Limestone retaining walls add to the Parkway’s charm and mystique.

I’ve done my share of complaining about my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, since I moved away at 18, but there has always been one thing that redeemed it. Today, I’m adding another.

Designed in 1918, the city’s Parkway–a 26-mile stretch of greenspace and curving boulevard connecting Krug Park on the north side to Hyde Park on the south–has retained its dignity and utility for nearly a century. It is a place of beauty, mystery, and grace. You’re never sure what’s around the next bend, and it’s always a surprise–trees, a creek, a gently rising swell of green. Driving or biking it is still a thrill.

The house I grew up in backs up to the Parkway. It was part of our backyard growing up and the heart of every season, especially summer and winter. A few tenths of a mile south of our house was a railroad berm, and when I was six or seven, not long after we moved in, I would excitedly watch the train run by in the evening from our back porch.

Sculptures add a sense of motion and whimsy.

By the time I was 12 or so, the train had stopped running, and the track, now abandoned, became overgrown. The wooded sides of the berm on the south side flanking Agency Road was good for beer-can hunting and bushwhacking and imagining the lives that had gone before. The tracks disappeared while I was away at college, the trees largely cleared away, the berm graded , and a biking trail installed.

This morning I ran part of that trail, and I began to see St. Joseph as beautiful again. The sun hadn’t yet risen completely. The backs of houses I could see on the south side of the trail, houses that look sad and rundown to me from the street, looked resilient and stately perched on their generous lawns. I was surprised how far south Fairview Golf Course on the north side of the trail ran, and how far east. It seemed to go almost to the Belt Highway, about a mile and a half from where I had gotten on the trail. The smell of lilacs and trees and new fence mingled in the air. Squirrels and bunnies scurried. Everything was green.

Looking south down part of the trail and “our” creek. Our backyard is behind the far trees on the right side.

I have no plans to live in St. Joseph again–I mean, no plans, ever–but I was happy to see that the old town can still do some things right–things that add beauty and value to an otherwise struggling outpost of the Old West.