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Beneficial Impacts of Reuse at the Weldon Spring Site

Upon visiting the Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles, Missouri, it doesn’t take long to see the positive impacts that a restored site can have on the local community and surrounding area. It’s common to see several cars in the parking lot and a steady stream of mountain bikers riding the site’s Hamburg Trail while taking in nature’s beauty. People can also be seen entering and exiting the site’s Interpretive Center and walking to the top of the disposal cell for one of the most spectacular views in St. Charles County. What was once viewed by the public as a run-down, contaminated processing plant has been revitalized for beneficial reuse as a community educational center and recreational site.  

The site has a rich and complex history including major contributions to two successful national defense campaigns during the history of the United States. From the early to mid-1940s, the U.S. government acquired over 17,000 acres for the U.S. Army to operate a plant that produced 750 million tons of explosives to support America’s efforts to win World War II. This large land acquisition would ultimately become the neighboring conservation areas now owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). In the mid-1950s, more than 200 acres of the former ordnance works property were transferred to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for construction of a plant to process uranium ore in support of the Cold War. Plant operations ceased in the mid-1960s, remaining dormant under caretaker status until it was remediated—from the late-1980s to early 2000—resulting in a 41-acre disposal cell surrounded by 150 acres of planted native prairie collectively known today as the Weldon Spring Site. As part of a long-term surveillance and maintenance process, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management (LM) operates the Interpretive Center to communicate the historical legacy of the site, provide educational and research opportunities for current and future generations, and to make information available to the public.

Because of the site’s restored native plant habitat and its unique position within the center of two large conservation areas, it has become ideal for presenting community and conservation reuse opportunities to the public. From the perspective of community reuse, the Interpretive Center is exemplary, serving on average over 25,000 visitors per year and offering a variety of programs. The restored native prairie and native plant garden allow children and adults to experience a remediated site in a natural setting. Interpretive Center programs include a broad range of classes and special events for kindergarten through adult ages and meeting rooms are available after hours for use by community organizations. The interpretive staff is knowledgeable about the site history, science-oriented, and trained in accordance with National Association for Interpretation (NAI) standards. Several staff members are also certified under NAI as Certified Interpretive Guides and the Interpretive Center Manager is a Certified Interpretive Trainer. The interpretive programs they have developed meet the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Grade Level Expectations, which are grade by grade targets for school student instruction. On a typical day, personnel can be found actively involved in teaching onsite classes, hosting events, conducting outreach, providing tours of the Interpretive Center, or serving as enthusiastic nature guides on site property hikes.

A prime example of conservation reuse at the site is the 150-acre native Howell Prairie. The prairie was originally seeded with over 80 native Missouri species to depict the type of prairie that would have existed during pre-settlement times. Functionally, it serves as an effective erosion barrier while also providing high-quality habitat to support pollinators and numerous wildlife species as it blends seamlessly with the surrounding conservation areas. As seasons progress and change, so does the picturesque background of the prairie. Plants like the prairie blazing star, gray-headed coneflower, and Southern blue flag iris are a few of the plants that thrive once again in the area as they did long ago.