Mike Kapstick doesn’t just see the sprawling green space, trees and trails when he walks through Route 66 State Park just outside Eureka.
The 53-year-old also sees the community he grew up in – Times Beach.
Before it became a 418.61-acre park, the land just east of Eureka started as a summer resort area on the Meramec River, then developed into a small town, and disappeared after a massive flood and the discovery of high levels of dioxin in 1983.
Thirty-five years after Times Beach was erased, Kapstick can still recall where his family’s home was, where neighbors’ homes were situated and can name most of the streets that are now walkways through the park.
“It was a great town,” said Kapstick, a former Eureka resident who recently moved to St. Louis. “I just can’t imagine any other place to grow up.”
And no one could have imagined that on Feb. 22, 1983, the federal Environmental Protection Agency would announce a Superfund buyout to remove the town’s residents.
“When you said to me 35 years, I’m thinking it can’t be 35 years,” said former Eureka Ward 2 Alderwoman Marilyn Leistner, who was the last mayor of Times Beach. “Some of it seems like it was last week.”
Times Beach got its start through a newspaper promotion.
In 1926, the St. Louis Times sold a 20-foot-by-100-foot lot in Times Beach for $67.50, advertising the land as a place to get away from the city. The purchase included a six-month subscription to the paper. In order to build a home on the land, a second lot needed to be purchased.