City holds dedication ceremonies for two neighborhood parks

Sunday, October 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mayor Darwin Hindman and several Columbia City Council members attended the dedication ceremonies for two of the newest additions to Columbia's parks system Saturday.

The two parks, Grasslands Park and Auburn Hills Park, are classified as neighborhood parks and are designed to serve the immediate needs of surrounding neighborhoods. Auburn Hills Park is located on an 11.56-acre tract, and Grasslands Park totals 8 acres. The city's parks system currently includes more than 60 different sites totaling more than 2,900 acres.

Plans for Grasslands Park began in 2002 and, according to Parks and Recreation director Mike Hood, were the direct result of efforts from residents of the Grasslands neighborhood.

"If the neighborhood hadn't come together and said, 'We want this land preserved as open space,' this park wouldn't be here today," Hood said at the ceremony Saturday.

Vicki Ott, a resident of the Grasslands neighborhood, was one of the members of the community involved in efforts to create the park. Her husband, John Ott, helped spearhead the project, too.

"It was a tough time," Ott said of the start of the project. "We had a developer wanting to put in rental housing, and it would have just put such a burden on our small neighborhood in terms of added traffic."

She estimated that there are approximately 180 families in the neighborhood, making the park a crucial addition.

"A lot of people don't have big swing sets in their backyards, and the park gives the kids the opportunity to run wild and have fun," Ott said.

The neighborhood ultimately raised about $700,000 for the creation of the park, Hood said.

"This park represents an extraordinary effort on the part of a neighborhood," Hindman said at the ceremony. "The neighborhood needs to be commended for that. They saw the need for the park for a variety of reasons, and they just sort of bellied-up and decided 'We're going to have this park.'"

Grasslands Park has already received much use from the neighborhood since construction was completed in the summer of 2009.

"I'm sure there isn't a day that goes by that it isn't used by some family," Chris Walthall, also a resident of the Grasslands neighborhood, said.

The park features a playground, picnic area, open play area and a nature trail.

Auburn Hills Park also features a playground and picnic shelter as well as a basketball half-court, a 0.3-mile gravel trail and a pond stocked with minnows and red-eared sunfish.

The need for a park in the area was identified in 1994. It serves a number of families in the Auburn Hills subdivision.

Tina Wheeler, who lives on Tide Water Drive adjacent to the park, takes her daughter Elizabeth, 2, to the park at least once a week.

"We just ride our bike up here or walk up here," she said. "We have a German shepherd, and he enjoys taking a walk up here."

Wheeler said there are about a dozen kids who live on her stretch of Tide Water that frequently use the park.

"This is a great park," she said. "It really provides a great sense of community."

Both Auburn Hills Park and Grasslands Park are part of the city's general parks plan, which calls for a park within a half-mile of every residence in Columbia. Funding for the development of both parks came from the 2005 park sales tax.

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