COLUMBIA — The city has closed parking lots at several parks for the winter, citing maintenance costs and problems with inappropriate and illicit activity.
Columbia Park and Recreation Director Mike Hood said the department staff decided to close parking lots at the following parks:
- Thomas E. "Country" Atkins Jr. Memorial Park on Oakland Gravel Road
- Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary off Rollins Road
- Louis P. (Tony) Antimi Sports Complex in Cosmopolitan Park
- Douglass Park in the central city
- Kiwanis Park in west-central Columbia
- Frank G. Nifong Memorial Park in southeast Columbia.
Each of those parks will remain open. The department anticipates reopening the parking lots in March. The entrance to each lot is blocked, except for Douglass Park. That lot has reopened temporarily for the school break, but it will be closed when school starts again after the holidays.
“We looked at the areas where there is low use of parks during the winter months and parks that have facilities that are winterized (or that have a) history of illicit activities,” Hood said.
The parks staff also considered whether there was parking available on other lots within the park or on adjacent streets.
Hood said maintenance costs were another reason for closing the lots. Winter maintenance would include snow and ice removal.
“The budget is getting tighter and tighter, and we look for every opportunity to reduce cost,” Hood said.
The city has a long history of parking lot closure, Hood said. He explained that most of the Cosmo Park lots were closed in the 1980s when he began working at the department.
Still, the decision caused confusion in some neighborhoods. Residents near Douglass Park, for example, were surprised because its lot has not been closed for the past few years.
“No one knew what was going on,” Tyree Byndom, president of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, said.
Byndom, who also hosts three radio talk shows every weekend on KOPN/89.5 FM, said his listeners called this past Saturday during his show and asked him about the parking lot closure.
Byndom said many residents, including himself, were unaware of the closure and do not recall the Douglass lot ever being closed before. He said he talked to elders in the neighborhood who could not remember the lot being closed, either.
First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said that some residents have seen people congregating in the Douglass Park lot during the day.
Eryca Neville, principal of Douglass High School, said, “My only concern is the safety for students during the school hours.”
This closure, Schmidt said, is an experiment. Schmidt also said he recognizes the decision has made some residents angry, and he hopes to get the neighborhood involved in discussing it.
“They are the stakeholders, and it is difficult to do without help from the school and the neighborhood,” he said.