UMSL and Gateway Writing Project partner with National Park Service for writing marathon at Gateway Arch National Park
On a cool, clear afternoon on the Gateway Arch National Park grounds, Steve Sanders and his 10-year-old son Eli and 7-year-old daughter Emma built pipe cleaner structures inspired by the iconic architecture surrounding them.
“My daughter was very excited about it,” Sanders said. “Art is her favorite class in school, so as soon as she saw it, she wanted to do it.”
The activity was part of a special writing marathon on Monday sponsored by the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ Gateway Writing Project and the National Park Service. The event was part of the National Writing Project’s Write Out program, a free two-week celebration of writing, making and sharing inspired by the great outdoors.
It was created through a partnership with the National Park Service several years ago and aims to inspire creativity through exploring national parks. This year’s program, which is centered around the National Day on Writing, began Oct. 9 and runs until Oct. 23.
Tracy Brosch, co-director of the Gateway Writing Project at UMSL, and her colleagues were set up in front of the west entrance of park, handing out free pens and notebooks and leading activities. There was a chill in the air, but Brosch remained cheerful.
“It is beautiful to have the buildings all around us, and I do wish it was warmer, but welcome to fall,” she said with a laugh.
Randy Meyer, a program leader with GWP, estimated that around 75 people stopped by during the two-hour event.
“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic and people coming by grabbing the notebooks,” he said.
While some passersby took a notebook or stopped to chat, others took the opportunity to jot down their thoughts. Brosch said writing marathons, particularly in outdoor settings, are a great way to focus on writing as an experience. Matthew Easley, education director at Gateway Arch National Park, added that nature can be a strong source of creativity.
“I think there’s just a tremendous amount of inspiration that can be drawn from nature,” Easley said. “As a kid growing up, I spent a lot of time outdoors and even walking the grounds on a beautiful fall day like today. There’s a lot of inspiration that can be drawn from it. Getting people to connect with nature, getting people to connect with their parks and observing, pausing, reflecting – it’s what we should all be doing. Nature’s a wonderful reset for many people. There are few ails that nature can’t fix.”
The theme of Write Out changes each year, and this year, the National Park Service and National Writing Project decided to focus on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and architecture and mathematics. This was the first year the Gateway Arch National Park partnered with the Gateway Writing Project. Brosch and Easley said it was the perfect time to do so because St. Louis is well-positioned to address this year’s theme thanks to the city’s historic architecture.
“There are so many inspirational aspects,” Easley said of the park and surrounding area. “The dome of the Old Courthouse – people said it couldn’t be built. It was the first of its kind with wrought-iron ribs, serving as a model for future domes. In fact, the architect, William Rumbold, was a consultant for the completion of the dome in Washington, D.C. We have the Gateway Arch just standing here – what a magnificent work of art and what an engineering marvel – and just a stone’s throw away from here, the Eads Bridge.”
Participating writers met at the entrance plaza on the west side of the Arch, where they split into small groups. The groups walked through the park, exploring and discussing the landscape as well as the architecture of downtown St. Louis. They stopped at several locations to write silently and then share their work with other writers.
There were also tables with writing prompt games and supplies for drawing and building. The GWP provided graphing paper and rulers at one table for people to design their own structures. At another, Emma Sanders turned pipe cleaners, ice pop sticks and pom poms into a carefully crafted bridge.
Steve Sanders said his family stumbled on the writing marathon and activities while visiting from Evansville, Indiana, during the children’s fall break. It was an unexpected but happy surprise.
“It’s very nice of them to do that,” he said. “It’s very kind of them to take their time on a Monday afternoon to do that for the kids and for adults in some cases.”
Brosch hopes the event helped more people familiarize themselves with the Write Out program and the Gateway Writing Project, the official St. Louis site of the National Writing Project.
“Writing is fun,” Brosch said. “Writing is good for you – so is being more aware of our own spaces that we live in.”
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