Glassberg Family, Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods Conservation Areas

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We are fortunate to live in a State with a large number of wonderfully maintained and well apportioned State Parks (did you know that Missouri has more State Parks than Colorado?). With sites like Don Robinson State Park, Lake of the Ozarks State Park (the State's largest at 17,000 acres), Castlewood State Park, and over 40 others, it can seem like opportunities to enjoy the outdoors are endless. However, if your intention is to really "get away", the State Parks can be a bit crowded at times. Enter what we think are one of Missouri's true treasures, its Conservation and Natural Areas.
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Managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, these Areas have been set aside to preserve the best remaining examples of landscapes and ecology that have remained virtually unchanged since westerners' incursion. Though most of the Conservation and Natural Areas are significantly smaller than the State Parks, there are 180 of them spread out around the State! In terms of hiking, the paths are generally on the short side (1 to 5 miles), though longer trails exist. Still, some of these Areas pack in a staggering array of ecological and/or geological diversity on these somewhat shorter routes, and because they are usually less travelled than the State Park trails, they often feel a bit "wilder". We've waxed poetic about the Natural Areas before (here and here), so it probably comes as no surprise that many of them are among of our favorite outdoor adventure sites in Missouri.
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This post will focus on three Conservation Areas, not far from St. Louis, that all offer a satisfying getaway from city life, especially for Fall and Winter hiking. 
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Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area
The Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area (whew, that's a mouthful!), is situated in the LaBarque Creek Watershed, and is nearby several other conservation areas, including the popular LaBarque Creek CA. The land is a fairly recent addition to the MDC's Natural Areas System, but had been managed in conjunction with the Department while still under private ownership (plaques throughout the site commemorate the original owners). The Glassbergs were well known philanthropists in St. Louis, having contributed funds over several decades to preserving and restoring city parks and their grounds (you might even have fond memories of climbing on the massive turtle sculptures in Turtle Park, of which there is one turtle for each of the Glassbergs' kids and grandkids).
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KAMP Counselor Jason's hiking buddy Isaac, you'll see him throughout this post
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The Glassberg Family CA is well maintained, and features a good variety of environments to enjoy, from glades to pine forests to open prairie. There is even a scenic overlook of the Meramec River looping by in the distance. Even though the 3.5 mile trail (including the segment around Buder Lake) is not particularly long, you can work up a sweat by taking it counterclockwise (somehow, it felt like the whole trail was uphill going this way). The Lake at the center is currently drained for conservation improvements. We noticed an older trail marker designating the path as for Wild Canids, which I think is a reference to the Wolf Sanctuary's use of lands nearby.
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Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods Conservation Areas
Located even closer to STL, in the suburb of Des Peres, the Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods Conservation Areas have probably the coolest names of any CAs in the State. They are connected via a short shaded path that parallels a subdivision, so it is convenient to explore each Area's looping trail on a single stop (the whole combined trek is less than 2 miles, and is super easy with very little elevation change). Nonetheless, it is a satisfying hike that certainly does not feel like you are in the middle of a large suburb. We even encountered deer!
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Back to those evocative names for a moment, are you wondering where they came from? The land for the Phantom Forest CA was originally owned by Roy Moore, the illustrator of The Phantom comic strip (written by St. Louisan Lee Falk). The Phantom was the first superhero to appear wearing a mask and costume, two features that would become the genre's mainstay. It is fun to take the trail imagining that you might be following the footsteps of Moore, and wondering if what you are seeing inspired any of the fictional setting of Bangalla, The Phantom's home base.
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