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Stephens Lake Park is an arboretum and park covering 116 acres only a few minutes from downtown Columbia. The park offers a wide assortment of recreation activities and special events for residents of all ages. The park includes six picnic shelters, three playgrounds, a swimming beach, running trails and now offers free Wi-Fi Internet in several areas. Stephens Lake is 11 acres, opened May 1 to Sept. 30 for swimming, fishing and non-motorized boating. In the winter, Stephens Lake Park offers a sledding hill and ice-skating on the lake when conditions permit. Residents can reserve picnic shelters to hold special events throughout the year.
Address: 2001 E. Broadway (at the intersection of East Broadway and Old 63)
Park Hours: 6 a.m to 11 p.m. daily
Phone Number: 573-874-7460 (Columbia Parks and Recreation Department)
Area: 116 acres
In 1821, a group of 33 land speculators created the Smithton community that would later become Columbia. One of those speculators was David Gordon, a farmer from Kentucky. In 1818,Gordon built a cabin, and later a manor, on the property that is now Stephens Lake Park. The cabin, manor and surrounding acres were sold to Stephens College in 1926 after being passed down through the Gordon family for more than a century. Around 1998, rumors surfaced that the college was considering selling the property to private developers for $10 million. When residents of Columbia heard this, community groups fought to save the land. In 1999, City Manager Ray Beck met with the president of Stephens College to discuss the prospect of a lease-purchase of the property. Buying the land would require finding a large amount of funding in a short time. In November 2000, Columbia residents passed a ballot establishing Columbia’s first dedicated park sales tax that would be used to purchase and develop the Stephens Lake Park property. The park was opened to the public after the city of Columbia signed a lease in 2001, and it was officially named Stephens Lake Park on Nov. 5 of that year.
The city was unsure of how the park should be developed. The Parks and Recreation Department launched a public input process to let residents participate in deciding the master plan. After a citywide mail survey, three public planning meetings and collecting resident votes, the department and city council chose a public supported decision to turn the property into a park and arboretum. The Columbia City Council officially approved the plan April 1, 2002.
The first phase of this plan cost $2.5 million and began in 2003. Over the next three years, the city worked to turn the property into Stephens Lake Park. The project undertaken in the first phase included a boardwalk, picnic shelters, playgrounds, a fire pit, new restrooms, lake trails, parking lots and a swimming beach. The park was dedicated June 26, 2005.
The final part of the park’s master plan, an amphitheater, was constructed beginning in 2009. Funding for the project came in part from a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, and the rest came from the city. The amphitheather opened June 26, 2010, though the project was incomplete.
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Updated: Feb. 26, 2012