Six-year-old Alec Christie tramped down a path at Cosmopolitan Park on Thursday with his father, lifting his new flame-patterned sled behind him.
“Ice, ice, ice,” he sang, hopping on clear patches. “I love ice!”
But upon reaching the tree-lined Sled Run, the enthusiastic child met the unexpected. Young trees and large rocks obscured the slope. The warming shack was gone. A log lay across the sled path several yards down the hill.
To Alec’s dismay, after 35 years of use, Sled Run at Cosmo Park is closed.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department has made Stephens Lake Park the primary sledding and winter activity area in the city. A less-steep slope at Stephens Lake Park has replaced Sled Run. The parks department finished landscaping the Stephens area this year and is completing a shelter with a warming pit.
The closing of Cosmo’s Sled Run resulted from injuries, complaints and an inconvenient location, Park Services Manager Mike Griggs said. Sledders had to follow paths through the woods to Sled Run at Cosmo.
“There are a lot of broken bones,” Griggs said. “We don’t hear about all the injuries from the people who are hurt. We hear about them from the emergency medical people who can’t get to the hill because it’s so inaccessible.”
Though several paths lead to the run, Griggs said it is difficult for emergency vehicles and helicopters to reach injured sledders. In 1997, a 33-year-old Columbia woman died after falling off her sled as it cleared a makeshift ramp on the run. The emergency helicopter was unable to land directly at the site. Almost an hour passed before she reached University Hospital.
The run’s lack of lighting and emergency phones add to the problem, Park Development Superintendent Steve Saitta said.
Saitta said the parks department waited to close Sled Run until the Stephens Lake modifications were complete. The latter is accessible and central for emergency vehicles and the public, Griggs said. Nearby roadways include Broadway and U.S. 63, which Griggs said are plowed quickly after snows.
Parents of sledders at Stephens Lake Park said they appreciate the slope’s safety and believe it is easier to access than Sled Run.
“The other one is so steep that once you get going there’s no way to stop until you hit the bottom,” said Jerry Nail, 33, of Columbia. Nail took his two children to Stephens Lake Park after a couple of inches of snow fell Saturday.
Nail said he appreciated being able to park near the Stephens hill.
“It was such a long walk (at Cosmo),” Nail said. “By the time we got back there, we were miserable.”
Griggs said the hill at Stephens can accommodate more sledders, and it also lacks the dangerous sharp curve at Sled Run,. Older, heavier sledders sometimes sped around the bend and collided with those walking up the hill at the run, he said. Before the run closed, he said, the department suggested children younger than 12 sled elsewhere.
Some older sledders, however, prefer the precarious curve and steepness of Sled Run.
“Cosmo’s a whole lot better,” said 15-year-old Lindsey Witten, who was sledding at Stephens on Saturday. “People are more experienced. There are too many little kids here.”
Two signs tell Cosmo Park visitors that the run is closed — one at the Creasy Springs Road entrance, the other at the Parkside Drive gate, which is the closest road area to Sled Run, about 100 feet away.
“It would be hard for you not to see them,” Griggs said.
The department plans to add more signs at Bear Creek Trail — the farthest road area from Sled Run, near the skate park and one at the top of Sled Run to warn sledders not to use the slope, Griggs said. He said this would help ensure that visitors would not miss the signs and try to sled, possibly injuring themselves on trees and rocks.
Lindsey Witten said the obstructions might make Sled Run appealing to older children, especially those who build sled ramps in the snow.
Griggs said the department would like to find another hill that would challenge older sledders. Linda Witten, Lindsey’s mother, said she would also like a more challenging hill.
“I’d like to see another one so the older kids don’t have to sled with the little kids,” Linda Witten said. “This hill is not going to be big enough for Columbia.”
Griggs said the closing of Sled Run is not a final decision. However, the department lacked options to make the hill safer.
Some Columbia residents recommended widening the run, but Griggs said this was impossible because a ravine begins about five feet from each side.
“It’s very difficult to improve that hill,” he said. “Believe me, we looked at all the options to make that hill as safe as we could.”