COLUMBIA — If you are like most of the hundred or so folks I have talked with this week, you have been to Rock Bridge MemorialState Park and have fond memories of the trails, of Devil’s Icebox and of just being in a wild area. If you are like them, you are also not aware that the City Council will be deciding on whether a housing development can go in next door to the northwest corner of the park. I was talking with people because I was gathering signatures for a petition asking the council not to approve annexation and rezoning of the land for Parkside Estates.
At the park I got signatures from young mothers who brought their kids every day because it was cooler than the city. I got signatures from parents who wanted to introduce their kids to wild nature. I got signatures from families who met there because it was a place everyone could reach from St. Louis or Kansas City or Joplin. I got signatures from trail bikers and runners, some who steered away from me until they knew what the petition was about. I got signatures from folks in town for a job who’d heard that the park was a great place to visit. I got signatures from freshmen who had been to Rock Bridge growing up and wanted to show it off to their new college roommates.
I also collected signatures in my First Ward neighborhood, mainly 80-year-old two bedroom houses serving as starter homes or rentals. I got signatures from young singles, working in professional fields or retail or doing manual labor. I got signatures from young couples and from couples with infants and toddlers and kids in school. I got signatures from college students and retirees and from a smattering of folks in middle age who moved here when they were younger and liked the feel of the place.
Four folks didn’t sign because they wanted more information than I could give them in two minutes. Three didn’t sign because they don’t sign petitions on principle. The other 123 people I asked, signed. Some didn’t know what impervious surface was, but once they made the connection with storm water runoff, they signed right away. For others, all I had to say was development next to a park and they were “heck yes, I’ll sign," sometimes expressed with a great deal of feeling. A few even thanked me for the effort because they didn’t have the time to attend a council meeting or the confidence to contact their representative.
Why did people sign so readily? I think it is because they understand this instinctively. A public park is something that everyone owns equally. Whether you are wealthy or poor, young or old, white or not, have a high school degree or a Ph.D. live in a gated community or public housing, you have same right to the use and enjoyment of the park as anyone else. It belongs to you as much as to anyone else. Therefore, anything that affects the park’s peace and quiet or its wild nature is going to affect you. People also know this: developments, no matter how well planned or intentioned, are seriously disruptive to wild nature, especially if it is next door.
Rock BridgeMemorial State Park belongs to you. You take care of it by not littering and by being considerate of wildlife. You can also take care of it by protecting it from development. Please contact the City Council by emailing the mayor (email@example.com) or your council person (ward# followed by @gocolumbiamo.com) and ask them not to approve annexation and rezoning of the land for Parkside Estates.
Jan Weaver is a Columbia resident and a member of the Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.