COLUMBIA - When Columbia got almost 4½ inches of rain in middle-of-the-night thunderstorms last week, roads flooded and power went out. At the Boone County Fair, though, an irrigation lake for the ball fields by the fairgrounds dumped runoff straight into the carnival area, turning it into a marsh of mud and puddles. The rides were closed that evening.
"We had plans at the time to divert the overflow, but then the fair came along, and the rain got to us before we could fix it," said Skip Elkin, Boone County Northern District commissioner who serves as the commission's liaison to the county-owned fairgrounds. "When you get (this much) rain there's not enough money in all the banks of Columbia to prevent this kind of flooding."
Although the Boone County Fair is over, the carnival will be staying put at the fairgrounds this week. The carnival will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. through Saturday.
Vicki Russell, president of the Boone County Fair Board of Directors, said the overflow pushed inches of mud and silt into the carnival area, creating pools of water and mud. The chat, a gravel-like mixture that had been laid down to create an even walking surface, was washed away. The city's Parks and Recreation Department had to come Wednesday morning to truck out excess mud, replace the chat and create pine-shavings paths so fair goers would not sink into the mud, Russell said.
They also had to dig trenches to divert the runoff into Bear Creek, as was originally planned for the finished irrigation system. Elkin said they fixed the problem within a few hours, and he does not anticipate future lake runoff to be in issue for the fairgrounds.
Finishing the irrigation lake had been delayed because the ball fields continue to be a challenge. Built on 80 acres north of the fairgrounds, they were set to be finished by April. Because of the rain, the Parks and Recreation Department has had only three five-day weeks to work on them since March, Toney Lowery, senior parks planner, said.
This year, Columbia has received 35¾ inches of rain as of Tuesday, according to MU Extension's Missouri Historical Agricultural Weather Database. That's nearly 16 more inches than last year at this time.
No one even set foot on the construction site between December and March because conditions were so bad, Lowery said.
"Trying to get up there through the mud is a nightmare," said Houston Mueller, superintendent for Wilcoxson Excavating and Construction. "It's hard to get the material up there because the gravel (parking lot) stops 300 to 350 feet before the field."
Heavy construction equipment causes ruts in the mud, which can take a week to dry, Lowery said.
With dry weather over the next couple of weeks, the major construction work on the fields could be done. "It's supposed to be hot next week, which helps a ton," Lowery said. "Things could be dry by Monday."
Most of the large projects are completed. When the area is dry, they hope to pave the parking lot. The lights and seating also remain to be finished, along with a lot of fine-tuning to get the fields in usable shape.
"There's no one big job that's going to take a long time," he said. "There's just a lot of little, time-consuming jobs."
The Parks and Recreation Department hopes to have the fields completed before the fall baseball season.
"Having the fields playable is different from having them 100 percent done - there are a lot of little things to work out," Lowery said. "But it would be nice to have the kinks worked out before kids start playing on it. To have someone walk out and say, ‘Wow, that grass looks great,' yeah, that could take until spring. But to have two teams go out to play ball, it could happen any day."