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APA-ISS Region 5 Planners Explore Nature and Art on May 31, 2024

Planners in Region 5 enjoyed a field trip on May 31 to the St. Louis Metro East communities of Fairview Heights and Swansea IL as part of the IL-APA ISS Spring conference from April 25-26.  Led by Laura Lyon from Heartlands Conservancy, we toured larger-scale land uses that have transitioned into unique open space areas that connect people with nature and the outdoors! 


The first stop was Art Village where planners heard a presentation about this emerging Metro East sculpture park that features a revolving array of outdoor art exhibits. ArtVillage LLC is  a nonprofit organization comprised of innovative private investors and artists who are developing a “superblock” on the west side of Fairview Heights near Grant Middle School. ArtVillage has been steadily purchasing older and/or vacant properties to create the city’s first art district. This 2 acre site provides artists who specialize in creating outdoor art sculptures with space to live,  practice their trade, and display their work. The site currently features local artists as well as those from as far away as Poland, with plans to rotate the display regularly at a prominent intersection in Fairview Heights (SW corner of Bunkum Rd and Lincoln Trail).   


Planners then headed off to tour the Exploration Garden and Clinton Hills Conservation Park in Swansea, IL  The 6 acre site, which has been leased and expertly curated by Heartlands Conservancy staff over the past 5 years, is part of a larger former golf course operated and maintained by the Village of Swansea.  Exploration Garden features a huge array of native wildflowers, an adjacent trail that connects to the larger off-road trails system in the Metro East, and a “Raindrop Journey” that begins at the former tee-off location for Hole 1 and ends at a picturesque pond where dozens of turtles peeked out to see what planners were doing!  Laura Lyon narrated the half-decade “labor of love” adventure that Heartlands Conservancy has experienced at this site and how it now serves as an important demonstration site for residents and visitors to see how Illinois wildflowers and native plants emerge and establish themselves (and attract lots of birds and critters).


To cap things off, attendees retreated for social time at Fletcher’s Kitchen and Tap, the former clubhouse and “19th hole” for the old golf course for a perfect May afternoon.


Photos by Scott Hanson, AICP


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