Since 1964 the Gateway Council of Hosteling International has held the “world’s oldest and largest night-time bike ride” known as the Moonlight Ramble®. For years the event has been a huge success attracting thousands of riders. This years ride is Saturday August 20th at midnight. But I’m not here to promote the ride. Instead, I’m questioning where the money has gone each year.
“The Gateway Council is the local branch of Hostelling International located at the corner of Big Bend and Clayton road in St. Louis. This office serves a region that includes Missouri, Northern Arkansas, Eastern Kansas, and Southern Illinois.
Recent history has seen the Gateway Council take its place as a leader among councils in the United States. Outdoor recreational programming has been and continues to be the strength of the local council. This strength lends recognition and vitality to the organization that now begins the task of adding a strong hostel and travel component to the mix.”
“Now begins the task of adding a strong hostel?”
WTF? The organization covers all of Missouri as well as parts of Arkansas, Kansas and Illinois and they are looking to add a hostel? That is right! This “hosteling” group that has been holding a major fundraiser for four decades has no hostel in its service area including major cities of St. Louis and Kansas City not to mention smaller cities like Springfield & Jefferson City, Missouri.
This is not to say we don’t have a hostel in St. Louis, we do. The Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel is located at 1904-08 South 12th Street
Saint Louis, MO 63104 (314) 241-0076. Before I get people saying this hostel is part of Hosteling International or that it is closed let me set the record straight.
I called the Huck Finn hostel and spoke to a very friendly woman that gave me some insight on their operation. This hostel has been privately operated by Tom & Sheela Cochran for over 20 years. In 2005 they severed their association with Hosteling International. The hostel is dorm style with over 30 beds available for $20/night. A $5 key deposit is required. A kitchen is available if people want to cook their own meals. Most occupants arrive in St. Louis via Greyhound bus. As a result most are dependent upon our mass transit while in our area. Some, like a recent visitor from Japan, arrived via Amtrak with his bike. Another recent visitor was from Korea. I think it is fair to say that traveling youth often judge a city by its hostel.
What does it say that our Hosteling International Council operates a hugely successful annual fundraiser yet doesn’t operate a hostel? To me it says we’ve been suckered into supporting a ride with the impression that we’re supporting hosteling. In defense of the Gateway Council they do seem to appear to have a long list of local bike rides and hikes. Outdoor activities is certainly a part of the mission of Hosteling International.
Reading through the Gateway Council’s newsletter archives I found a number of references to a new hostel. All reference hoping to open a hostel by 2007. It appears attempts were made to purchase and renovate one of our many closed schools for a hostel. A 2003 annual report (page 2) says the national organization is not focusing on creating new hostels so the local group is on their own. I found one site on cheap places to say in the St. Louis area which said, “They have just signed a contract on a building in downtown St. Louis and hope to have a 100 bed, year-round facility close to Union Station by the spring of 2002.” So they’ve been trying to open a hostel for quite a few years?
Hostelling International is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit volunteer-based organization—meaning our special events, educational programs, and the Gateway Newsletter are undertaken completely by volunteers.
Volunteers? Well, not exactly. The current newsletter lists a number of staff members. Their office is located at 7012 Clayton Road, 63117. Their website has a link to donate which switches you to a site where you can see detail about the organization before you make a donation. This site and report is located here. It is quite telling.
At the end of their 2003 fiscal year (March 31, 2003) they were over $18,000 in the hole (liabilities vs assets). A year later they were ahead by over $6,000 with an annual profit of over $24,000. Not bad but certainly a long way away from building and operating a hostel. Unfortunately this site has not been updated with their financials for the year ending March 31, 2005. With numerous corporate sponsors and over 12,000 riders a year I’m baffled more money isn’t available to fund a hostel.
Registration this year is $25 for adults and $10 for children for probably at least $200,000 in registration fees. Corporate sponsors add another $20,000 to the take. Booth rentals bring in additional money.
I’ve only done the Moonlight Ramble® once and I have to say it was fun. Seeing that many bicyclists in one place is inspiring. So if you plan to do the ride I think you’ll enjoy doing so. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you are supporting a local hostel.
[UPDATE 9/20/05 @ 7:30AM - A couple of additional thoughts I didn't mention above. Hostels are a key ingredient to local tourism. Collecting hotel tax on expensive hotel rooms is important to our tax base. Having a steady stream of young folks interested in using our mass transit and learning about out city cannot be ignored. These young people are potential students at our educational institutions and more importantly they are potential residents. Supporting a local hostel should be a priority to St. Louis.
I don't know if this means helping the existing Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel or aiding the Gateway Council of Hosteling International in acquiring and operating a new hostel. If the latter it is clear they will need to set up a capital campaign and hopefully earmark a portion of the funds raised from future Moonlight Rambles® to go into this fund rather than their general operating budget. This capital campaign may also require some corporate and foundation support. I'd like to see some assistance from the hotel community and the Convention & Visitor's Commission.]