Columbia works to improve residents' park and trail access

Thursday, October 24, 2013 | 8:25 p.m. CDT; updated 4:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 27, 2013
Columbia Parks and Recreation plans to create 22 parks throughout the city in the next 10 years, according to its new master plan. Parks that are high priority are planned on plots of land subject to commercial development in the near future.

COLUMBIA — More local residents will have quick access to a park or trail if the vision laid out in a new plan by the Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation comes to pass.

The 2013 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan, approved by the Columbia City Council on Monday, calls for the acquisition and development of 22 new neighborhood parks and 20 new or expanded trails in and around the Columbia area.

The plan also includes new outdoor sporting facilities on existing park land, including an indoor ice arena and a BMX bike course.

If the goals are met, in the next 10 to 20 years nearly every residential area in Columbia would be no more than half a mile from a park, and a 30-mile-long loop of connecting trails would circumscribe the city.

The 458-page plan includes more than can realistically be accomplished, but Park Development Superintendent Mike Snyder said it's important for Parks and Recreation to over-plan in this instance.

"Not all of them can happen so we give ourselves options," Snyder said.

Parks and Recreation assigns all of Columbia's parks to one of three categories according to size and amenities offered: neighborhood, community and regional.

The department decided that the city had pretty much all the community and regional parks it needed at this time, and focused the plan on the smaller neighborhood parks that are typically about 5 to 10 acres in size and serve residents within a half-mile radius. Such parks cost approximately $300,000 to acquire and develop, according to the plan.

As the population of Columbia exploded in the last decade, growing 32.3 percent from 88,291 in 2002 to 116,843 in 2013, the city also added 10 square miles. These trends led to more people living in developing areas on the outskirts of the city where parks are less prevalent.

These newer residential areas represent the main focus areas of Parks and Recreation's plan. Twenty-two such sites, largely clustered in these outlying areas, have been identified by officials as targets for neighborhood park construction.

Of those 22, five sites have been designated as priority areas, including areas close to Battle High School and Mill Creek Elementary School.

The priority areas are first in line for park construction for a variety of reasons: their proximity to populations under-served by existing parks and these sites represent land that is subject to commercial development in the near future. If the city can acquire this land before it gets developed, it will be cheaper and save taxpayers' money, Snyder said.

These considerations are similar to the ones that led to the identification of a priority list for new or expanded trails. That list includes seven trails, whose intended purpose will be to connect residents in outlying areas to schools, businesses and other main trails and outdoor spaces to which they currently don't have access through the trail system.

Some of the trails on the priority list were also chosen to fulfill the goal of creating a 30-mile loop of trails around the city. This loop would consist of the MKT trail, expanded Hinkson Creek and Bear Creek trails, and a new trail, Perche Creek.

Parks and Recreation sees evidence of Columbia's need for more trails from a variety of sources. For instance, Columbia falls 93 miles short of having a sufficient amount of trails to serve its population, according to Missouri's Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan standards. At the same time, a citywide survey conducted in 2010 to found that 76 percent of citizens said walking and biking trails were the feature they needed most from the city.

In addition to new parks and new or expanded trails, the plan also calls for additional facilities in existing parks. The plan proposes $100,000 for a BMX bike course at Cosmo Park. For Philips Park, a $4.75 million indoor ice arena is recommended.

One of the most intriguing items in the plan is $250,000 dedicated to the expansion of Cosmo Park into the nearby Boone Quarries. The quarry's lease with the city expires some time in the next few years, Snyder said, and plans are far from definite.

"If the lease isn't renewed, all options are available," Snyder said. One such possibility would be a scuba diving facility.

Even if all of the individual items in the master plan don't become a reality, Snyder is hopeful it will provide a better future for the city.

"I think it really helps us keep up with the growth of Columbia," Snyder said. "Columbia is growing pretty rapidly and we'd like to provide a high level of park amenity to all the new developing areas. In addition, our trail system really makes Columbia unique and attracts new businesses and young professionals who want to come and work in Columbia."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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