Sports haven envisioned

Sunday, February 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:19 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Columbia park planners are excited about the potential for a 500-acre regional park that could link Rock Bridge Memorial State Park to Nifong Park, but they warn the planning and development process could take as long as five years.

City officials believe they can create a park that fits the city’s 2002 master plan, which calls for a 300- to 500-acre park in southeast Columbia. A conceptual sketch completed by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department last fall shows new parkland on the Philips farm and property immediately south of Gans Road that is owned by the Crane family. Together, the tracts connect Rock Bridge and Nifong parks.

Columbia looking to buy more than 450 acres

City Manager Ray Beck is in the midst of talks aimed at securing the land, including 140 acres of the Philips farm and 320 acres of the Crane property. The Philips property includes the 40-acre Bristol Lake.

The Parks Department’s conceptual sketch features a boating lake and more than 30 athletic facilities, including 10 baseball and softball fields, 10 soccer fields, six football fields, eight tennis courts and an indoor basketball complex. City planners hope the park will become a haven for local sports organizations.

In addition to the athletic fields, the sketch shows a natural area set aside for hiking and picnicking on the middle section of the Crane property, which abuts Rock Bridge park and includes caves and springs. The lower third of that land would remain as undeveloped pasture.

While the conceptual drawing is certainly subject to change — already the city is leaning against the purchase of a 23-acre portion of the Philips property that was offered by Sapp and reflected in the sketch — it sparked enthusiasm during a review of the concept at a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday.

“If it’s going to be done, it will be good if it’s done right,” Commissioner Bill Pauls said. “It’s a great resource and a very sensitive and valuable property.”

If planners overcome obstacles, park will open in 2009

Columbia residents shouldn’t hope for a completed park any time soon, officials cautioned on Friday. The future of the park, which carries an estimated cost of $7 million, depends not only on the acquisition of the land but also on the construction of a new interchange at U.S. 63 and Gans Road. It might be 2009 before all the necessary steps are taken, they said.

Parks Services Manager Mike Griggs said Friday that Bristol Lake could be opened for fishing before the interchange is built. In the meantime, the city might also build a smaller complex of four ball fields and a parking lot.

The city’s park sales tax would probably pay for most of the project, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said, adding that some money might also come from the city’s recreational users fees and from federal and state grants.

Hood said the city must also complete extensive studies of the area and go through a lengthy series of meetings and public hearings on the project before any development could begin. The City Council will have the final say.

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