Columbia is blessed with a wonderful park system. Its citizens have shown their support for this system by agreeing to tax themselves specifically for parks. But not everyone realizes how extensive Columbia’s park system is. A few noteworthy facts from the city's website: There are 66 parks, totaling 2996 acres of park and green space. All of the current parks welcome dogs on leashes, and four areas allow dogs to run and play off leashes. This is the backdrop surrounding the discussions for Columbia’s next park, Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary.
The Parks and Recreation Department and the Parks Commission have recommended that Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary’s original habitat be restored. Columbia is going to turn back the clock to a time long, long ago. Not one of Columbia's 65 other public parks is like this. It will even be different from our current nature area parks. This is why, on March 21, the City Council voted to call Bonnie View a nature sanctuary.
Because it is the only city-owned nature sanctuary, Bonnie View would also be the only park to prohibit dogs. Opposition has been expressed to this portion of the Bonnie View Master Plan.
Columbia Audubon Society voted to implement a similar plan for its privately-owned, 22-acre nature sanctuary, located next to Bonnie View. The society supports the master plan for the public park.
There's a lot of work ahead to restore Bonnie View to its native state. When Lewis and Clark traveled through Missouri, they saw vast prairies, not fields of fescue. These fields in Bonnie View will be restored to native prairie grasses and wildflowers. Plants, trees and bushes not native to Missouri will be removed. Bonnie View will be like it once was. It won't look or feel like any other public park in Columbia.
Why exclude dogs? Dogs damage habitats and scare off wild critters who consider them predators. The birds and other critters attracted to the restored habitat will think of themselves as "what's for dinner." So yes, people are being asked to give up dog walking in Bonnie View. In exchange, Columbia residents, their children and their grandchildren will see and experience real prairie, forest, savannah and wetlands. For local teachers, Bonnie View will be a new hands-on classroom.
Dog walkers in the neighborhood have several options close to home. There are three neighborhood parks near Bonnie View: Rothwell Park, Dublin Park, and sharing a border with Bonnie View, Fairview Park.
A compromise offered by Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley provides easy access to Fairview Park along the eastern side of Bonnie View. Twin Lakes and its neighbor, the Hinkson Creek Conservation Area, are other nearby dog-friendly options. All these alternatives assure that there are still nearby places to walk dogs. Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary is Columbia’s only exception.
Visits to the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary will provide a new outdoor experience for everyone. This is what the neighbors and the community will receive in exchange for restricting their dog walking to Columbia's 65 other parks. The Parks and Recreation Department and the Parks Commissioners are to be commended for recognizing an unmet need. Consider what the future can be for this land — something unique and educational for everyone in Columbia.
Bill Mees is a Columbia resident, a birding hobbyist and an outdoors enthusiast.