In early September 2023, the city of East St. Louis, celebrated the grand opening of the Valentine Conservation Community Park Bike/Walk Trail. East St. Louis is located less than a mile from the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, and has historically lacked access to community green spaces. The establishment of this park in 2022 and the opening of the bike/walk trail this year mark a historic moment built upon 20 years of land acquisitions and local community collaboration.
Longtime residents of East St. Louis have seen the city change from a bustling industrial town during the first half of the 20th century to one with few employment and economic opportunities as businesses moved away. With increased unemployment and a lack of neighborhood investments, many Valentine Street community members moved away, houses were torn down, and vacant, overgrown lots dotted the area. Longtime resident Marable Douglas and her brother Alvin Crowell, who had maintained land on Valentine Street for over 70 years, saw the impacts and started acquiring vacant lots in 2004. After over a decade of purchases made with their siblings and other residents, they owned about 90 percent of the land as of 2018 and aimed to turn this into the Valentine Street Park and Trails.
Through the nonprofit Valentine Conservation Community, the group undertook restoration efforts, installed gardens, picnic tables, and a swing set. On May 28, 2023, the Valentine Conservation Community Park opened, with over 100 people showing up for its dedication ceremony. The final phase of the group’s work concluded this September with the completion of a bike/walk trail that connects to Falling Springs Road Bike Trail and provides a route to Cahokia Heights, another historically marginalized BIPOC community.
The Conservation Alliance was excited to provide The Valentine Conservation Community Group its first grant as part of its initial round of Confluence Program grants in 2021.