East Campus residents help city purchase new park land

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | 8:56 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — East Campus resident Betty Wilson saw her kids grow up in the untamed forest next to her home. They built forts among the wildflowers, floated sticks in the creek and collected chestnuts in the fall. 

"It was playground," Wilson said. "It was not paved over. It kind of took you back in time."

Now, Wilson will have some new territory to explore in the park with her grandkids. The city of Columbia is buying a 1.3-acre property on the northeast boundary of Clyde Wilson Memorial Park. That property will be open to the public sometime in the next two to four weeks once the purchase is closed.

The East Campus Neighborhood Association and neighboring residents have worked with the city to purchase the property for the past two years, and the Columbia City Council approved the deal June 18. Area residents first proposed the idea to the city after neighbor Gudrun Parmentier sold her home and put the land up for sale.

"The important thing about the addition is that when you put land into the park it is forever," Wilson said. "If that land was to fall to a developer, that’s not for forever. It just doesn’t serve the same purpose of the park."

The park, originally known as Rockhill Park, was renamed in June 2010 in honor of Wilson’s husband, a former mayor and City Council member who also founded the MU Department of Anthropology. Clyde Wilson died in March 2010.

"He was one of the originators of the park in the beginning and always felt that a strong downtown also needed places where people could go for relaxation, exercise and just to have the chance to get out into nature and think about things and enjoy the wildlife," Betty Wilson said.

Six months after the park was renamed, neighborhood residents began raising money through a community trust to buy Parmentier’s property and carry on the former mayor’s commitment to preserving Columbia’s parks.

Parmentier's original asking price was around $120,000. She and the city staff negotiated for nearly 15 months. Allan Moore of Moore and Shyrock, LLC, did an appraisal for the city and valued the property at $80,000.

"As property owner she had a price in mind, and as property purchasers we had a price in mind," said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood. "I think that's a pretty normal course for a public-private endeavor."

The final price was settled at $85,000. The East Campus neighborhood donated $28,780, and proceeds from a parks sales tax approved by voters in 2010 will cover the rest.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe is pleased about the purchase and the neighbors' donation.

"I think the $28,000 was substantial because East Campus is a really small neighborhood with not particularly affluent people living there, so I think it was substantial contribution to pay for the park, especially when the economy was down," Hoppe said. "Ultimately it shows that the public values it, and it really enhances the quality of life."

The densely forested and steep park will total 10.5 acres when the new property is added. The new land will be maintained in its current condition for the time being. City staff is discussing the possibility of creating an east-west trail connecting Old 63 to the park while conforming to the natural character of the land.

"It is a natural environment," Hood said, "and I think by buying it and preserving it as green space we ensure that this property stays in that type of environment."

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