COLUMBIA — The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department hosted a community forum at Douglass High School on Wednesday night to discuss the future of Douglass Park, but residents just wanted to open the gates.
“I feel like that guy saying ‘Tear down that wall.’ Open the gate,” Darrell Foster, a member of the First Ward Ambassadors, said.
About 30 members of the community attended the meeting along with representatives of the Columbia Police Department and the Parks and Recreation Department.
The park’s parking lot gates were locked last month. Mike Hood, Parks and Recreation director, said the closure was to combat illicit activities that had been taking place in the lot. These included aggressive panhandling and alcohol abuse as well as drug use and sale.
The Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with Columbia Police, decided something needed to be done to curb the alcohol and drug-related activities after concerns were raised by community members and staff at neighboring Douglass High School.
But some residents at the forum said they thought the closure was premature and circumvented a possible community discussion.
"Closing the gate put the cart ahead of the horse, but that turned into this conversation," Foster said.
Hood was quick to dispel the growing concern of many attendees who took the locked gates as a sign the park might be closed. Still, the locked gates posed a significant roadblock to discussion at the forum, and residents did not seem to want to move past it.
“How are you supposed to get to the park if the parking lot is closed?” Charles Sherman, a student at Douglass High School, asked.
After some heated discussion, residents voted to reopen the gates and expressed interest in counteracting criminal activity by organizing more community events in the park and supporting an increased police presence on the premises.
“People recognize the community has to step forward,” First Ward Council member Fred Schmidt said.