As a cold shower pelts its surface and drenches its beach, Stephens Lake hardly seems conducive to swimming. But more rain is exactly what the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department needs before it can open the lake to visitors this summer.
After more than a year of extensive renovation of the lake and the 111 acres that surround it, the parks department has nearly finished the first phase of its development of Stephens Lake Park. The lake, however, needs five to six more feet of water before it’s ready for swimmers, anglers and boaters.
“We hope to have the items in and around the lake complete and usable by mid-summer,” senior parks planner Michael Snyder said during a tour of the park Wednesday morning. “We need a lot of rain the remainder of the spring and into the summer.”
Work on a cleaner swimming beach is nearly complete, and a boardwalk that divides the lake in half is finished. On one side of the lake, swimmers and sunbathers will enjoy an area featuring fewer fish and less vegetation. On the other side, deeper water will provide fish habitat and space for fishing and boating, Snyder said. A retaining wall will create a smaller reservoir that can be used as a training place for first-time kayakers and allow for the possible creation of a boathouse.
“With the retaining wall, we can build a boathouse without ever having to drain the lake,” Snyder said.
A private contractor finished paving the 8-foot-wide lake trail through the park. Snyder said he hopes to see a completed trail around the perimeter of the lake by this fall.
By the end of the summer, crews will begin work on an enclosed day-camp shelter and playground, which should be complete by next year, said Steve Saitta, superintendent of parks development.
“It will be a large, reservable shelter. It will be year-round use and will have heating and air conditioning and a kitchen facility,” he said. “It will be very popular for wedding receptions and large gatherings like that.”
Snyder said an additional shelter and a bathhouse by the beach are also slated to be finished by the summer of 2005.
Even with the massive modifications, construction supervisor Paul Scolaro said the parks department is on schedule with the renovation, though firm time frames are hard to determine for such a large project.
“There are a lot of phases to a project like this that involve a lot of cooperation,” Scolaro said. “We have a plan in motion, but a lot is going to depend on changing priorities.”
The city paid $8.1 million for the land when it bought it from Stephens College in 2001. Scolaro said the parks department thus far has remained within the $2.5 million budget it set for development of the entire park when it began construction in 2002.
The rising cost of steel for the boardwalk, shelter and playground, however, has forced the department to do more of the work themselves and rely less on contractors, park services manager Mike Griggs said.
“Back in 2000 when we started planning the project, the idea was to contract a lot out,” he said. “With steel tripling in cost, we can’t contract out as much as we thought.”
The current renovations represent Phase One of the department’s master plan for the entire park.
“The rest of the park has some unfunded items not scheduled for construction yet at all,” Snyder said. “Demand and funding will dictate future construction.”