a share of "Elk Stock." In 1966, after eight years of being the solitary elk, the "Lone Elk" was joined by more of its kind. Close to a decade later, bison were introduced from the St. Louis Zoo.
Today, Lone Elk Park is one of the best places in the County to see majestic animals in their natural habitat. Bison and elk may be the most common species sought out, but Lone Elk Park has other awesome wildlife worth checking out, too. With white tail deer, numerous bird species, turtles and several skunk families there are plenty of critters to see. Bird fans, are you in luck, as the best season for spotting is winter.
Lone Elk Park is open everyday from 8am – a half hour past official sunset and is located at 1 Lone Elk Park Rd., St. Louis, MO 63088.