Conor Watkins' Ozark Mountain Experience
Article 25-27 Combined
The Tyson Valley - Where Elk And Buffalo Roam
By Conor Watkins

The Tyson Valley Area
-Where Elk And Buffalo Roam

Two buffalo graze within Lone Elk County Park.

The Tyson Valley Area, just southwest of St. Louis near Eureka on I-44, is home to a variety of outdoor and nature related areas.  Lone Elk County Park, West Tyson County Park, The Tyson Research Center, The World Bird Sanctuary, The Wild Canid Survival And Research Center (better known as the Wolf Sanctuary), parts of Castlewood State Park, parts of the Meramec Greenway, and the Chubb Trail are located in the area and Route 66 State Park is located nearby.  The land now composing these areas experienced an interesting past, which has shaped the face of these areas to this day.

Lone Elk County Park is a located in the easternmost section of the Tyson Valley Area.  The park, home to elk, buffalo (North American Bison), and deer, is administered by the St. Louis County Dept. of Parks And Recreation.  Roads through the park consist of multiple one-way loops, which take the visitor through different sections of the park.  While driving through the park, expect to see elk, deer, and buffalo along the roads.  At certain times of the year, the elk will be rutting and their loud mating calls may be heard.  Since the buffalo are considered to be more aggressive than the elk and deer in the rest of the park, they are confined to a separate section of the park by cattle guards and fences.  No hiking trails or picnic areas were placed in the buffalo section in order to minimize human contact.  Visitors are advised not to get out of their cars when near buffalo.

Although this mother buffalo and her baby may appear docile, they are not
and can be dangerous if approached.

Deer are common in and around Lone Elk County Park.

Lone Elk Park features reservable shelters and picnic areas along with picnic areas available on a first come, first serve basis.  A lake in the middle of the park provides opportunities for fishing.  One can also feed the ducks and geese that tend to live around the lake.  The 2.6-mile White Bison Trail takes the hiker in a large loop around the lake and center of the park.  This trail winds through typical wooded Ozark foothills.  Parts of the 7-mile long Chubb Trail pass through the park and the eastern trailhead is located within Lone Elk.  More on the Chubb Trail and the history of Lone Elk Park are discussed later.

The World Bird Sanctuary (WBS), which used to be within the park, is now located just off to the right on the road approaching the entrance to Lone Elk.  This center, located in part of Castlewood State Park, specializes in the rehabilitation of threatened and endangered bird species.  The WBS focuses on the rehabilitation of raptors (birds of prey) and parrots while providing extensive education and research nationwide to prevent the decline of bird species.  The center also runs a breeding program to breed birds in captivity and was mostly responsible for the re-introduction of the peregrine falcon in Missouri.

The WBS visitor center is surrounded by an amphitheater where educational programs are held.  Visitors can observe birds in the process of being rehabilitated and those being bred in captivity.  Several parrots and birds of prey from various parts the world are held at the visitor center.  A small road near the visitor center serves as a trail to an area where more birds are held outdoors.  These birds include American bald eagles, owls, pigeons, and other birds.  The visitor center holds a gift shop with proceeds going to support WBS programs.  One can also sign up for educational classes, give money to become a sponsor, or adopt an individual bird at the center or online at  The WBS has been in operation since 1977.

Several bald eagles are cared for at the World Bird Sanctuary.  The Meramec
River is visible in the background.

Owls are among the birds rehabilitated at
the World Bird Sanctuary.

To get to Lone Elk Park and the World Bird Sanctuary, take I-44 to exit 272 (labeled Route 141 – Fenton/Valley Park).  Take the North Service Road of I-44 two to three miles west.  The service road eventually runs into the entrance to Lone Elk and the World Bird Sanctuary.

Washington University’s 2,000-acre Tyson Research Center is located directly west of Lone Elk Park.  This center is a university-wide resource focusing on the research of various plants, animals, and fungi.  In order to stimulate a more natural environment, forests have been allowed to regrow and prescribed/controlled burns have been used to simulate the times before humans introduced fire control.  Animal related research ranges from the study of insects and parasitic worms to snakes and deer.  Other research at Tyson includes studies on earthquakes and tectonics, history of the Mincke mining town, geology, and hydrology.  Tyson is now a part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), and a station for monitoring acid rain and precipitation is located at the center.  The center will accept proposals for any legitimate research as long as there is available space and the proposed activity doesn’t disturb other research.  Visitors to Tyson may notice 52 igloo style concrete bunkers.  The origins of these are described later.

The Tyson Research Center is also home to the Wild Canid Survival And Research Center (WCSRC), which is better known as The Wolf Sanctuary.  Marlin Perkins and his wife, Carol, started the center in 1971.  Perkins is better known for hosting Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”, a nature show highlighting animals all over the world.  He was also the second director of the St. Louis Zoo and helped make that facility what it is today.  The WCSRC’s main purpose is the preservation and re-introduction of endangered wolves in the wild by breeding them in captivity.  The WCSRC holds and breeds multiple species of highly endangered wolves and one species of fox.  These include the Red Wolf, Mexican wolf, Maned Wolf (technically not a wolf), and Swift Foxes.  The center also educates the public by offering tours of their facility and by explaining the true behavior of wolves, which is different from their Hollywood portrayal.  The WCSRC is closed for tours during the month of May to encourage reproduction and other times when veterinary care is being performed.  Reservations must be made before visiting by calling 636-938-5900.

The Tyson Research Center is not a public park and access is limited.  Admittance is controlled by a gate at the entrance.  The area is a biological research center and research, some of which is sensitive to disturbance, is conducted within Tyson.  Excessive and/or uncontrolled visitation of the center would be harmful.  Animals and habitat must not be disturbed and material cannot be added to or removed from the area.  The area is open to educational groups of all ages and to those interested in conservation and the environment.  The center offers the Tyson Field Science Program (TFSP), which consists of many K-12, cub/girl scout, and other educational programs.  For more information on the TFSP, see  Small groups of visitors are generally encouraged to reduce environmental impact.  For more information, call 636-935-8430 or see the Tyson website at  The Tyson Research Center entrance is just north of I-44 east of Eureka and may be reached via the Beaumont/Antire exit (I-44 exit 269).

After Washington University aquired the Tyson Research Center, the site was used to dispose of two historic lion sculptures from University City, MO.  These lions, now located just outside the old Mincke Quarry, were sculpted in 1909 by George Julian Zolnay, the art director for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  Christine Kiehl, a female art student of the time, helped to create the mold.  These lions, known as the Delmar Lion Gates, were constructed in 1909 under the direction of, E.G. Lewis, the city's founder to watch over the residential development to the west.  By the 1980's, the original lions had been repaired several times and were beyond further restoration.  The lions were recast from the original molds and replaced.  How the old lions ended up at Tyson is not exactly known but it is suspected that Washington University offered to dispose of them on their rural research site rather than have them dumped in a landfill or other location where they would never again be accessible.

The lions from the Delmar Lion Gates have been replaced and the old ones
are now resting in Tyson Research Center near the Mincke Cavern.
Additional Picture 1
Additional Picture 2

West Tyson County Park consists of 240 acres of land located just to the west of the Tyson Research Center in the Tyson Valley Area.  West Tyson is home to four hiking trails including the seven-mile Chubb Trail, which passes through 2 other parks.  The other trails in West Tyson are the .2-mile long Ridge Trail, the .5-mile long Chinkapin Trail, and the 1.5-mile long Flint Quarry Trail.  The Crescent Hills, which are present throughout the area, have a high chert content, which was quarried by the Indians for use in weapons and other tools.  The Flint Quarry Trail takes the visitor past pits and trenches, which were once quarried for flint, a form of chert.  The Crescent Hills area contains one of the highest concentrations of prehistoric flint/chert quarries in North America.  West Tyson is also home to three shelters, a lodge, and a campground, all of which are reservable for groups.  Other uncovered picnic sites are available on a first come, first serve basis.

The Chubb Trail starts at a main trailhead in West Tyson Park, passes through the southern part of Castlewood State Park, and ends at a trailhead within Lone Elk Park.  The seven-mile distance is one-way, which means that users either have to turn around at the far end and retrace their path (14 miles) or have someone there to pick them up at the end.  Although the basic trail is seven miles long, there are side loops within West Tyson and Castlewood Parks, which can be taken to increase the length of the trail.  It is open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.  The Chubb Trail is considered to be one of the more difficult trails in the St. Louis Area due to its rocky, hilly nature.  Parts of the trail make elevation changes of 350 feet as it crosses the ridges and valleys of the Ozark border.  If riding a mountain bike, a helmet is highly suggested.  Make sure that both your body and your bike can handle this trail.

The Chubb Trail was developed in 1984 in a coordinated effort of between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and St. Louis County in memory of R. Walston Chubb.  Chubb was a pioneer and preserving open space within the St. Louis Metro area and started the St. Louis Area Open Space Council, a group who has worked to restore the Meramec River.

Castlewood State Park is located on both sides of the Meramec River with its land area almost equally divided by the river.  The more developed areas of the park are located to the north of the river.  The Chubb Trail and World Bird Sanctuary are the two main attractions located on the south side.

Route 66 State Park is one of Missouri’s newest State Parks.  Although it is not part of the Tyson Valley area, it deserves mention.  It sits on the site of the former community of Times Beach.  The town was once contaminated with dioxin, a toxic industrial byproduct and ingredient in old electrical transformers.  The dioxin was mixed with oil and sprayed by Russell Bliss, a waste hauler, to reduce dust on the gravel roads in Times Beach in the early 1970's.  Dioxin was spread throughout homes in the town by a large flood on the Meramec River in 1982, resulting in a federal buyout and condemnation of the entire town.  The area has now been cleaned up and turned into Route 66 Park. Part of old U.S. Route 66 and its Meramec River bridge are located in the park.  The park currently has around 8 miles of trails that connect directly to a trail system in nearby Eureka.  More trails are planned for the future.  The building holding the visitor center and park offices is itself a Route 66 landmark.  It was once Steiny’s Inn, a popular roadside restaurant on Route 66.  The visitor center also holds exhibits and a gift shop celebrating the famous highway.

Both West Tyson and Route 66 Park may be accessed via I-44 exit 266.  Both parks are located on the north of the highway.  West Tyson County Park is located on the right, within a mile are so before the road (old Route 66) runs into runs into Route 66 State Park.

The Tyson Research Center, Lone Elk, West Tyson, Castlewood, and Route 66 Parks are all part of the Meramec Greenway, an area established to help restore the lower 108 miles of the Meramec River to a more natural state better suited to outdoor recreation.  The Meramec River Recreation Association established this area along with other public and private agencies to link various parks along the Meramec together.  When the greenway was established in 1975, the quality of the river’s water and scenery was highly degraded due to poorly planned recreational development, in-stream gravel quarrying, nearby land clearing, and other misuses.  Today, the natural quality of the river is greatly improved and positive changes are still taking place.  This area is also included in the Henry Shaw Ozark Corridor Foundation’s (HSOC) focus area.  The HSOC focuses on working with government, developers, and private individuals in an attempt to make sure land is used in a sustainable manner and that the region’s cultural and natural history is preserved.  The HSOC focus area stretches 40 miles from the Powder Valley Conservation area to The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve

The Tyson Valley area is located near the Meramec River and on the Burlington Escarpment.  This escarpment is the boundary between the Ozark Plateau and the Central Lowlands physiographic provinces (geologic and geographically unique land areas) of North America.  The bedrock of the area ranges from Middle Ordovician to Middle Mississippian in age (age variation from approximately 470 to 340 million years ago).  Most of this rock is cherty limestone but there is some sandstone, dolomite, and shale in Tyson.  Ancient sea life is preserved as fossils in the rock.  As with most of Missouri south of the Missouri River, Tyson is underlain by karst terrain.  Slightly acidic groundwater has dissolved the carbonate limestone bedrock to form the caves, springs, and sinkholes throughout the area.  The area is also home to Mincke Cave, a man-made cavern created by quarrying.  Several species of bats now use the cave as their home.  Soils vary from glacial wind blown loess (silty soil) left over from the last ice age to cherty residual soils, a byproduct of weathered limestone.  The Meramec River forms part of the northern boundary of the center.  The origin of Mincke Cave is described later.

The Tyson Valley has an interesting past, which has shaped the face of the area to this day.  Prior to changes made by white men, Indians found very high quality chert in the area.  This chert and chert from the nearby Crescent Hills was traded over a wide area and used to make arrowheads.  As whites arrived in the area between 1700 and the early 1800’s, small farms sprang up in the area.  During the 1800’s, the area was quarried for limestone and timber was harvested from the upland areas.  Much of the white oak timber ended up at a wood barrel and stave (pipe) plant in nearby Pacific, MO.

The area now serving as Washington University’s Tyson Research Center was once home to the town of Mincke (also incorrectly known as Minke), which was a limestone mining/quarrying company town for the Hunkins-Willis Company.  A large underground quarry, much like Cobb’s Cavern at Rockwoods Reservation but somewhat larger, was created to mine the Kimmswick Formation, a high calcium limestone.  This limestone was ideal for the making of lime, which was kilned on the site.  The mine operated for fifty years from 1877 to 1927 until the lease expired and was not renewed by Henry Mincke, the mine owner.  At this time, the town of Mincke became a ghost town.  During the town’s existence, the nearby Tyson Train Station served to connect the town to the rest of the world.  The U.S. Government used the quarry cavern during World War II and the Korean War as a vehicle ‘garage’ and storage area.  Today, the old cavern still exists but the town is mostly gone.  All that remains are the foundations of the buildings, which included some onsite lime kilns.

The cavern created by the mining/quarrying operation at Mincke
is still present within the Tyson Research Center.
Additional Pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

All that remains of the old town are the foundations of old buildings and the
cavern created by the mining/quarrying operations.

In 1941, the Federal Government initiated proceedings to condemn the land of four property owners in the area through eminent domain.  The major landowners included the Minckes and the Rankens, a wealthy family from Europe who also started Ranken Technical College in St. Louis.  In all, 2,620 acres were bought in order to prepare for World War II.  The U.S. Government turned the Tyson Valley into a powder dump (ammunition storage area) for the St. Louis Ordnance Plant and used the land to test fire ammunition.  A fence, sewage system, 21 miles of all weather roads, 4 firing ranges, 52 igloo style concrete bunkers, 10 vaults to store PETN (a powerful high explosive), 4 TNT magazines, 3 chemical warehouses, and 80 other buildings were constructed on the site.

In 1947, World War II was over and the U.S. Government no longer saw a need for the land and offered to sell all 2,620 acres.  St. Louis County soon purchased the land with the intention of creating a natural park.  During July of 1948, Tyson Valley Park was formally dedicated.  This large park was turned into a wildlife refuge and natural preserve for all to enjoy.  A miniature train, some deer, a herd of elk, and a herd of buffalo were soon introduced in Tyson Valley Park.  Ten buffalo were brought in from a wildlife refuge in Oklahoma, twenty elk were brought in from Yellowstone National Park, and fifteen white-tailed deer were donated by August A. Busch.  These deer came from his own herd at Grant’s Farm. In 1949, St. Louis County leased six of the concrete explosives storage igloos on the park to commercial mushroom farm.  The dark, cool conditions of these structures were ideal for mushroom cultivation.

The first deer at Lone Elk were donated by August A. Busch and transported
from Grant's Farm.

Tyson Valley Park was short-lived.  In 1951, the Korean War was being fought and the U.S. Government decided to re-acquire Tyson Valley Park for military purposes.  At first, the government was going to make lease payments on most of the park with the intention of returning the land to St. Louis County after the war ended.  A 240-acre part of the park located outside of the government use area was kept open by constructing a new road into the area.  This area became West Tyson County Park.  In 1954, the government decided to purchase the entire leased area outright and not lease the land from the county.

St. Louis County offered to give all the animals in Tyson Valley away but had few takers.  The buffalo were captured and taken to the Rapid City, SD Zoo while the elk and deer were left to roam the park.  After a bull elk rammed and damaged an Army truck during rutting season, the animals were considered a hazard and nuisance.  Due to this problem, and the fact that there wasn’t enough funding to adequately feed the elk during the winter months, an Army officer ordered all the elk to be hunted down and killed.  Their meat was to be donated to local food pantries.  All the elk were rounded up into a clearing and shot, or so it was thought.

In 1961, the U.S. Government declared the property surplus and put it up for sale.  Although there were no legal stipulations requiring that St. Louis County be offered the first priority to repurchase the land, the county was given the first option to buy the land.  Washington University was also interested in buying land in the Tyson Valley.  The university wanted as much land as possible to conduct biological and medical research for their various schools.  In 1963, the government gave Washington University around 2,000 acres of property with the stipulation that research be conducted on the land for 20 years.  This plan left West Tyson County Park intact.

St. Louis County repurchased 405 acres of the easternmost part of the Tyson area in 1963 to re-establish Tyson Valley Park.  This was made possible after the government sold the land for half its accessed value.  Workers in the area soon noticed large animal tracks and it was rumored that a cow or other large animal was loose in the park.  One morning, a park worker sighted a full-grown bull elk standing seven feet tall.  It was obvious that one elk somehow survived being exterminated.  The elk was either hiding at the time of the roundup or was a baby and mistaken for a deer.  The elk, called the “Lone Elk”, had survived ten years eating vegetation within the Army’s reserve.  This sighting was the first ever by humans.

At the same time, the county was busy constructing a chain-link fence between the park and Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.  The park Superintendent, Wayne Kennedy, ordered that a gap be left in the fence until the elk was on the park side of the fence.  Kennedy told the park Supervisor, Gene McGillis, to oversee this task.  McGillis was an American Indian and familiar with tracking animals.  He dumped a truckload of sand at the gap in the fence and waited a few days.  When a set of elk tracks was seen entering the park with none leaving, McGillis called Kennedy to have the gap in the fence closed.  The gap was closed when Kennedy spotted the elk in the park from a helicopter.

St. Louis County originally planned to turn the hilly park into a winter recreation area with ski slopes, sled and toboggan tracks, camping, and an archery range.  Once the elk was in the park, it was decided that the area be used for hiking and picnicking, activities more friendly for an elk.  Soon the park was re-named to Lone Elk.  The public became involved and students from elementary schools in the Rockwood School District collectively donated $300 to transport more elk from Yellowstone National Park.  Students were encouraged to bring dimes to school to help the cause.  Any student contributing a dime or more earned a certificate for a share of “Elk Stock.”  The truckload of elk stopped at Ellisville Elementary and was viewed by exited students.  The Fred Weber Corporation donated a $50,000 dam to build a lake within the park.  The elk story even gained enough national attention for Walter Cronkite to cover the event.

Example of an "Elk Stock" certificate.
Thanks to James Fowler, a past Ellisville Elementary student and current
Ellisville resident, for this image.

Fred Weber drove himself and McGillis to Yellowstone in Weber’s grain truck and loaded up six elk.  The six elk consisted of five cows and one bull just in case the elk at the park wasn’t male.  When the new elk were released, the Lone Elk arrived within 20 minutes.  Offspring of the elk have been present at the park ever since.  A year or two after the new elk were brought in, a large male elk was found dead in the park.  The Lone Elk had died of old age but park workers are sure that he helped produce some of the young elk born in the park.  His antlers and skull were displayed at the Daniel Boone branch of the St. Louis County Library for a month or so after his death.  After this, they were returned to the county and have since disappeared.

Buffalo from an Oklahoma ranch and Barbados Sheep were added to the park soon after it opened.  The sheep were striking in appearance, with the males having curved ram horns.  These animals were removed from the park during the early 1980’s because they were non-native to the area and very dirty and foul smelling.

To this day, Lone Elk County Park and its wildlife still attracts visitors.  The whole area is a blend of old and new.  Some of the facilities present in the park are leftover from the area’s use as an ammunition storage and testing ground and evidence of prehistoric and historic mining/quarrying is still present.  Old bunkers are now used as food storage and feeding areas for the animals.  Concrete walls and foundations from other old buildings can be seen throughout the area.

Wild turkey are among the wildlife present at Lone Elk County Park.

There has been recent concern that Washington University might sell its research center since its 20 years of required research is now completed.  St. Louis County is willing to buy the land back to create a park to join Lone Elk and West Tyson.  Others are worried that a housing developer might get a hold of the land and build a subdivision.  The university has stated that it is committed to the research center and does not want to sell the land.  Washington University has stated that it would probably donate the land to St. Louis County if its research center were ever closed.

Thanks to Esley Hamilton, Historian for St. Louis County Parks, for his timeline and clippings relating to park history, The Washington University Tyson Research Center (, David Larson of the Tyson Research Center for his information and tour, Ghost Town USA (, The World Bird Sanctuary (, The USGS Geologic Time Scale (, the U.S. Army (, The Henry Shaw Ozark Corridor Foundation (, and The Fall 1999 Missouri Resources Magazine (, Sue Rehkopf from the Historical Society of University City, MO for the information used in the writing of this article.

(C) 2006 by Conor Watkins